By Laurence M. Vance
“Conservatives love to drop my father’s name and try to find candidates that act and think like he did.” ~ Michael Reagan
Conservative Republicans who want to sucker libertarians to get their votes often describe themselves as libertarian-leaning. Conservative Republicans who want to sucker other conservatives to get their votes often refer to themselves as constitutional conservatives. But conservative Republicans who want to sucker their fellow Republicans to get their votes often call themselves Reagan Republicans.
According to many Republicans, Reagan was the greatest president in their lifetime. Others consider him to be the greatest president in the twentieth century. Some count him the greatest president in U.S. history.
Invoking the name of Reagan covers a multitude of sins. He is not just a Republican icon; he is a Republican god. Republicans revere Reagan like they revere the Constitution. Some libertarians think highly of Reagan as well. After all, Reagan was once photographed reading The Freeman.
But libertarians who don’t have their head in the clouds know that Reagan’s “greatness” was relative. He was better than his predecessors; he was not as bad as his successors. He was better than some Republican presidents; he was not as bad as other Republican presidents. He was better than most Democratic presidents; he was not as bad as most Democratic presidents. He was better than these presidents; he was not as bad as those presidents.
Reagan’s main claim to fame are the tax cuts resulting from the Economic Recovery Tax Act (ERTA) of 1981 and the Tax Reform Act of 1986. These brought the top marginal tax rate down to 50 percent and ultimately to 28 percent.
As tax cuts are always and at all times a good thing, Reagan can be commended for presiding over these tax cuts. However, what is rarely pointed out is that Reagan was also a tax raiser. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit, heralding it as “the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress.” But at the same time he increased welfare payments, for that is what refundable tax credits are, he also eliminated “loopholes” that allowed taxpayers to keep more of their money out of the hands of the government. Reagan increased corporate income taxes, Medicare taxes, Social Security taxes, and capital gains taxes. He also began the practice of taxing Social Security benefits.
Clearly, Reagan was a mixed bag when it comes to taxes. But on the subject of something like personal freedom, we see that Reagan was mostly bad. Reagan was an incorrigible drug warrior. He asserted that marijuana was “the most dangerous drug in America.” He called for a “full scale anti-drug mobilization” and a “nationwide crusade” to rid America of the scourge of drug use. Thanks to the war on drugs, under Reagan’s watch the police state escalated, Congress again raised federal penalties for marijuana under the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, and it was made easier for police to seize the property of suspected drug dealers. And who can forget the “Just Say No” program of Reagan’s wife?
So, what does it mean for a Republican to identify himself with Reagan? It means identifying himself with someone who favored:
The drug war
Bloated military budgets
A police state
Foreign military interventions
Illegal arms transfers to Iran
The U.S. global empire of troops and bases
Increases in the federal budget every year
Unbalanced budgets every year
Increased federal spending every year
Expansion of government power
Unconstitutional spending on foreign aid
The welfare/warfare state
Import quotas and higher tariffs
Why would any conservative Republican refer to himself as a Reagan Republican? And why especially would a conservative Republican who talks about his belief in the Constitution, limited government, and free enterprise and rails against government spending, debt, and deficits refer to himself as a Reagan Republican?
Why don’t conservative Republicans call themselves Coolidge Republicans or Harding Republicans or Harrison Republicans or Arthur Republicans or Hayes Republicans? They were the least bad Republican presidents. And no, I didn’t forget to mention Dwight Eisenhower or Herbert Hoover or Teddy Roosevelt. And I certainly didn’t forget to mention Abraham Lincoln. The best Republican president was, of course, James Garfield—he died from an assassin’s bullet during his first year in office before he could do any serious damage to the country.
The problem with Reagan Republicans is that they are still Republicans—something they ought to be ashamed of.
For the complete and utter evisceration of Reagan, see Murray Rothbard’s “The Reagan Phenomenon,” “Ronald Reagan, Warmonger,” and “Ronald Reagan: An Autopsy.”