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Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer

Myths can be harmful. And perhaps the most damaging myth in modern American history is this: Ronald Reagan was a great president.

The Reagan myth machine has been in high gear as we recently passed the centennial of the 40th president's birth. If you already are sick of hearing about Reagan, brace yourself because the real hosannas haven't even begun yet. The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation will host official birthday celebrations and tours in Simi Valley, California on March 9, April 20, and May 19.

Reagan came to power largely on the strength of a question he asked of Americans, to great effect, during a debate with Jimmy Carter: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" (See video below.)

Perhaps it's time for Americans to ask this question: "Are we better off than we were 30 years ago, when Reagan took office?" The answer is a resounding no. And that question is particularly powerful when you consider that two of "The Gipper's" successors--George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush--practiced what might charitably be called "refried Reaganism."

In essence, America has been ruled by Reagan's ideas for 20 of the past 30 years--and even Democrats in the White House during that time have moved way to the right of genuine progressive ideas. Where has it gotten us? On a road to destruction, says veteran journalist Robert Parry, who broke many of the stories about the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s.

Numerous reports have been issued in recent months about negative U.S. trends that started roughly around 1980. That's not an accident, Parry says, because that's the year Reagan took office. Parry makes his case in a recent article at Consortium News titled "Ronald Reagan's 30-Year Time Bombs." Writes Parry:

The time element of “30 years” keeps slipping into American official reports and news stories about the origins of crises--the latest in “The Financial Crisis Inquiry Report”--but rarely is the relevance of the three-decade span explained, and there is a reason.

The failure to close the circle in saying who started the nation off on the path toward these disasters is because nearly everyone shies away from blaming Ronald Reagan for almost anything.

Robert Reich, former labor secretary under President Clinton, picked up on the 30-year theme in a recent article titled "How Democrats Can Become Relevant Again." They can start, Reich essentially is saying, by undoing what Ronald Reagan set in motion:

Democrats have become irrelevant. If they want to be relevant again they have to connect the dots: The explosion of income and wealth among America's super-rich, the dramatic drop in their tax rates, the consequential devastating budget squeezes in Washington and in state capitals, and the slashing of public services for the middle class and the poor.

It is not a complicated story. Begin with what's happened to the typical American, whose wages have been stagnant for thirty years. Today's typical 30-year-old male (if he has a job) is earning the same as a 30-year-old male earned three decades ago, adjusted for for inflation. (Although women are doing better than they did 30 years ago, their wages still trail men's.)

The bottom 90 percent of Americans now earn, on average, only about $280 more per year than they did thirty years ago. That's less than a 1 percent gain over more than a third of a century. Families are doing somewhat better but that's only because so many families now have to rely on two incomes.

How did this happen? It started with Reagan, and Reich lays it out in stark, cold numbers:

Given this explosion of income at the top you might think our tax system would demand a larger share from them. But you'd be wrong. You're not taking account of the power of the super rich. As income and wealth have risen to the top, so has political power. As a result, their taxes have plummeted.

From the 1940s until 1980, the tax rate on the highest earners in America was 70 percent or higher. In the 1950s, it was 91 percent. Even if you include deductions and credits, the rich were paying a far higher share of their income than at any time since.

Under Ronald Reagan the top rate dropped to 28 percent. Under Bill Clinton it rose to 39 percent and then under George W. Bush dropped to 36 percent. As you recall, Republicans have managed to keep it there. Their avowed aim is to keep it there permanently.

Meanwhile, estate taxes (which hit only the top 2 percent) have been slashed, as have taxes on capital gains--which comprise most of the income of the super rich. In the late 1970s, capital gains were taxed at well over 35 percent. Under Bill Clinton, the capital gains rate was 20 percent. Now it's 15 percent.

Criticizing Reagan amounts to political suicide, Parry writes. Even many liberals are afraid to do it. And that helps fuel the destructive myth machine:

But the truth is that Reagan’s current historical reputation rests more on the effectiveness of the Republican propaganda machine--and the timidity of many Democrats and media personalities--than on his actual record of accomplishments.

Indeed, many of today’s worst national and international problems can be traced to misjudgments and malfeasance from the Reagan years--from the swelling national debt to out-of-control banks, from the decline of the U.S. middle class to the inaction on energy independence, from the rise of Islamic fundamentalism to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

All of these disasters are part of the Reagan Legacy. Yet, possibly the most insidious residue from the Reagan Years was the concept of manipulating information--what some Reagan officials liked to call “perception management”--as a means of societal control.

The manipulation of information has come to be known as "spin," and it permeates American society. We now are a nation of liars and cheats--many of them, including judges, in positions of power--and it started, to a great extent, with Reagan. Writes Parry:

Reagan’s team took aim at two key entities--the CIA’s analytical division and the Washington press corps--with the realization that if the information produced and disseminated by those two groups could be controlled then the insider community of Washington and the broader American public could be managed.

That enabled the Reagan administration to exaggerate the threat posed by the Soviet Union (after Reagan’s CIA chief William Casey and his deputy Robert Gates purged many of the CIA analysts who correctly saw a decaying empire eager for accommodation with the West).

Similarly, well-financed right-wing operatives and administration officials worked to marginalize mainstream journalists (the “liberal press”) who raised troublesome questions about Reagan’s domestic and foreign policies.

What's the result? Citizens are easily misled, and America has become virtually ungovernable:

The impact of these information strategies had deadly consequences even years later, such as when President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney essentially dictated the intelligence “analysis” on Iraq’s WMD  to the CIA and the Washington press corps fell in line behind the march to war.

Even today, President Barack Obama complains that his options for addressing the nation’s growing problems are limited by what he calls the Reagan "narrative,” demonizing government.

The presidents who immediately preceded Reagan deserve more credit than they get, Parry writes:

However, if future historians are fair (and that is no sure thing), the re-evaluation of Ronald Reagan should start with a reassessment of the “failed” presidents from the 1970s--Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. All may deserve more credit than they got for trying to grapple with problems that now bedevil the country.

For instance, Nixon, Ford and Carter won scant praise for addressing the systemic challenges from America’s oil dependence, environmental degradation, the arms race, and nuclear proliferation--all issues that Reagan essentially ignored and that now threaten the future of America and the planet.

These presidents also followed a generally moderate course on economic policies, finding bipartisan approaches to challenges like inflation and budget deficits, which were a tiny fraction of today's numbers.

Indeed, Reagan's most severe damage might have been inflicted on our nation's economy. Since 1980, deficits have soared, income-inequality has grown to historic levels, and the middle class has gone into a state of seemingly perpetual decline. The deregulation craze that started with Reagan led directly to the financial crisis of 2008, in which we still are mired.

In terms of our national psyche, Reagan helped foster a sense of white grievance that gave birth to the Tea Party movement and coarsened our political discourse. Perhaps more importantly, it caused many middle-class whites to routinely vote against their own economic interests. Writes Parry:

The American Dream also dimmed during Reagan’s tenure.

While he played the role of the nation’s kindly grandfather, his operatives divided the American people, using “wedge issues” to deepen grievances especially of white men who were encouraged to see themselves as victims of “reverse discrimination” and “political correctness.”

Yet even as working-class white men were rallying to the Republican banner (as so-called “Reagan Democrats”), their economic interests were being savaged. Unions were broken and marginalized; “free trade” policies shipped manufacturing jobs abroad; old neighborhoods were decaying; drug use among the young was soaring.

Americans rejected Republicans in the 2008 election, blaming George W. Bush and his followers for the mortgage crisis and other economic ills. But Bush simply was following a script that had been written by Reagan:

Meanwhile, unprecedented greed was unleashed on Wall Street, fraying old-fashioned bonds between company owners and employees.

Before Reagan, corporate CEOs earned less than 50 times the salary of an average worker. By the end of the Reagan-Bush-I administrations in 1993, the average CEO salary was more than 100 times that of a typical worker. (At the end of the Bush-II administration, that CEO-salary figure was more than 250 times that of an average worker.)

What about that report on the current financial crisis? Parry sums up its findings:

The majority report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission blamed the banking crisis, in part, on “30 years of deregulation and reliance on self-regulation.” (Not surprisingly, the four Republicans on the commission refused to sign on, seeking to lay greater blame on government policies for encouraging home ownership.)

How powerful is the Reagan myth? He encouraged many whites to essentially slit their own economic throats--and they did it. Many are still doing it, and they continue to shy away from the truth about Reagan? Will they soon come to their senses? Probably not, writes Parry:

Republicans continue to enforce the notion that Reagan is an untouchable icon, that his memory and his policies must be revered. After the GOP gained control of Congress in 1994, the party rushed to name as many public sites after Reagan as possible, seeking to elevate their hero to the stature of martyred leaders like John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. . . .

It may take many more years before a mainstream politician or a journalist who cares about future employment dares speak truthfully about Reagan and the grievous harm that his presidency inflicted on the American Republic and the people of the Earth.

Where have 30 years of Reaganism left us? Robert Reich sums it up:

So who's going to foot the bill for everything we need? Even before the Great Recession, the middle class's share of the nation's total income had shrunk. Yet their tax burden had grown. They were paying a bigger chunk of their incomes in payroll taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes than decades before.

Then came the Great Recession--and with it, lower tax revenues. That means all levels of government are squeezed. Obviously, the middle class can't pay more in taxes. But because the Democrats seem to lack the intestinal fortitude to suggest the obvious--that taxes need to be raised on the super rich --we're left with a mess.

Indeed, we are in a mess. And Americans need to be reminded when the seeds of our current mess were planted. Here is a video of the moment that pretty much ensured Ronald Reagan's rise to the White House. And America gradually has been heading down the crapper ever since:

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Comment Preferences

  •  Regardless of Which Party Practices Reaganomics (6+ / 0-)

    Behold: THE BOTTOM 99% have gone nowhere since Carter.

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 10:21:06 AM PST

  •  Can Anyone Name a Reagan Policy That Today's (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dave925, Gemina13

    Democratic leadership says we should restore to before his time?

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 10:22:00 AM PST

  •  that whole ideology is killing our country (4+ / 0-)

    not to mention, that is guilty of treason. That should've been the result of the Iran/Contra. Taht whole affair was against an act of Congress, which is treason.

  •  I wish DK4 would allow me to REC this diary (4+ / 0-)

    100 times!

    But that doesn't seem to be one of the "improvements" to the new site.

    Republicans (with the help of their friends in the "liberal media") have turned Ronald Reagan into a mythical creature.

    Reagan was a horrible president who caused nothing but pain and sorrow and death.

    Virtually everything that is wrong with our country now, can be traced back to him.

  •  We pay the price due to the number of (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gemina13

    Democrats (and some pretty high octane ones) who believe the Reagan myth hook line and sinker.  

  •  Puncturing the Reagan myth. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Greg in TN, Josiah Bartlett, Gemina13

    As part of the hyperinflated myth surrounding Reagan is the story that he saved 77 lives when he was a lifeguard - and a lifeguard at a lake, not the ocean where tides and waves are the real hazard.

    My son was a professional lifeguard for 10 years at a Cape Cod ocean beach that was famous for its swift currents and booming waves that are the real hazards of swimmers. During all of those ten years my son takes credit for saving two lives - not 77.

    This  story of saving 77 lives is one example of how the Reagan "epic" is overblown and pointedly untrue

    •  That reminds me . . . (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Greg in TN, Josiah Bartlett

      of the myth that Reagan never died his hair.

      •  Another Fable (0+ / 0-)

        There was a story that he didn't serve in the military during WWII because his eyes were too bad.  That one didn't last long because too many vets of that era were still alive to remind the rest of us of the vision requirement for the draft when the prospective GI was examined for fitness for duty.

        The doctor would stand the recruit against the wall and would ask him if he could see the wall on the opposite side of the room.  RR and John Wayne were draft dogers plain and simple.  On the other hand, Clark Gable, James Stewart and Ted Williams (the Red Sox right fielder) put their careers on hold to serve.

        Don't look back, something may be gaining on you. - L. "Satchel" Paige

        by arlene on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 01:16:25 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I thought this connection was well understood but (0+ / 0-)

    if not, then this story needs to be on the Rec List.

    Why on earth these policies were continued well after it was clear they were not working is something that K Street is to blame for rather than Reagan per se' but very clearly all this Krap began under him and has continued to be propogated ever since.

    It is not at all clear tha Obama is trying very hard to reverse any of it though.

  •  start with inconvenient truths about Reagan (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Greg in TN, Josiah Bartlett

    The unfunny joke among the handful of "sensible" (by their standards) conservatives is that Reagan would be run out of the Republican Party on a rail if he were around today.  Far from rigidly clinging to Reagan's own policies as conservatism perfected as the RW claims to be, they've continued marching rightward.

    Thus the first tactic that comes to mind is to use Reagan's own record against him.  It would allow us to harness his zombie powers even as we deconstruct his myth.  For example, Democrats could push for re-establishing Reagan's income tax rates.  If we're vague enough - and messaging to the people through the MSM shouldn't be wonkish - all those voters so strongly conditioned to hear "low taxes" when Dr. Pavlov rings the 'Reagan' bell could simply assume that we'd be lowering taxes, when in fact we'd be raising them even beyond where they were under Clinton.  Do the conservatives dare say that what Reagan did was wrong?

    Other things that Reagan did that would be condemned as "liberal" today could be used to start the country back in the right direction even as conservative egos get fluffed.  Reagan's myth could shield us and also be destroyed in the process, and by conservatives themselves no less.  Hell, Nixon could use the same treatment: Mr. "Southern Strategy" himself established the EPA and engaged Red China.

    "How does it feel being fisted by the Invisible Hand, America?" - John Cole of Balloon Juice

    by Visceral on Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 11:51:29 AM PST

  •  Here's the thing (0+ / 0-)

    A lot of people think taxing the rich more is not "fair", punishing success.

    What they don't get is the fact that if we didn't have progressive taxation we never would have had a middle class to begin with.

    The "Fairness" issue is much easier to understand than the fact that it was gov't intervention that pretty much created the middle class.

    So there's an education issue there.

    Then there's the union/pay issue.  If the middle class acutally used the power to strike again, and economic boycotts, and economic nationalisim took hold the taxation wouldn't have to be QUITE so lopsided to keep the middle class afloat.

    Stuff like tax deductions for health care, children, earned income, the government would not have to devise elaborate redistribution schemes to keep the middle class afloat if the people had unions and could get these things themselves from their employers.

    I see the whole reversal of the trickle down paradigm as an education issue. The income disparity thing IS finally starting to get some air play in the MSM but we got a LONG way to go before people really understand the issues.

    •  Hollowdweller (0+ / 0-)

      Great point. Also, the rich love to claim that they became wealthy only because of their own hard work, intelligence, etc. To hear them tell it, they used no public resources to get ahead--public schools, public roadways, public airwaves, etc.

      They claim to be "rugged individualists." But I've yet to hear of a wealthy person who didn't get ahead through use of public resources.

  •  It seemed fairly obvious to me at the time (0+ / 0-)

    that Reagan's philosophy, basically that “greed is good” (i.e., “vote your pocketbook”) was no way to run a successful government. This was after at least two decades where equality, fairness, and community service had been emphasized (“ask not what...” ; “war on poverty” ; “I have a dream”). The fact that my cohort decided in large numbers to vote to try to increase their personal wealth instead of trying to pursue those goals of the late 1960's and 1970's was disgusting back than, and the fact that the after-effects are ruining the America of my daughters' generation, while foreseeable, is very distressing.

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