Republicans lionize Ronald Reagan, and in the older, white population, the dead president is a god who deserves to have his head on Mt. Rushmore. Sarah Palin channels Reagan and her supporters speak of her as being the new Ronald Reagan. It is typical of conservatives to worship a president who hurt the economy, set labor relations and unions back 40 years, and caused untold damage to the environment by destroying regulations.
Republicans still think of Reagan as the gun slinging cowboy who rode in and cleaned up the frontier, or the war hero who single handedly stormed up a hill and took out a battalion of Nazis. Regardless the image old white people have of Reagan; he was just an actor, and a bad president whose policies were controlled by banks and corporations.
Reagan’s policies strike a chord with conservatives because he championed state’s rights and portrayed the Federal government as intrusive and harmful. His famous slogan that Republicans go wild over is, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'” It conveys the conservative meme that government hinders and intrudes on an individual’s right to conduct business, but in reality it was to garner support for deregulating financial institutions and corporations so they could make unrestricted profits; much like the Republican Party is doing now.
Reagan’s “supply side economics” is the trickle-down theory, and Republicans are using that notion as an argument for extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. Although the trickle-down theory never panned out, Republicans still argue that Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy will create jobs, although in the last 10 years, nothing has trickled down and few jobs were created.
Much like current GOP policies, Reagan killed unions at the behest of corporations and it has proven costly to mine workers in West Virginia. In 1984-85 Reagan gave full support to Massey Energy to break the union along with the help of the State Police who were friends of the mine owner. In 1981, Reagan fired 11,345 striking air traffic controllers and banned them from federal service for life (President Clinton lifted the ban in 1993). The air traffic controllers went on strike for better working conditions and a shorter work week due to the stress inherent with their jobs. Reagan also attempted to lower the minimum wage and relax child worker laws so corporations could make higher profits.
When Reagan was governor in California, he put thousands of mentally ill patients on the streets when he shut down the State Hospital system. Many of California’s homeless population today are mentally ill patients that Reagan abandoned when he closed the mental hospitals.
Although Reagan was the epitome of Conservatism who most Republicans refer to as their presidential ideal, he would be chastised by teabaggers and hard-right conservatives in 2010. Reagan made a blanket invitation to immigrants to come to America, and boasted; “Only in America can a foreigner move here and become a citizen.” Republicans have made an issue out of immigration and want to repeal the 14th Amendment that guarantees birthright citizenship leaving one to ponder; which Ronald Reagan do modern conservatives want to model?
Unlike Sarah Palin and hawkish Republicans, Reagan did not think the first step in dealing with foreign powers should be pre-emptive strikes or regime change. Reagan believed in diplomacy and a strong national defense, and wasted a boatload of money developing a missile defense shield dubbed “Star Wars” that never materialized. Reagan’s policy regarding war was, “The only way there could be war is if they start it; we’re not going to start a war,” which is in stark contrast to the Bush Doctrine that so many modern conservatives support.
There is a mixed message from conservatives who on one hand support and idolize Reagan’s small government, laissez-faire attitude for business and corporations, and the immigration friendly, diplomacy-first policies that conservatives hate. Reagan’s king-like legacy is more myth than truth, but nonetheless, conservatives are quick to evoke his name to advance any number of policies whether Reagan would support them or not.
Ronald Reagan was an actor. He played the part of president, but was never in control of his administration. His handlers were leaders of financial institutions and corporations that dictated policy in the form of a script, and Reagan played the role of leader. His only success was in breaking unions and setting in place an economic policy that favored corporations and the rich.
As president, Reagan was a likable, television friendly politician whose folksy, down home mannerisms played well with American voters. His image as a cowboy-sheriff who cleans up the town worked well for his clean up Washington meme, and, as the good guy who will get the government off our backs. But as an effective president who helped the worker and middle-income Americans, he was an abject failure.
It is no wonder that Republicans want to model themselves after Reagan with their disregard for the American worker and the poor follows Reagan-era policies as well as their elevation of corporations to privileged status. Conservatism means holding on to institutions that are near and dear to the heart. For most Republicans, Reagan is a god. But for ordinary working people, he was a disaster whose policies are still wreaking havoc on America, and true to form, modern conservatives want to keep his legacy alive by continuing his America-busting policies.