Vital Signs

Facts Are Stubborn Things

It took only 22 years after he left the White House for conservatives to turn Ronald Reagan into a totem.  The celebrations surrounding his 100th birthday on February 6 made George Washington look like a back-bench legislator.  Conservatives hailed Reagan as the apotheosis of political wisdom and prudent action.  Liberals conceded that he had done a couple good things, and indeed was a lot like the current occupant of the Oval Office in his charm.  President Obama let it be known that he was reading a biography of Reagan.  Obama even called himself “the Gipper,” the well-known moniker for Reagan.

What was lacking was perspective on Reagan’s eight years in the White House.

Reagan was elected in 1980 at a crucial time for America.  The economy had stumbled for almost a decade under “stagflation,” caused by President Nixon taking the country off the gold standard in 1971, which pushed the middle class into upper-income tax brackets and produced double-digit inflation and interest rates above 20 percent.  President Carter’s foreign policy was seen as feckless, especially after Iranian militants seized as hostages 66 Americans in the U.S. embassy in Tehran on November 9, 1979, and the Soviets invaded Afghanistan just after Christmas Day that year.  America also endured long lines at gas stations.  This was blamed on the Iranians and the Arab oil countries, though the...

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