The Reagan Legacy

Mitch Berg has a great post on the legacy of Ronald Reagan 95 years after his birth:

Reagan didn’t bring down the USSR – but he catalyzed the events and inspired the people that did. He didn’t bring back the economy singlehandedly – but he extinguished the malaise of the mind and the crushing impediments of the tax code that had held it at bay. He didn’t relaunch democracy around the world – but he left a nation in his wake that believed it could be done.

He was a “dumb guy” – said his critics – who was smarter than his critics.

I’m a speech geek, of course. And Reagan was the last great American political orator. His “A Time For Choosing, the Challenger disaster speech, his speech at Pointe Du Hoc, and of course the Brandenberg Gate speech are just the highest points of a career full of the greatest speeches in American history.

Reagan was probably the second-best orator of the 20th Century (closely behind Winston Churchill). Decried as an intellectual lightweight, he was a voracious reader with an impressive command of public policy. The left believed that he would start World War III, and yet shortly after his tenure in office the crumbling edifice of Soviet Communism finally collapsed – thanks in large part to his willingness to face the Soviets head-on.

Conservatives owe a great debt to Reagan. He was the first person in American politics to truly and successfully advocate and win on conservative principles. Were it not for Reagan’s vision and leadership, America would have travelled much further down the road to serfdom, and we would have all suffered for it. Instead, Reagan challenged the basic assumptions of state power and brought in a badly needed breath of fresh air into the stale doctrine of expanding government power.

Reagan’s legacy of peace through strength, limited government, and strong moral values have become the core principles of the Republican Party – although we don’t always live up them as we should. Reagan’s incredible contribution to this country left it a much better place, and the world he left was a significantly safer one. We should continue his legacy in fighting for a strong national defense, less intrusive government, and a commitment to the values that make our society strong. The legacy of Reagan is a legacy worth continuing, and the his values should be our values.

8 thoughts on “The Reagan Legacy

  1. While I respect him for cutting taxes and pushing through a number of necessary economic reforms, he’s still the most overrated president in history. His “confrontation” with the Soviet Union set a dangerous precedent for unsustainable defense spending and helped lead to the collapse of a country that had not yet completed democratic reforms (and is now backsliding into dictatorship because of it, and making the world even more dangerous by its willingness to supply weaponry to rogue regimes). While the CIA’s support of Yeltsin over Gorbachev is probably equally responsible, Reagan does deserve some blame for the Soviet Union’s current state.

    And anyway, Reagan gets too much credit for winning the cold war. Hitler had much more to do with it, IMHO…

  2. “His “confrontation” with the Soviet Union set a dangerous precedent for unsustainable defense spending”

    Which, according to some economists, “sustained” itself within a decade; the economic benefits of the end of the cold war repaid the economy for its defense spending within five years of the collapse of the USSR; the “Clinton Boom” was largely from the cashing of the “peace dividend”.

    ” and helped lead to the collapse of a country that had not yet completed democratic reforms (and is now backsliding into dictatorship because of it, and making the world even more dangerous by its willingness to supply weaponry to rogue regimes)”

    Reagan had *nothing* to do with Russia’s inability to institute genuine rule of law. Remember – we didn’t conquer the USSR, merely caused the government to fall. The Russians determined their own path, and determined (so far) badly.

    “. While the CIA’s support of Yeltsin over Gorbachev is probably equally responsible, Reagan does deserve some blame for the Soviet Union’s current state.”

    Blame him for lack of clairvoyance. It’s a common failing.

    “And anyway, Reagan gets too much credit for winning the cold war. Hitler had much more to do with it, IMHO…”

    You’re joking, right? World War Two gave the USSR legitimacy in the eyes of the rest of the world (Stalin had a vote and veto on the Security Council, for crying out loud); it drove a modernization (by theft, largely) of the USSR’s industry that allowed it to survive longer than it might have; it provided an excuse to purge opposition even more thoroughly than might have occurred otherwise. It cost the USSR heavily, of course – but human life was never of much consequence to the Soviets.

    Explain this, won’t you: Why is the *rest* of Eastern Europe – at least, the parts that liberalized their economies and adapted the rule of law, countries like Poland and Hungary and the Baltics and the Czechs – doing so *well*? Given that none of them came out of the gate in 1991 with a fraction of the USSR’s resources, and had had their national wealth plundered for fifty years by the USSR, it should not have been that way – and yet it is so.

  3. mitch:
    As far as economic development and liberalization are concerned, resources are not as much of a boon as one might think. The most successful economies on earth have typically sprung from countries with relatively sparse resources that have been forced to innovate and colonize to get ahead (such as Britain or Japan) or have been spawned from such a culture (the U.S.) In fact, as Fareed Zakaria points out, nothing is more dangerous to liberty and true economic development than being a resource “trust fund kid”- like Russia, Saudi Arabia, or Venezuela. The eastern bloc countries also have a close proximity to Western Europe and access to their not inconsiderable economies to help boost their fortunes.

    And no, I’m not joking about Hitler damaging the Soviet Union. He all but obliterated their industrial base in his march to Moscow, and slaughtered an entire generation of young men (and civilians). America came out of WWII with the strongest industrial base in our history- and only a few hundred thousand casualties. Russia was utterly raped by the Wehrmacht, and lost over 10 million people. Not only was the Soviet Union hobbled by a fantasy economic system, they were fighting the cold war from a position of utter devestation. Unlike Germany and Japan, they didn’t get a Marshall plan. It’s amazing that they got as far as they did!

    No, I don’t like political revolutions; they typically turn out more like the French revolution than the American revolution. China is now on a better path towards liberal democracy than Russia, which will be under totalitarian rule again within a decade. China, on the other hand, has gone through historic reforms in the past decade. They’re building an independent judiciary. They have thousands of political NGO’s. Peaceful protests and demonstrations are a daily occurance, and are typically not cracked down on by the government. There’s a grassroots democracy movement that is reforming politics at a local level. And now, for the first time since the rise of Emperor Q’in, the Chinese people are citizens, not serfs. A few years ago, the party ended their policy of requiring individuals to obtain permission from a government bureaucrat to marry, move about the country, or engage in other activities that free citizens take for granted- and apparently nobody in the west even seemed to notice.

    Nixon’s China policy is fairing better than Reagan’s Russia policy, from the looks of things.

    And no, our spending didn’t sustain itself within a decade, as the out-of-control fiscal policies of the current administration prove. The so-called Clinton “surplus” only existed because we were ignoring the massive pile of debt we were already sitting on; a pile that’s now grown by $2 trillion in the last five years due to the GOP’s spendthrift, state-paternalist “conservatism”. While Reagan didn’t set the current precedent (FDR did that, though he had a hot war to fight with Hitler and Tojo), Reagan made it acceptible to “conservatives”. For a conservative point of view on this, take a look at American Conservative magazine’s recent hit piece on the policies of Alan Greenspan… you can find it at

  4. In retrospect, Reagan’s tough talk against the Soviet Union in the early 1980’s was probably the right strategy, but as Nicq alluded to, his go-for-broke defense spending binge set up a permanent culture of defense spending entitlement (not to mention the tax cut entitlement philosophy his domestic agenda ushered in). While his aggressive anti-communism busting, complete with the arming and financing of bloodthirsty “freedom fighters” far more deadly than Communists, may have accelerated that fall of the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc in Eastern Europe by five or 10 years, the long-term consequences continue to plague us at multiple levels. If LBJ and FDR created an “entitlement culture” at the bottom of the economic scale with federal anti-poverty programs, Reagan cemented an “entitlement culture” at the top of the political and economic scale, where massive Pentagon budgets and tax cuts are demanded no matter what the situation of the day may be. Given the explosion of the deficit 1981-89 and again 2001-05, it’s pretty clear to me which entitlement culture is the most counterproductive.

  5. “financing of bloodthirsty “freedom fighters” far more deadly than Communists”
    ahhh no, communism killed roughly 100 million in a decade. Far more “bloodthirsty” by anyone’s comparison.

    “tax cut entitlement philosophy his domestic agenda ushered in” as opposed to what the malise culture of the Carter administration. How was it that Reagan turned the economy around ? Good sound bites, nice hair, what was the vehicle that made the economy roar again ? Deficits because of tax cuts, theres a liberal canard, how about run away spending, where was the fiscal discipline promised by the congress ? Sorry tax cuts aren’t “entitlements” since its the peoples money (of the people, by the people and for the people) and they work everytime they’re tryed. JFK, Reagan, Bush 43 sorry the # don’t support your claims.

    China on the way to reform, well lets wait and see on that one, wouldn’t want to be a “citizen” in that country. Is it that the ChiComs are reforming voluntarily or are they reforming because of the economic demand ? Independent judicary, haha thats good.

  6. Ray: I wouldn’t want to live in China either, (honestly, the only countries in the world that I’d want to live in are the U.S. and Australia) but the Chinese people have more freedom today than they have in 2300 years. If I had to pick between Moscow or Shanghai, I’d take Shanghai in a heartbeat. For a look at their reforms, read “China, Inc.” and Fareed Zakaria’s look at them in “The Future of Freedom”.

    As for your criticisms of Mark, you made a few errors. First, the “freedom fighters” that were being financed were the bloodthirsty guerillas and contras of Latin America; people that no one wants to be associated with. The South American left, while I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with them either, aren’t as brutal as their southeast asian counterparts by any stretch of the imagination. Oh, and communism may have killed 100 million in a century, but even in it’s most brutal decades probably never topped 20 million (Mao’s Cultural Revolution of the late 60’s). Still tragic, and I never apologize for the left (given that I don’t associate myself with the “left”, and find the whole political spectrum makes little sense when discussing my own politics) but your number needed to be corrected.

    And, while congress didn’t give us fiscal discipline, it was equally responsible for the Reagan-era tax cuts. And if you think the GOP is any better at fiscal discipline, read it and weep- this is from the Heritage Institute, let’s see some “left-wing” bias out of there:

  7. “the “freedom fighters” that were being financed were the bloodthirsty guerillas and contras of Latin America people that no one wants to be associated with”

    Well, the Nicaraguan electorate found them more palatable than the Sandanistas, or so the electoral counts tells. And if the Contras were preferable to the Sandanistas, we still know plenty of folks happy to be associated with Ortega so this “point” is baseless bloviation. Come on, no historically identifiable group is one that “no one wants to be associated with” or they wouldn’t exist.
    Hyperbole doesn’t begin to describe this claptrap. Likewise on the pox on both rhetoric.

    “far more deadly than the Communists”? Whew, that is a high bar. No historical analysis can support that statement, sorry.

    And yes, Hitler certainly did cost the Russians some 10 million (not counting what the incompetence of the Russian prosecution of the war could be credited) but the resident expert, Stalin, thought that of little weight, hey collectivization cost 20 million souls and that is just one event in a pastiche of murder and depravity that, as the man said, exhausts all dictionaries. Dismiss Reagan’s Cold War victory if you will but there were hardly any commentors of his day that thought the USSR was anything other than the future of humanity. I’m sure glad they were wrong and Reagan was right. Hindsight ain’t hardly 20/20.

  8. Only 20 million a decade, whew thats a relief. Sorry meant 100 million/century my typo. I think Mao all told got 33 million, reeducation you understand.

    Nicq you may not be of the leftist bend as far as politics goes but you have taken to defending one of the deadliest ideologies in the 20th century, and even today. You talk left-right as if its a team sport and maybe it is, but to be a right winged radical in todays world is to have the entire academe, politicos, and intellectuals of every strip after your hide. Not so with the left wing radicals, they are always “not so bad” and the ideology “hasn’t been done properly”. If we see a radical on the right we rightly condmen them in the strongest terms. We see a left wing one and he’s usually on the staff at Berkley or off to visit Fidel & Hugh in Havanna or Caracus. Stop coddling these “revolutionaries” just becasue you share some of the ideological morings and start calling them what they are totalitarian despots who seek absolute power, or as they like to say “rule by the proletariat”, and acknowledge that their little grand experiment was damn awful for the people they were “helping”..

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