In a statement, Rep. McHenry said, “Every generation needs its own heroes. One decade into the 21st century, it’s time to honor the last great president of the 20th and give President Reagan a place beside Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy. President Reagan was a modern day statesman, whose presidency transformed our nation’s political and economic thinking. Through both his domestic and international policies he renewed America’s self confidence, defeated the Soviets and taught us that each generation must provide opportunity for the next. ”
As you can see, McHenry’s argument is based on the typical Republican deification of Ronald Reagan. The problem is that the myth doesn’t match up with the facts. Here are 5 reasons why Ronald Reagan does not deserve to be on the $50 dollar bill.
1). The size of the federal government exploded under Ronald Reagan
The Republican myth is that Reagan shrunk the size of the federal government, but this is not true. In fact, it is blatantly false. It was reported as early as 1988 that the size of the federal government had grown by 7% under Ronald Reagan. Also, government became a larger percentage of GDP under Reagan than it had previously been. When defense spending is included on the Reagan resume, the size of the federal government grew by 90% during the Reagan years, so much for small government conservatism.
2). Reagan did not end the Cold War
The popular argument for Reagan with Republicans is that Ronnie ended the Cold War, but that is debatable. As David Greenberg wrote in 2003, “Though few Americans realized it, by the mid-1970s the Soviet system was collapsing. Its aggressive acts of that era, like its invasion of Afghanistan, turned out not to be harbingers of a renewed Red menace but the last gasps of a tottering power. Yet Reagan’s coterie of hawkish advisers foresaw only an unending struggle.” Reagan read the Cold War wrong. In his second term, Reagan was pragmatic and tried to negotiate peace and an abolition of nuclear weapons with the Soviet Union. This is a part of his legacy that his worshipers often forget.
3). Budget Deficits
It is in vogue for Republicans to now moan about the Obama administration adding to the budget deficit, but they are ignoring the fact that the most permanent legacy of the Reagan presidency is debt. When Ronald Reagan took office the deficit was $94 billion, and federal debt was $930 billion, in two years he increased the deficit to $208 billion, and by 1988 the deficit was $2.6 trillion. Ronald Reagan’s tax cut and spend policies dug the United States a hole that it may never climb out of.
4). Iran Contra
As a rule of thumb, the presidents immortalized on our currency should not be involved in secret deals to sale arms to Iran in exchange for the release of hostages. It is debatable how much Reagan actually knew about this, or if he was in charge. At worst, Reagan was engaged in criminal activity if he was the head of this illegal activity. At best, Reagan was half out of it due to Alzheimer’s, and spend the second part of his final term as little more than a figurehead. Either way, this was not heroic presidential behavior.
5). Ronald Reagan’s Lasting Legacy
Most great presidents leave a lasting legislative legacy, but Ronald Reagan did not. His legacy was an ideological slashing of social programs that led to a jump in homelessness, and the mentally ill turned out into the streets. Reagan’s presidency was more rhetoric than substance. Reagan opened the door for out of control deficit spending, while overseeing any era where the gap between the have and have not grew. The Reagan presidency was a tribute to the failure of trickledown economics, and people should not confuse the popularity of the man, with the success of his presidency.