POLITICS

Seven Ronald Reagan Legacies The GOP Won't Be Honoring On The 9th Anniversary Of His Death

06/05/2013 07:54 pm 19:54:08 | Updated Jun 06, 2013

Former President Ronald Reagan died nine years ago Wednesday, leaving behind a political legacy enshrined by many Republicans as guiding principles for their party. Yet many of Reagan's policies appear at odds with the modern GOP and its take on conservatism. While this hasn't discouraged the invocation of Reagan as a shining beacon for the GOP, it has led some Republicans to concede that there simply wouldn't be room for the Gipper in today's party.

When Republicans look back at Reagan nine years after his death, here are seven legacies they won't be remembering.

1. Reagan was a big FDR fanboy.

Though Reagan famously quipped, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help,'" he admired Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who arguably did more to expand the role of government than any other American leader. Reagan voted for FDR all four times and called him "one of history's truly monumental figures." It would be hard to find a GOP candidate today willing to admit a similar admiration for Roosevelt.

2. Reagan was no stranger to tax hikes.

Reagan was not afraid to raise taxes. As governor of California, he signed the largest tax increase in the history of any state at that time. Though it's true that under President Reagan, the top income tax rate decreased from roughly 70 percent to 28 percent, taxes increased 11 times during his tenure. As professor Douglas Brinkley, author of The Reagan Diaries, said in a 2011 NPR interview, "There's a false mythology out there about Reagan as this conservative president who came in and just cut taxes and trimmed federal spending in a dramatic way. It didn't happen that way."

3. Reagan helped expand the federal government.

Though the myth persists, Reagan did not reduce the size of the government during his tenure. Annual federal spending during his terms averaged 22.4 percent of the gross domestic product, which is greater than the 20.8 percent average under President Jimmy Carter. As then-Slate editor Michael Kinsley once noted, the federal government's spending increased by 25 percent in real terms from the time Reagan entered office to the time he left. During the same time, the federal civilian workforce grew from 2.8 million to 3 million.

4. Reagan gave amnesty to three million undocumented immigrants.

With today's heated rhetoric over immigration reform and border security, many tea party supporters should be horrified that Reagan signed a 1986 law granting amnesty to three million undocumented immigrants. Anyone who came to the U.S. prior to 1982 was eligible for the amnesty. The comprehensive legislation also mandated tighter security along the Mexican border and provided for penalties on employers who hired immigrants without papers.

5. Reagan blew up the national debt.

Debt reduction is now a central tenet of Republican ideology, but during the Reagan presidency, the national debt tripled -- from $995 billion to $2.9 trillion. In a 1998 book, Richard Darman, the former president's adviser, declared, "In the Reagan years, more federal debt was added than in the entire prior history of the United States."

6. One of Reagan's Supreme Court appointees saved abortion rights.

When Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court in 1981, she came with a record of pro-choice votes as an Arizona state legislator, much to the chagrin of evangelicals. The first woman justice, O'Connor would become a critical swing vote on abortion and reaffirm the core of Roe v. Wade in 1992. In other words, Reagan's decision to name O'Connor to the Supreme Court ensured that women had the right to choose for another generation.

7. Reagan negotiated with terrorists.

In the events that became known as Iran-Contra, Reagan went where Republicans wouldn't dare today: He negotiated with terrorists. Trying to free American hostages held by Iranian terrorists in Lebanon, Reagan violated the U.S. embargo and secretly sold weapons to Iran. The funds from selling those weapons were then used to support the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. Some would argue that Iran-Contra was a far greater scandal than those now facing President Barack Obama.

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