As Ronald Reagan supporters celebrate his 100th birthday on Feb. 6, it's astounding how not only the right wing has inflated and distorted his legacy, but most of the so-called liberal media as well.
The inconvenient truth about how Reagan won his first term had nothing to do with his superior game plan but the fact that you had to be crazy to re-elect Jimmy Carter. Carter's reaction to the repressive Iranian regime that took Americans hostage for 444 days was simultaneously wimpy and self-righteous, implying that our gas-guzzling greed had led to the crisis along with finger-wagging us to turn down our thermostats and drive smaller cars.
On the other hand, while Reagan intolerance for repression apparently scared Iran's leadership enough to release the hostages shortly after he was elected, his subsequent deregulatory legacy has left our country in economic ruin.
You can thank The Gipper for the birth of the current mortgage crisis. As William Kleinknecht, author of The Man Who Sold the World, put it, Reagan pushed for the elimination of all ceilings on interest rates and restrictions on loans, with his goal to "allow all depository institutions to make the same type of loans in whatever amount they see fit." The subsequent Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982 enabled lenders to issue adjustable rate and interest-only mortgages, the drivers of the current mortgage meltdown.
As I pointed out in my book, America, Welcome to the Poorhouse, the blame for runaway home prices also falls on Reagan since he slashed subsidies for low-income housing, making home ownership the only option for low-income families. In 1988 Reagan cut the housing budget to less than $8 billion compared to $32 billion under Carter, resulting in a 90% decrease in construction of new units in one year alone.
Wonder why we've got record federal deficits? Much of the cause stems from Reagan's corporate tax breaks; by 1983 the portion of tax receipts derived from corporate income taxes dropped to an all-time low of 6.2%, down from 12.5% in 1980 and 32.1% in 1952.
Finally, Reagan was also responsible for the spiraling cost of college, since he continued his vendetta against the government subsidy of "intellectual curiosity" launched while governor of California once he occupied the Oval Office. Although he didn't manage to abolish the Department of Education, he halved the portion of the federal budget spent on education from 12% of the budget to 6% of it. Given that more Americans believe that making college affordable is more important than reducing the deficit or cutting taxes, according to a survey cited in the Huffington Post, this measure directly defied the will of the people.
What's amazing is that even the Liberal In Name Only New York Times is lionizing Reagan -- is this selective memory driven by fears that conservative readers might cancel their subscriptions if they did otherwise? The Times' downright nasty 2009 book review of The Man Who Sold the World, was authored by an editor for the right-wing Weekly Standard, an affiliation that was not disclosed in the review.
What will Obama's legacy be? It will depend on whether the progressives who got him elected along with the media will help him channel his inner FDR or choose instead to sit back and allow the Tea Party to Carterize his term.