HARRINGTON: Reagan legacy incorrectly praised


Either through selective memory or deliberate ignorance by conservatives, the disastrous presidency of Ronald Reagan has become a “golden era” of American politics. College students who were not even conceived during the Reagan years proudly walk around campus wearing “Reagan/Bush” campaign T-shirts.

Conservative Twitter pundits yearn for the days when a former actor-turned-political figure was the face of American conservatism. This hero worship is baffling, as the Reagan administration set forth historically bad policies both at home and abroad.

Much like our current Commander-In-Chief, Reagan received glowing endorsements from hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan. An editorial written by a member of the Klan praised the Republican platform under Reagan, stating it “reads as if it was written by a Klansman.” Even after four years in office, the Klan endorsed him a second time during his re-election campaign. However, this second endorsement was spurned by the former governor of California. The former president spoke strongly against the hate group, yet many of his administration’s policies continue to adversely affect people of color to this day.

One of those ill-fated policies was the war on drugs. Despite similar drug usage rates, black populations were targeted more than whites due to racial connotations surrounding the crack epidemic. These policies still affect black communities with no clear positives. The United States, then the largest consumer of illegal drugs in the world, sought to punish any country who was not operating within strict anti-narcotics guidelines. Exceptions to these sanctions were made, as the CIA was funding some of those foreign cartels to help combat the “spread” of communism.

One minority group of the United States was damaged more by the Reagan administration than any other: the gay community. The 1980s saw the rise of HIV/AIDS in the United States. Little was known about the disease, which allowed misconceptions and misinformation surrounding the disease to spread. Reagan first used the word “AIDS” in public in 1985, five years into his time in office. The influence of the religious right was apparent in Reagan’s inaction, as the disease was predominantly affecting gay men. The Reagan administration deliberately dragged their feet on the issue of HIV/AIDS even as the disease was ravaging gay communities with horrific mortality rates.

Foreign policy under Reagan was somehow more devastating than his domestic policy, although not by a very wide margin. From funding death squads and extremist right-wing groups in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Grenada among others, the United States accelerated its rate of government de-stabilization in South America. Also among Reagan’s all-star lineup of foreign allies were the Mujahideen of Afghanistan, “freedom fighters” who would shortly become the Taliban.

Reagan did speak out strongly against one political figure during his time in office: Nelson Mandela. Due to Mandela’s links to the South African Communist Party, Reagan placed the anti-apartheid activist on the international terrorist list, where he would remain until 2008. The former president would also attempt to veto American sanctions on the Apartheid government of South Africa. The Senate, however, would override this decision, marking a shift in public opinion on apartheid.

Economically, Reagan is praised by conservatives for his tax cuts on the rich and his reduction in government spending. During the Reagan years, minimum wages were frozen while taxes on the rich were literally halved. As these tax cuts continued, the middle class saw increases in taxation. As a result of his economic policies, the wage gaps in this country have grown even larger. This tactic of economic stratification has continued to be an essential part of GOP platforms in the decades following the Reagan years.

The Reagan era had positives that would be unfair to overlook. The former president was well-spoken and had a comfortable media presence for a majority of his time in office. This is likely a result of Reagan’s time as an actor. This trait is displayed in his response to the Challenger disaster. Reagan’s granting of amnesty to illegal immigrants who entered the country prior to 1982 is an immigration stance that would be unheard of in modern conservatism. But the lengthy list of negatives associated with the Reagan administration heavily outweigh the positives.

The hero worship of Reagan exhibited by contemporary conservatives is either indicative of the malice of the party, or the ignorance of the damage Reagan has done to the world.