The country has just finished an impressive celebration of Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday. It was an appropriately uplifting series of events and discussions in honor of the Great Communicator.
Yet a low fog crept in on the birthday party as President Barack Obama announced his latest federal budget. It reminded some old-timers of the fog that swept up the valley at Reagan’s California ranch in August 1981 when he signed his major economic package. And a few of us wondered: does Reagan actually have a solid and enduring legacy?
Twenty years after Reagan left the White House the private sector appeared on the verge of collapse, and the federal government took over much of the American economy. That federal takeover was initiated by a Republican president who professed to be an admirer of the Gipper.
So there may not be much of a legacy left considering Reagan’s central agenda was to curtail the power of the federal apparatus, which he viewed as threatening to our freedoms and prosperity. And every day more restrictions on commerce and speech are churned out by a bureaucracy that many observers think is out of control, and quite literally bankrupting our future.
Reagan certainly does have a successful legacy on other fronts like national defense, but the really big, timeless presidents like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt probably had more enduring impacts. At minimum we will probably need another generation, and more battles between pro-government and anti-government movements, before rendering a judgment. The rise of the Tea Party heralds the latest clash.
So before Republicans rush to add Ronald Reagan’s smiling face to Mount Rushmore, we need to ask ourselves why we have departed so far from the principles he espoused, and where we went wrong.
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