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Refuting the ‘liberal’ Reagan idea

| Monday, February 16, 2015

Mr. Gary Caruso’s article published Feb. 6 on President Reagan’s supposed liberalism deserves a response. In it, he claims that Reagan was actually much more liberal than Republicans claim, and he insinuates that Republicans are pushing a false narrative about the extent of Reagan’s conservatism in order to capitalize on the popularity and success that was his presidency.

On taxes, Mr. Caruso claims “the notion that Reagan was a tax cutter who worshiped at the altar of lowest possible taxes is ridiculous.” The argument here relies almost exclusively on Reagan passing 11 tax increases, but the number of tax increases is a meaningless metric. After all, by such a metric, one would prefer a single tax increase of a million dollars over a thousand single dollar increases — a ridiculous conclusion. The number of tax-increase bills passed fails to capture how small those increases actually were relative to the tax slashing contained in the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, which Mr. Caruso fails to mention. In fact, most of those 11 tax increases were simply fine-tuning the reduction already in place from the 1981 act. These tax increases raised taxes equivalent to about half of the tax reductions contained in the 1981 act. Mr. Reagan was ambitious with his initial tax cut, and realistic enough to recognize that his taxes were lower than possible, resulting in these relatively smaller increases.

With regard to Reagan’s foreign policy, Mr. Caruso is wrong on his history blatantly, as well as subtly. The Beirut Bombing occurred in 1983 and the subsequent withdrawal in 1984, not in 1986 as he claims. The multinational force, which included around 1,700 Marines, was in Lebanon to support the Lebanese government and army after their newly elected president was assassinated during the country’s civil war. Reagan kept the troops in Lebanon after the Oct. 23 bombing despite growing calls for withdrawal from Congress. When the Prime Minister of Lebanon and his cabinet resigned Feb. 5, war broke out in the capital again the following day, and Reagan ordered withdrawal Feb. 7. There was barely a government to support, thus there was barely a mission, not to mention the deteriorating situation with the militant militias rapidly gaining more power. These facts reveal a truth that stands in stark contrast to the narrative that Mr. Caruso attempts to push with his selective presentation of facts, one of Reagan “cutting and running” as an immediate and direct result of the bombing.

Mr. Caruso also tries to paint Reagan as anything but anti-union. Perhaps Mr. Caruso can say Reagan acted “individualistically” on unions in the case of the air traffic controller’s strike because after firing more than 11,000 federal workers who were illegally striking, there were no more significant strikes by federal unions during his administration, as reported by The New York Times. In contrast, there were 39 illegal federal strikes from 1962 to 1981. It would have been hard for Reagan to be tough on federal unions in more than one individual instance since they ceased acting out, most likely as a direct result of Reagan’s “individualistic” response to that single instance. Additionally, Mr. Caruso invokes Reagan’s support of Solidarity, a Polish labor union that caused havoc for the U.S.S.R., as another example of Reagan being soft on unions. This is hardly a compelling argument. One can be anti-big labor while still recognizing collective bargaining rights, especially the rights of workers of the greatest threat to our nation at the time.

Strangely enough, Mr. Caruso’s work about solidarity in part seems to rely on an article published in a 2011 ThinkProgress article by Zaid Jilani. I’m willing to give Mr. Caruso the benefit of the doubt that he simply forgot to cite Mr. Jilani, but it still calls Caruso’s intent into question. Why make the same argument as Mr. Jilani almost four years later trying to discredit President Reagan’s conservatism?

Perhaps Mr. Caruso’s introduction concerning the political right “rely[ing] on the political expediency of recycled junk to eventually take on a luster when incorporated into mythology” is merely projection of the political left’s attempt to hijack one of the GOP’s most popular icons before a presidential election. Whatever the case, I wish the late Mr. Reagan a happy birthday and echo Mr. Caruso in saying “may he rest in peace along with those political myths and legends.” May we continue to critically evaluate all myths, legends and dubious narratives of all sources — left, right and center — so that only the truth remains.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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