Tear Down This Myth: The Right-Wing Distortion of the Reagan Legacy

Tear Down This Myth: The Right-Wing Distortion of the Reagan Legacy

Will Bunch

Language: English

Pages: 304

ISBN: 1416597638

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In this provocative new book, award-winning political journalist Will Bunch unravels the story of how a right-wing cabal hijacked the mixed legacy of Ronald Reagan, a personally popular but hugely divisive 1980s president, and turned him into a bronze icon to revive their fading ideology. They succeeded to the point where all the GOP candidates for president in 2008 scurried to claim his mantle, no matter how preposterous the fit.

With clear eyes and an ever-present wit, Bunch reveals the truth about the Ronald Reagan legacy, including the following:

  • Despite the idolatry of the last fifteen years, Reagan's average popularity as president was only, well, average, lower than that of a half-dozen modern presidents. More important, while he was in office, a majority of Americans opposed most of his policies and by 1988 felt strongly that the nation was on the wrong track. Reagan's 1981 tax cut, weighted heavily toward the rich, did not cause the economic recovery of the 1980s. It was fueled instead by dropping oil prices, the normal business cycle, and the tight fiscal policies of the chairman of the Federal Reserve appointed by Jimmy Carter. Reagan's tax cut did, however, help usher in the deregulated modern era of CEO and Wall Street greed.
  • Most historians agree that Reagan's waste-ridden military buildup didn't actually "win the Cold War." And Reagan mythmakers ignore his real contributions -- his willingness to talk to his Soviet adversaries, his genuine desire to eliminate nuclear weapons, and the surprising role of a "liberal" Hollywood-produced TV movie.
  • George H. W. Bush's and Bill Clinton's rolling back of Reaganomics during the 1990s spurred a decade of peace and prosperity as well as the reactionary campaign to pump up the myth of Ronald Reagan and restore right-wing hegemony over Washington. This effort has led to war, bankrupt energy policies, and coming generations of debt.
  • With masterful insight, Bunch exposes this dangerous effort to reshape America's future by rewriting its past. As the Obama administration charts its course, he argues, it should do so unencumbered by the dead weight of misplaced and unearned reverence.

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    may have been a small gesture with greatly ironic overtones, but there were many other big decisions on energy policy that look extremely unwise today, with the aid of hindsight. The damage that the Reagan administration did to solar energy programs in general was much more severe. For example, Carter had created a Solar Energy Research Institute, which received $124 million in federal funding in 1980, but Reagan slashed that by more than half in just two years, and by 1985 the GOP-led White

    Democratic standard-bearer: Alain Robert-Jean, “Obama tries to wrest Clinton’s blue-collar base in Pennsylvania,” Agence France-Presse, March 29, 2008. Obama’s plan also raised: Robertson Williams and Howard Gleckman, “An Updated Analysis of the 2008 Presidential Candidates’ Tax Plans,” Tax Policy Center, Sept. 15, 2008, http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/publications/url.cfm?ID=411750. CHAPTER TEN Karcher died in 2008: Eric Mainic, “Carl Karcher, 90; entrepreneur turned hot dog stand into a

    treasuries, and $11.5 trillion in U.S. public and private debt altogether. Most experts believed that China, which owned about 10 percent of those U.S. treasuries, would never sell them off, since that would cripple its own economy, so heavily dependent on cheap exports to America. That is perhaps true, but the risk of such a precipitous action seemed to grow as the dollar continued to shrink in value. In the 1980s, Reagan had been able to negotiate, with a few close calls like the Able Archer

    speechwriter David Frum, who authored that section of the speech, said he’d been reading up on Franklin Roosevelt’s response to Pearl Harbor, in part because he wanted to learn how FDR had convinced the nation to enthusiastically support the war against Germany when it had been Japan that attacked the United States. He believed that the three nations made up what he called an “axis of hate,” and he claimed Bush himself changed it to “evil.” Was Bush intending to mimic Reagan? A couple of weeks

    Reaganism—as separate and apart from the flesh-and-blood Reagan—for misguided policies from lowering taxes in the time of war in Iraq to maintaining that unpopular conflict in a time of increasing bloodshed and questionable gains. Despite what viewers saw and heard in the 2008 campaign, the modern conservative agenda is not based on the once-sentient Ronald Reagan who ruled America a generation ago. Instead, a brand-new Ronald Reagan was cast out of bronze—just like the cowboy model with the

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