Conservatives celebrate their Reagan myths

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Yesterday would have been Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday, which was celebrated across the country by Republicans and other members of the American right. The farther we get from Reagan’s presidency, however, the more mythologized he becomes in the minds of today’s conservatives.

For instance, a president whose favorable poll numbers hit a low of 35 percent just one year into his first term, and whose two-term average was only around 53 percent, is, in conservatives’ eyes, one of the most popular presidents in U.S. history. Like Franklin Roosevelt during his time in office, Reagan was intensely admired by many, but he was also despised and mocked by just as many others. So, that overwhelmingly popularity conservatives talk about? Sorry, but no.

Reagan is also usually portrayed by conservatives as the King of Tax Cuts. He did institute a sweeping tax cut — mostly for the wealthy, big corporations and the oil industry — in 1981; and he also lowered taxes a tiny bit in his last year in office. In between, however, Reagan signed measures that increased federal taxes every year, including 1982 when he signed what was, at the time, the largest peacetime tax increase in U.S. history. Sorry.

It’s also hard to find a conservative these days who doesn’t swear up and down that Reagan was a saintly, government-slashing, fiscal deficit hawk. The truth is that the number of federal employees grew from 2.8 million to 3 million under Reagan, and it was Pres. Bill Clinton who cut federal employee rolls back to 2.7 million. And although it makes conservatives redden and sputter when you point it out to them, the stone cold fact is that during Reagan’s terms in office, the federal deficit ballooned from around $700 billion to nearly $3 trillion. Sorry.

And as for Reagan being “saintly”? Check out this list of 21 Reagan administration staffers who were convicted of felonies as a result of crimes committed in the performance of their administration jobs. Again, sorry.

For more info on the wondrous times of our lives we all had under Reagan, also check out this “Five Myths About Reagan” Washington Post story by Will Bunch, which is part of that paper’s regular “Five Myths” series. Or read this piece from Alternet, which is titled “10 Things Conservatives Don't Want You to Know About Reagan,” but should have been called “10 things most conservatives don’t even know about Reagan.”

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