It is absolutely true that Ronald Reagan is the most influential President in the 20th Century after FDR. And its true that Reagan died a Republican. But did you know that Ronald Reagan was in fact a LIBERAL for thirty years of his life? I’m certain many of my Republican readers are hyperventilating at this point, probably asking themselves how I can say such a thing about their hero. But the fact remains that Reagan was a liberal and that liberalism influenced some of what Reagan did during his presidency between 1981 and 1989.
Ronald Reagan, the hero of most conservatives today, was a liberal between 1932 and 1962 at the height of liberalism in America. He strongly supported FDR, arguably the most liberal President in American history, and the New Deal policies of the era, including Social Security. Reagan not only supported FDR, he admired the man too. How many conservatives today would say they admire FDR? The answer is zero, but “The Gipper” did.
In the 1940’s, the actor became an active union member. First elected to the Board of Directors of the Screen Actors Guild in 1941, he would return from his World War II service and become its Vice President in 1946 and would subsequently be elected President of the Guild in 1947 and would serve in that position through 1952 and once more in 1959. Reagan’s leadership of the Screen Actor’s Guild carried it through eventful years that were marked by labor disputes, the Taft-Hartley Act, the House Committee on Un-American Activities hearings and the Hollywood blacklist era. Reagan had always been a strong supporter of unions and was still a strong supporter of unions during his Presidency. Its true that Reagan stood up to the Air Traffic Controllers union when they went on strike, but he didn’t do it because he hated unions. On the contrary, Reagan fired the Air Traffic Controllers because they had violated the law which states that federal workers are not allowed to go on strike. As further proof that Reagan strongly supported unions, I would point out that Reagan supported the Polish labor union Solidarity in its fight against Soviet domination. So Reagan would most certainly disagree with Republican attempts to destroy unions.
In the mid 1950’s, Reagan endorsed Eisenhower for President and strongly supported his infrastructure programs. Today, Republicans are against infrastructure spending. This is the opposite of what Reagan believed. Reagan would certainly approve of infrastructure spending, especially since this nation needs it to get the economy moving again and to keep the American people safe. Going forward to the 1960’s, Reagan made the decision to switch parties and run for Governor of California.
Sworn in as Governor of California on January 2, 1967, Reagan immediately approved tax hikes to balance the budget. And guess what? They worked. Republicans constantly claim that Reagan only cut taxes, but that’s not true. While he did cut taxes in 1981 and again in 1988, Reagan actually raised taxes every year from 1981 to 1987 including The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 which, at the time, had been the largest peacetime tax increase in U.S. history, the Deficit Reduction Act of 1984, a higher gasoline levy, and a 1986 tax reform deal that included the largest corporate tax increase in American history. Reagan was not a corporate lackey. He stood up to unions when they stepped out of line, and he had the strength and boldness to turn around and take corporations to the woodshed too. Reagan was wise enough to know that tax increases are necessary if you want to balance the budget. He never would have cut taxes the way Republicans have done over the last decade. Reagan’s tax increases brought in more revenue and shrank the unemployment rate. This should be a lesson to today’s GOP.
Moving on from taxes for the moment, while Reagan served as Governor of California, he made abortion legal there in 1967. The national debate on abortion had just begun when Reagan took office. Democratic California state senator Anthony Beilenson introduced the “Therapeutic Abortion Act,” in an effort to reduce the number of “back-room abortions” performed in California. After some time of indecision Reagan signed the bill into law. Now, it’s true that Reagan later declared himself to be pro-life, but one has to wonder why he would sign the bill. Republicans will argue that Reagan was an inexperienced politician, but while that is true, he wasn’t a young man either. Born in 1911, Reagan had already experienced 56 years of life by the time he made the decision to legalize abortion. Reagan would certainly have known of abortion and what it’s all about. The way I see it, Reagan knew that legalizing abortion was the right thing to do, that it would increase the freedom and rights of women, but in order to pander to the Christian Right and family values Republican groups, Reagan had to renounce his decision in order to gain these wings of the Republican Party. Reagan’s real instincts concerning abortion led him to legalize it, and the shrewd politician in him later renounced those instincts for political gain. Sheer genius. Reagan passed away in 2004 and since his death, Nancy Reagan has expressed her support in stem cell research, including embryonic stem cell research and she believes that the research is the key to finding a cure for Alzheimers, a disease that her husband had been diagnosed with. Ronald Reagan would most likely agree with his beloved wife.
Reagan’s actions regarding abortion wouldn’t be the last time he went against Republicans. In 1987, the Brady Act was first introduced in Congress. The Act is the gun control legislation of its time, requiring background checks before getting a firearm. Not convinced that Reagan supported gun control? In a 1991 editorial, Reagan wrote that the Brady Act would provide a crucial “enforcement mechanism” to end the “honor system” of the 1968 Gun Control Act and “can’t help but stop thousands of illegal handgun purchases.” Reagan doesn’t exactly sound like a right winger does he? Whenever right wingers hear about gun control today, they immediately jump to the conclusion that the federal government is trying to take their guns away. Reagan knew otherwise. He knew that responsibility had to be part of gun ownership and that protections needed to be in place to keep criminals and the mentally disabled from having guns, therefore protecting innocent American lives. The Brady Act would be signed two years after Reagan’s editorial by Bill Clinton in 1993.
In addition to gun control, Reagan also held liberal beliefs on the issue of illegal immigration. In 1986, Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act. The act made it illegal to knowingly hire or recruit illegal immigrants, required employers to attest to their employees’ immigration status, and granted amnesty to approximately 3 million illegal immigrants who entered the United States prior to January 1, 1982, and had lived in the country continuously. And again I must ask, does this sound like a man who would fit in as a Republican today? Republicans have rejected giving any kind of amnesty to illegal immigrants and have suggested rounding them all up like cattle to deport them. Republicans have also resisted improving laws that would punish employers for hiring illegal immigrants. Reagan would not approve of current Republican ideology. Period. He would never have called for rounding up a group of people, considering Reagan lived through World War II and thus knew about the Nazis rounding up Jews. And if anyone understood the American Dream, it was Reagan.
So, we’ve examined quite a bit of Reagan’s domestic policies and beliefs, so now let’s turn our examination to his foreign policy. Contrary to the myths that Republicans tell about Reagan today, Reagan was NOT a hawk. Although he authorized the bombing of Libya, Reagan was unwilling to wage war against terrorism in the Middle East, even to retaliate against acts of terror, much to the disappointment of his hawkish aides. According to Reagan’s biographer Lou Cannon, the president called the death of innocent civilians in anti-terror operations “terrorism itself.” Reagan also denounced the use of torture and believed it shouldn’t be used under any circumstances. And as proof that Reagan abhorred torture and supported the U.N. he signed the United Nations Convention Against Torture in 1988. It stated that torture cannot be used under “no exceptional circumstances, whatsoever.” So, this hero of the conservative movement would not have approved of the Iraq War and the torture programs perpetrated by President George W. Bush. Republicans are defending torture even though Reagan signed the United Nations Convention. And why would Reagan sign anything associated with the U.N. if he didn’t believe in the organization? The answer is he wouldn’t. Reagan admired FDR and the policies that he believed in and the United Nations is part of that legacy. It makes sense that Reagan approved of the United Nations. Republicans today should follow Reagan’s example.
To continue with foreign policy, Reagan negotiated and signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, with Gorbachev, which eliminated an entire class of nuclear weapons. The two leaders also laid the framework for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START I. President Obama’s START Treaty is basically the same kind of treaty, but Republicans didn’t like it because they believe in nuclear weapons and actually believe we should have more of them. Reagan would have approved of Obama’s START Treaty and would reject the Republican Party militarism. Just another aspect of the liberalism of Ronald Reagan.
When Ronald Reagan entered the White House for the first time, he faced a high unemployment rate similar to the recent rate. Republicans often claim that Reagan’s tax cuts were the reason the rate dropped later on during his Presidency. But once again, they would be wrong or lying. Despite cutting taxes once in 1981, Reagan raised corporate taxes and many other taxes as well. But he also hired more government workers. 200,000 more to be exact. If Reagan had so much faith in the private sector why add 200,000 more federal workers to the payroll? The answer is to help bring the unemployment rate down which it did. Were any current Republicans paying attention in the 1980’s or were they too busy cheating on their wives and denying involvement in bank scandals? This is starting to get more and more hilarious.
You know what else is hilarious? The fact that Reagan grew government despite calling government the problem and insisting in a smaller one. Despite his promise to get rid of the Department of Education, Reagan actually kept it, indicating that he actually agreed with having it and supported federal efforts to improve education. In addition to keeping Education, Reagan added Veterans Affairs. To me, this is a pretty clear reason to believe that Reagan believed in a strong federal government instead of a limited one. Sorry Republicans.
And finally we get to Social Security and Medicare. Despite his promise to cut Social Security and kill Medicare, Reagan actually saved both programs. First, his admiration for FDR and his New Deal programs were enough for Reagan to save the program by raising payroll taxes in 1983. This action suggests that Reagan would approve of applying the payroll tax to all income over $100,000 which would keep Social Security solvent indefinitely. And even though Reagan spoke out against Medicare when it passed Congress in the 1960’s, Reagan actually saved that program too since it is part of the Social Security Act. I’m sure Reagan didn’t want to be seen as a hypocrite as I’m sure it dawned on him that he had federal health care himself as a President. Plus, Reagan clearly cared about the American people and his fears over Medicare had been proven wrong by the 1980’s. Reagan promised to cut these programs but he either only did it to pander to the right wing or the liberal in him told him not to cut them and he thus listened to and obeyed his conscience. I’m going with both.
And there you have it. Ronald Reagan called himself a Republican but he governed more like a liberal who had compassion for his people and respected the world. He believed in rights and freedom and he believed in expanding them to others. And he believed in the liberal programs of the 1930’s. According to Republicans today, Reagan would be a Republican in name only and if he were running for office today, Republicans would reject him as not being conservative enough. The Republican Party is not a party that Reagan would recognize or approve of today. The party hates anything that has to do with liberalism or the Democratic Party. Instead of working with Democrats as Reagan had, Republicans hate the Democrats and thus spreads hatred and fear of them, and seeks to destroy the party at all costs even if it means destroying unions, empowering corporations, and suppressing Democratic voters. Reagan would definitely reject Republicans today and would denounce the hate, fear, and lies of the Republican Party as being un-American. To the Republican Party, I believe Reagan would repeat an old statement that he made at the height of McCarthyism to demonstrate that Republicans have lost their way and have acted in contrast to our American values because of their hatred and fear of liberals, and ethnic groups. Not surprisingly it’s exactly what Republicans need to hear.
“I never as a citizen want to see our country become urged, by either fear or resentment of this group, that we ever compromise with any of our democratic principles through that fear or resentment.”
Reagan’s statement is precisely what a liberal would say.