Because Obama is so disliked by conservatives and most Republicans, the question frequently comes up how Ronald Reagan might have done things differently with the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, our military, taxes, and everything else a president has to deal with. (I voted for Reagan both times.) This is a counterfactual, and with all counterfactuals, change one thing, let one of the moving parts fail, and there could be a very different outcome. I think it fair, though, within this limited space to try and sort through some of the issues and see if things would be a lot different. Certainly, many of the readers of this column will differ (most in Cobb for sure), but it makes for an interesting discussion.
Obama is being ridiculed for his fecklessness in Crimea, for not standing up to Vladimir Putin. Yet all of my conservative friends readily acknowledge that we should not do anything to provoke a war with Russia over it. Obama and European leaders are talking in unison about applying a number of financial sanctions, but the Russians have options too, and Putin is probably more willing to let his people suffer than any American president would if either side is to apply heat. Only John McCain and Lindsay Graham seem to think that we should consider some kind of military intervention.
While this is going on and still to be played out, the Pentagon is looking at huge cuts in size of our manpower levels for all the services. While many complain about the shrinking military, they don’t want a tax hike to pay for one that they want. Considering the Great Recession and its ongoing aftermath with lower revenue, money is a more important factor than it was during better times.
Obama has been blistered for the death of our ambassador and four civilian security personnel in Benghazi. Yet I haven’t heard a single word from the right about the failed security precautions that resulted in the deaths of over 240 marines in their barracks in Lebanon in October 1983 when a suicide bomber rammed his truck into it. There was active intelligence that such an attack could occur. Despite that, marine sentries were not permitted to have loaded magazines in their weapons. The bomber was subsequently identified as an Iranian national. Yet Reagan never retaliated against Iran, and he was never held to account for the security lapses. I personally wouldn’t hold him accountable, but since Obama is somehow accountable for Benghazi, I would think that the same rules for where the buck stops should also apply to Reagan.
Reagan inherited a very bad economy, and several years into his presidency the high unemployment rate dropped very significantly. What is rarely discussed in connection with how Regan got unemployment under control is the record setting deficits he created. His deficits were off the chart compared to all of his predecessors with the exception of FDR, who had to deal with the Depression and WW II, and who Reagan considered one of America’s best presidents. Reagan spent money that we didn’t have to build up our military that had deteriorated after Vietnam for a lot of reasons. I don’t have an argument with what Reagan did---it got results by pouring money into the economy---but when Obama suggests spending money to stimulate the economy, he is a “tax and spend” liberal. WW II and Reagan’s deficits proved that there are times that government spending can work to prime the pump of the private sector.
People forget that Reagan substantially increased taxes when he was governor of California, and while he was successful in lowering taxes as president, he also raised them several times. But the right doesn’t remember these inconvenient truths. Nor do they like to bring up the amnesty that Reagan got through for some three million illegal aliens. I think Reagan proved to be a sober president, a man who understood politics on a national and international level, who at first was considered a traitor by the right for negotiating arms limitations with the Soviets, and only later proving to have been bold and wise.
Reflecting on Reagan’s historical record, I have a hard time thinking that he would have been so different than Obama today. I also don’t believe that the same Ronald Reagan, using a pseudonym, could get very far in today’s Republican Party based on his record. He would be considered a RINO and persona non grata. Reagan may have projected being a better leader than Obama, but his record doesn’t support the mythical icon that he has become in far right quarters.