I've known for years that conservatives would go all-out in their attempts to canonize Reagan upon his death. Their efforts were so inaccurate - and my local newspaper printed so many blindly idolatrous letters - that I had to speak my piece:
The current media effort to canonize Ronald Reagan, including Sunday's multi-page encomium, requires a re-balancing of the scales. Reagan's Teflon shell - combined with an unprecedented degree of media sycophancy - perpetuates the mythologies of his presidency even after his passing. "Morning in America" jingles and Panglossian rhetoric may have made us feel better about our country, but fondly remembering Reagan's destructive policies is as nonsensical as today's students having high self-esteem and low test scores.
Most historians, less swayed by simplistic slogans, consider Reagan a below-average president. Often mistakenly credited with winning the Cold War against the Soviet Union, which had been collapsing for decades, Reagan's greatest real accomplishment was demonizing government in general - and social programs in particular - while overlooking the massive corruption both inside and outside his administration.
Rush Limbaugh, always prone to a highly exaggerated opinion of Ronald Reagan's tenure in office, once stated that this nation owes Reagan "a debt that it can never repay." That is true, but not in the way Rush intended. Reagan - that alleged paragon of fiscal discipline - never submitted a balanced budget to Congress, and we will be paying for his supply-side budget deficits far into the future. This coming Friday should not be a one-time national holiday in memory of Reagan, but every April 15th should be. We should remember Ronald Reagan for generations to come, as we continue to pay for the unrestrained borrow-and-waste orgy of the 1980s.
While I have nothing but sincere condolences for Reagan's family and friends, who have experienced the loss of a loved one as none of us should, we should not whitewash his disastrous presidency: turning America from the world's biggest creditor nation to its biggest debtor, lying about arms-for-hostages deals with so-called "moderate" terrorists, supporting murderous thugs in Central America while calling them "freedom fighters," ignoring the AIDS epidemic, denigrating social programs with fictitious "welfare queens," and deregulating S&Ls to the tune of a $500 billion taxpayer-funded bailout.
Ronald Reagan may have been a charming man, but - even by GOP standards - he was an abysmal president.
update (6/14): An edited version of my letter was published as "Reagan wasn't saint he's made out to be."
update 2 (6/21): A response to my letter was published under the title "Reagan inherited troubled country," to which I replied:
The emotionalism of many Reagan mourners--those who are inclined to excuse rather than examine his legacy--never ceases to amaze me. That Carter, an honorable president who bravely told unpalatable truths to our nation, is considered worse than one who vacillated between cluelessness and mendacity illustrates much about the GOP's true believers.
The other source of my continual amazement is the inability of Reagan's would-be defenders to address any of the facts regarding his disastrous presidency; instead, they perform a simple misdirection and attack Carter instead. This response to my letter is a typical example: he could not refute any of the facts, preferring instead the plaintive wail that Reagan made him feel better.
Unfortunately, those warm fuzzies don't erase the damage done during the 1980s.