Ronald Reagan heritage: greatness or not?
THE current vacations of President Reagan and Congress afford an opportune moment to assess the accomplishments of the Reagan administration to date, the outlook for the future, and what legacy it may eventually leave us. When Ronald Reagan ran for the presidency in 1980, the American people had undergone a long span of discouraging years: Vietnam, Watergate, a huge oil price rise badly damaging the economy, high inflation, and a discouraging Carter presidency.Skip to next paragraph
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It was with relief and enthusiasm that the American people elected the optimistic, exuberant, and confident Mr. Reagan, who promised to restore American greatness. Specifically he pledged to reestablish American military strength, reduce taxes, balance the budget, and end government's increasing and very costly bureaucratic interference in everyone's daily life.
Now, more than halfway through Reagan's presidency, let us see how he has fulfilled his undertakings, and where the country will be headed at the end of his term.
First, it must be said that the American people owe Reagan a debt of gratitude -- gratitude for having ended the despondency of the preceding decade and restored the nation's self-confidence, and for having begun to rebuild America's dangerously eroded military strength essential to the preservation of peace in a divided and dangerous world.
An even greater debt is owed him for having reversed the tide of increasing government activism and interference in our daily life resulting from the ``tax, tax, tax -- spend, spend, spend'' welfare state philosophy that motivated the Democratic-controlled Congresses of the past two decades and started our country down the slippery slope of deficit spending. Also to his credit, Reagan reduced runaway inflation to the lowest level in many years.
These are very substantial accomplishments, but are they enough to win Ronald Reagan a lasting place in history as a great President? Unfortunately the answer is no, not yet.
Why? Because his achievements to date have failed badly in one most critical respect -- to keep his pledge to move toward a balanced budget, imperative to future economic health.
While tax cuts and heavy military spending have helped the economy, his ``supply side'' economic theory has proved a devastating and costly illusion. As a result, in Reagan's first term the national debt doubled, from roughly $900 billion to $1.8 trillion, adding tens of billions of dollars of uncuttable interest costs to future annual budgets.
Worse still, if the deficit problem is not effectively dealt with in the Reagan years, the deficit could balloon to $3 trillion by the early 1990s. Now every American household knows that one cannot indefinitely spend more than one takes in without devastating consequences. Yet if not reversed, that is the direction in which the nation is headed, passing on to future generations intolerable and unmanageable debt burdens.
So where are we now and what can be done to avoid such a calamity?