Remembering Reagan from the Beltway

He has given his name to a Washington airport, to an international trade building, and to a mountain in New Hampshire. And there will be more monuments - many more. But the true legacies of Ronald Reagan are the ideologies that bear his name - the "Reagan revolution," "Reagan economics" or "Reaganomics," and the "Reagan Doctrine" of supporting anticommunist "resistance fighters."

Reaganomics was based on the so-called supply-side theory that reducing taxes would stimulate the economy and shrink the size of government - "Starve the beast," he called it. His opponent for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination, George Bush, called it "voodoo economics." And Reagan's own budget director, David Stockman, said it was based on an illusion that he called the "rosy scenario." But the deep tax cuts, accompanied by whopping defense increases, did help to produce an economic boom - along with a record deficit.

And then there was the Reagan Doctrine, first enunciated in a speech to the British House of Commons that I covered in 1982 and then in the State of the Union message in 1985. It called for bringing down the Communist "Evil Empire" by a calculated policy of supporting "freedom fighters" in countries like Angola, Afghanistan, and Nicaragua.

It was trying to apply the Reagan Doctrine to the contra rebels in Nicaragua that led him into the Iran-contra scandal. The president allowed the sale of missiles to Iran to raise money for arms for the contras that Congress had voted to cut off. This was arguably an unconstitutional act.

But President Reagan held, as he expressed it in his State of the Union message, that "we must not break faith with those who are risking their lives ... to defy Soviet aggression."

In pursuit of the Reagan Doctrine, the US in 1983 invaded the Caribbean island of Grenada, where an airport runway was being built that could handle Cuban jet fighters. The left-leaning government of Grenada was ousted and a new one, more to the liking of the US, was installed. Grenada's ironic monument to the Reagan Doctrine today is his portrait on its postage stamp.

Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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