WASHINGTON — When Ronald Reagan was president, I dismissed him as all fluff and no substance. On both the domestic and international front, nearly everything he did was bad for the country, I thought. My opinion of him was so low that I naively attributed many of the ills of the world to this man.
Ronald Reagan, if you're listening up there, I owe you an apology.
As a sophomore, I started writing for my college newspaper. I thought I knew what was best for the country; after all, I had a whole year of college under my belt.
Consider this passage from one of my articles: "We are currently drunk with Reagan's artificial happiness, and it will soon be replaced by a sobering hangover - anything from an economic calamity to a nuclear catastrophe."
Score two for the Gipper.
I was convinced that the centerpiece of Reagan's economic program - tax cuts - only provided momentary stimulation to the economy, while harming long-term economic growth. It was only later on, after I had a chance to study economics and experience some of the "real world," that I found out otherwise.
Tax cuts are all about incentives. When 70 percent of what people earn above a certain amount is taxed away, as was the case when Reagan entered office, the incentive to make more money by working harder and/or smarter is considerably less. So, too, is the desire to spend money on investments that will pay off years down the road.
When there's less work and investment going on, there are fewer goods and services to go around - i.e., a lower standard of living. By bringing the top marginal tax rate down from 70 percent to 28 percent, Reagan probably did more to promote long-term economic growth than any president has done in a hundred years.
And I was quite wrong about Reagan in the area of foreign policy. In reference to the Soviet Union I wrote, "With the advent of nuclear weapons, if our species is to survive, we must change our attitudes by abandoning hostilities we hold toward one another and toward other countries." I added, "Too bad Ron doesn't realize that throughout world history, whenever a country prepared for war, as we are now doing, war ensued."
I came to realize that no appeasement on our part would have ended the Cold War. The Soviet Union was the antagonist, not us. They are the ones who finally changed. The United States is willing to be friends with almost any country as long as they are willing to be friends with the United States. And if they hate us and want to bury us because of what we stand for, what else are we to do but to try to protect ourselves, while always holding out an olive branch if only the other party will accept it? Reagan epitomized that.
He also understood that US armed forces were stationed in Western Europe for defensive purposes, while Soviet forces were in Eastern Europe for offensive purposes. Back then I thought both were there for defensive purposes. Then after the Cold War it came out that the Soviets had detailed preparations for an offensive push into the West. They had everything meticulously planned out - even down to the renaming of streets in West Germany.
Peace through strength, I now concede, worked. Were it not for the presence of America's military, it is horrifying to think how much of the world could have fallen into tyrannical hands.
Reagan recognized the utter evil of communism - for the people who lived under it, and for the security of the United States. That is why, to my then-consternation, he was so adamant about stopping the spread of communism in Central America. It now seems obvious: a hostile superpower with the declared intent of taking over the world establishes outposts at the doorstep of the United States. We would have been crazy not to have tried to do something about it.
Reagan knew that tyranny in the world was not something we should simply accept and learn to live with. It should be spoken out against and stood up to. If America did not do so, who would? Mr. Reagan understood that. I did not.