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Ronald Reagan was the 40th president of the United States. His presidency is still a highly controversial topic. However, most politicians argue his accomplishments and highlight his failures. He took office when more than 50 percent of Americans supported conservative policies and voted against democrats (12).1 After being a democrat for a long period, Reagan switched to the Republican Party. Reagan’s critics often emphasize his inability to exercise his power. He could not overcome political and economic obstacles and tried to avoid them. The main goal of this paper is to analyze Reagan’s era to identify episodes that highlight his incompetence to exercise the power of being president
Various specialists highlight that the period of Ronald Reagan’s presidency should be characterized as an era of prosperity and success. Many American citizens feel the nostalgia for those days. However, facts demonstrate that it was a complete failure as this period is associated with a high level of deprivation and bureaucracy.
Reagan’s followers believe that he stopped an economic downturn and fostered liberty and free markets. Many of his supporters admire his outstanding communicational skills. On the other hand, Reagan was often blamed for abstract thoughts. People underlined the “homemade quality” of his mind (1).2 During his presidential campaign, he blamed Carter administration for the high governmental spending. However, after his leaving the office, the federal expenditure even increased.
Reagan aimed at weakening the government’s position. However, after several years of his presidency, the necessity of government intervention in the economy was so high that he had to change his mind regarding free markets and enhance the regulation and supervision of economic activities. It was one of his steps that suppressed freedoms. Reagan administration failed to achieve the development of free markets.
Reagan was not deeply involved in a political discussion. He focused only on cutting taxes, promoting the Strategic Defense Initiative missile shield, assisting anti-communist rebels in Latin America, and the condemnation of abortions (75).3 Although his governing manner was not intense, the general public believed that Reagan was a decisive leader. For example, when approximately 12,000 air traffic controllers went on strike, hoping that the president would support their walkout, Reagan applied tough measures. He neglected the fact that Air Traffic Controllers Organization stood for his presidency. Reagan did not sympathize with rebel workers. He sent military personnel to airports to replace strikers (39).4 This episode made a great impression on citizens that gave up the labor movement. Also, it convinced businessmen that the president would support their interests in the future.
Various critics perceive him as a low intelligent person due to the lack of analysis in his political actions. They support this opinion with different facts. When Reagan was faced with negative statistics that “the annual rate of inflation had reached 13 percent, and unemployment hovered at 7.5 percent,” he oversimplified this situation, not suggesting any solution for it (1430).5 Also, significant federal subsidies to business did not let him restore an economic balance. In addition, Reagan stated that he had made another decision regarding the pro-union plant-closing bill. Initially, Reagan vetoed this law, but later he let it pass without signing due to the high pressure from the political establishment. He explained that this action was necessary to ensure a Congressional trade bill. However, this bill subsequently violated consumers’ rights.
Reagan persuaded the members of his administration to reassign several politicians who tried to promote alternative ideas regarding economic, social, and foreign issues. He replaced specialists from such organizations as “Brooking Institution and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace” with numerous bureaucrats and cooperated with conservatives from American Enterprise Institute, The Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Hoover Institution (41).6 In addition, Reagan tried to stop social welfare programs that had worked for many years. His administration intervened in the work of federal courts that promoted civil rights and freedoms and reduced the pressure on business and banking (90).7
When Reagan came into office, he promised to cut business taxes. The Act of 1981 is considered to be the greatest tax decrease in the history of the United States. It took away most tax savings that were enacted before. The Economic Recovery Tax Act caused the Department of Treasure the loss of $750 billion (44).8 This law reduced income, business, and estate taxes. Reagan majored in economics at Eureka College. However, he did not have a political education. Subsequently, Reagan’s political incompetence led to a high level of deficit. He did not realize why “a deficit crowds out investment, but taxes do not” (4).9 Also, the increase in payroll and state taxes made this reform insignificant for many Americans.
At the beginning of his presidency, Reagan drastically reduced governmental spending. The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 cut spending for the fiscal year 1982 by approximately $35 billion and during the next three years by $140 billion (43).10 However, large investments were made to support various defense programs. Meanwhile, some social welfare programs were stopped. These changes affect public housing subsidies, job training, and school lunch programs. Nonetheless, Reagan failed to achieve a reduction in federal spending. The number of citizens who worked for the government became even bigger during his presidency. Reagan usually avoided discussion about his economic policies. He insisted on the idea that the public supported tax cuts. However, Reagan could not handle serious deficits that followed his reforms. The United States became a country with the highest foreign debt in the world due to the increased investments in military programs and low taxes. Although Reagan denied the deterioration of the trade balance, it drastically affected the country’s economy. He could not deliver on his promises to balance the budget and improve the situation with free markets.
However, several notable accomplishments made him very popular. Reagan supported a conservative ethic movement addressing such issues as “reproductive rights, drug use, and the role of religion in public life” (41).11 He attempted to give more freedom to market forces, promoting equality and prosperity. Finally, increased expenditures on military training and rearmament contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Later presidents very often referred to Ronald Reagan. Some perceived him as an incompetent politician. On the contrary, others highlight his positive traits. President Obama compared himself to Reagan “in terms of being a “transformative” president.”12 However, Bush seriously criticized Reagan’s tax policies. Although his accomplishments are still highly debatable, many powerful politicians execute their power, taking into account the outcomes of Reagan’s era.
Reagan’s main failure is associated with his tax policy. The fact that the government reduced taxes but remained spending at the same level led to foreign debt increase. It had a negative impact on the productive sector. He was not capable of managing this serious economic deterioration and tried to ignore it. The lack of professional skills made him an incompetent president who could not effectively exercise his power.
Anderson, Terry. “1968: The End and the Beginning in the United States and Western Europe.” South Central Review 16, no. 4 (1999): 1-15.
Shi, David, and Tindall George. America: A Narrative History. 10th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2016.
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Hayward, Steven. “How Reagan Became Reagan.” Claremont 4, no.4 (2004): 1-8.
Schaller, Michael. Ronald Reagan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Inboden, Will. “Mr. President, You’re No Ronald Reagan.” FP. 2017. Web.
- Terry Anderson, “1968: The End and the Beginning in the United States and Western Europe,” South Central Review 16, no. 4 (1999): 12.
- Steven Hayward. “How Reagan Became Reagan,” Claremont 4, no.4 (2004): 1.
- Michael Schaller. Ronald Reagan. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 75.
- Schaller, Ronald Reagan, 39
- David Shi and George Tindall, America: A Narrative History, 10th ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2016), 1430.
- Schaller, Ronald Reagan, 41.
- Schaller, Ronald Reagan, 90.
- Schaller, Ronald Reagan, 44.
- Hayward, “How Reagan,” 4.
- Schaller, Ronald Reagan, 43.
- Schaller, Ronald Reagan, 41.
- Will, Inboden, “Mr. President, You’re No Ronald Reagan,” FP, Web.