A recent Quinnipiac poll supposedly shows that American voters consider Barack Obama the worst president since World War II. Given that the post-war presidential line-up includes Richard Nixon and George W. Bush, the poll result boggles the mind. Obama surely ranks higher than those two reprobates and, if folks actually examined the facts, he even ranks higher than the sainted Ronald Reagan.
As a Canadian, I'm repeatedly astonished by the ongoing campaign to bestow sainthood on America's 40th president, a campaign chiefly run by The Ronald Reagan Legacy Foundation founded by that rightwing, tax-averse gadfly Grover Norquist.
It's one thing to name the occasional mountain or post office after an ex-president. Even the least among the pantheon of former White House residents gets something named after him as evidenced by the existence of Hoover Dam and Warren G. Harding High School in Warren, Ohio. But it's another matter altogether to bestow thousands of honors on someone who was a mediocre president at best.
Thanks to Mr. Norquist and various Republican politicians, Ronald Reagan now has more than 3,000 landmarks named for him: schools, highways, mountains, an aircraft carrier and, most notably to date, one of Washington, D.C.'s airports. Given his questionable record, one would have thought that the surfeit of recognition has now reached the point of overkill and embarrassment.
Yet in the case of Ronald Reagan, those on the right seem to be obsessed with memorializing him as "one of America's greatest presidents" and transforming everything from the nation's ocean protectorate to Mount Rushmore in an attempt to make his name ubiquitous. Mr. Norquist and others have even gone so far as to push for Reagan's face to appear in place of Alexander Hamilton's on the American ten-dollar bill.
According to the keepers of the Reagan flame, an honour so far reserved for the likes of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln is now due for the man who did more to destroy America than any of his contemporaries short of George W. Bush. Before we accede to such a request, let's count the ways in which Mr. Reagan does not qualify for sainthood:
Beloved for his supposed reputation as a fiscal conservative, Reagan, in fact, managed to triple the national debt during his time in office and also managed to implement the biggest tax increase in history up to that time. Doesn't sound like the small-government tax fighter that Mr. Norquist and his ilk should be championing.
Reagan should rightfully be honoured as America's father of deregulation but it's hard to see how this designation deserves a reward. Financial deregulation initiated by Reagan helped cause a recession during his first term and was the crucial first step which ultimately led to the global meltdown of 2008.
Even those in the lower economic classes still worship Reagan but it beggars the imagination as to why. These were the very people who suffered deprivation due to Reagan's social welfare cuts and tax cuts for the wealthy. The only apparent trickle-down effect from those actions was an increase in blind faith by the poor in the goodness of Saint Ronnie.
Most famously, Ronald Reagan oversaw the Iran-Contra Affair, the illegal sales of arms to America's sworn enemy Iran, the proceeds of which were used to finance the right-wing Contras' attempt to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Nicaragua. It boggles the mind that he was not impeached for this outrageous endeavour and it seems that only his failing memory saved him from prosecution.
It's hard to figure out why Ronald Reagan remains beloved by so many Americans. Perhaps it's the same nostalgic affection that some Russians still feel towards Uncle Joe Stalin. Reagan had an actor's touch in promoting his mythical "morning in America" and managed to make people feel good about their country even in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence.
The fact remains, however, that Reagan was not a great president; he wasn't even a good one. It's time to rewrite his hagiography and replace it with a more realistic accounting of his years in office. Forget about adding his face to Mount Rushmore. Save it instead for a new national monument called Mount Rushless featuring America's worst presidents including George W. Bush, Warren G. Harding and Millard Fillmore.
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