Republicans still cling to a mythical Reagan

By Nick Gier

“Facts are stupid things.”

—Ronald Reagan mangling John Adams’ “Facts are stubborn things”

“We licensed his beguiling forgeries.”

—Gary Willis, “Reagan’s America: Innocents at Home”

Feb. 6 is former President Ronald Reagan’s 115th birthday, and the myths about him, many times refuted, continue to misinform far too many Americans. It’s time, once again, to tell the truth about America’s 40th president.

Rubio, Giuliani, and Romney Wrong on the Iranian Hostages

The GOP presidential candidate who most often compares himself to Reagan is Sen. Marco Rubio. In the American Spectator (5/19/15) Paul Kengor writes that several of the GOP candidates have “Reagan-like qualities, but Rubio especially strikes me as the closest to Reagan.”

In a recent speech Rubio promised that “when I become president of the United States, our adversaries around the world will know that America is no longer under the command of someone weak like Barack Obama, and it will be like Ronald Reagan where, as soon as he took office, the hostages were released from Iran.” When Rudy Giuliani was running for president in 2008, he said that the Iranians “looked in Ronald Reagan’s eyes, and in two minutes they released the hostages.”

During the 2012 presidential campaign Mitt Romney used the same example to insinuate that Obama was not tough enough in foreign policy. The fact checkers at Politifact declared that Romney’s pants were on fire then, but Republicans still keep repeating the lie. The Carter administration had done all the hard bargaining for the release of the hostages, and as the Iranians disliked Carter so much, they did not release them until Reagan came into office.

Invade Panama? No. Invade Grenada? Yes.

Reagan talked tough, but those threats were not always matched by decisive action. Even though his advisers encouraged him to do so, Reagan refused to invade Panama to remove dictator and drug trafficker Manuel Noriega. The brutal invasion, which may have caused 3,000 civilian deaths, was undertaken by the first President Bush in December 1989.

Reagan did act decisively in October 1983 when he sent troops to the tiny island of Grenada to rescue American medical students. The UN General Assembly voted 108-9 to condemn the invasion with allies the United Kingdom and Canada opposing. Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Reagan’s close friend was “deeply disturbed” by the invasion. She wrote: “This action will be seen as intervention by a Western country in the internal affairs of a small independent nation, however unattractive its regime.”

Lebanon, 1983: 241 Marines Killed as Terrorists Gain

Reagan’s intervention in the Lebanon’s civil war was reckless and ended in unmitigated disaster. Even though Sen. John McCain objected, Reagan ordered the battleship New Jersey to shell Lebanese villages indiscriminately. On October 23, 1983, Hezbollah militants, who had heretofore been fighting Maronite Christians and fellow Muslims, retaliated. They drove a truck bomb into a Marine barracks and 241 soldiers died. Even though then Vice President George Bush declared that “America will not be cowed by terrorists,” Reagan pulled out all U. S. forces and the result was a major victory for Hezbollah and Iran.

Gorbachev Gets Credit for the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Much has been made about Reagan’s great challenge to the Soviets in 1987: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Reagan traveled to Germany under a barrage of criticism that he was giving away too much to the Soviets. Then House Speaker Newt Gingrich had criticized an earlier meeting between Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev as “the most dangerous summit since Adolf Hitler met with Chamberlain in 1938.”

Four days after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, a poll reported in Will Bunch’s Tear down This Myth showed that 43 percent of Americans believed that Gorbachev was responsible for the wall’s demolition. Only 14 percent gave Reagan credit, not surprising as his general approval rating had dropped to 48 percent. For Germans who lived through it, the answer was a more decisive 70-2 percent in favor of the Soviet president.

Reagan Calls for Total Abolition of Nuclear Weapons

When it came to nuclear war Reagan was anything but tough. Soon after seeing the film “The Day After,” a powerful movie about a nuclear holocaust and criticized as peacenik propaganda by conservatives, Reagan sent a telegram to the movie’s director stating that the movie had changed his mind about nuclear disarmament. Far too many times Reagan mistook movies for reality—the most famous example was watching footage of the Nazi death camps and then claiming that he had been there — so was this the best man for Americans to trust with negotiating the future of the free world?

Reagan’s advisers were shocked when at the 1986 Reykjavik Summit, he proposed the total abolition of nuclear weapons. When President Obama envisioned a world without nukes in a 2009 speech, his call for accelerated disarmament was ridiculed by GOP leaders and Reagan’s putative heirs.

Talks with Iranians: Obama Wins While Reagan Lost

Obama has also been heavily criticized for negotiating a deal with Iran, which just led to the removal of 11 tons of 20 percent-enriched uranium from that country. Iran had no weapons grade materials, and international inspectors have just confirmed that Iran has had no plans to build a bomb since 2003. Over 14,000 uranium-enrichment centrifuges are being removed, and The Economist reports that “core of the Ark heavy-water reactor, which had the potential to produce plutonium, is being filled with concrete.” (1/16/16).

Reagan promised that he would never talk to the Iranians, but Oliver North arranged for arms sales to Iran in hopes of releasing hostages whom Hezbollah held in Lebanon. North used profits from the sales to support rebels fighting the duly elected government of Nicaragua.

In November 1986 Reagan announced to the American people that the U. S. had not traded arms for hostages, but he was forced to return to them in March 1987 to admit that his administration had indeed done so. The Iran-Contra scandal brought Reagan’s approval rating to low of 40 percent with 32 percent of those polled believing that he should resign. On February 2 the Rasmussen polls had Obama at 47 percent.

The GOP’s Reign of Error; ‘Facts are Stupid Things’

The facts about Reagan are just as instructive as the myths. The most significant truth is that is he was just as careless about the facts as his disciples are today. In “There He Goes Again: Ronald Reagan’s Reign of Error,” Mark Green and Gail MacColl documents over 300 errors and misstatements. I think it is safe to say that the Gipper had a record number of these, as well as a great number of corrections by his aides, frantically trying to cover for their bumbling boss. After all, as Reagan once said, “facts are stupid things.”

Green and MacColl were not using the same methodology as Politifact. The former combed Reagan’s entire record and published their findings in 125 three-quarter-size pages. Politifact states that we “can’t possibly check all claims, so we select the most newsworthy and significant ones,” and their analysts choose statements that can be most easily verifiable. Their careful, in-depth analysis is as balanced as it is impressive.

Politifact’s ratings range from true, mostly true, half true, mostly false, false, and “pants on fire,” statements that make “ridiculous claims.” Averaging the percentages from the Truth-O-Meter for the seven top GOP candidates (Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Bush, Paul, Christie, and Carson), their statements are true, mostly true, and half true 47 percentage of the time. That clearly means that means that they are not telling the truth more than half the time. With a grand total of 5 true statements, Trump, Cruz, and Carson bring down average dramatically. If one removes them from this list, Rubio, Bush, Paul, and Christie average 64 percent. Bush rates the highest at 70 percent and appears to gain nothing for his relative truthfulness.

With regard to true, mostly true, and half true statements the three Democratic candidates average 72 percent. O’Malley has the lowest percentage of mostly false, false and pants on fire with 23 percent. (Contrast that with Carson’s 84 percent!) In that category Sanders actually leads Clinton slightly: 30 to 29 percent.

The Democratic candidates have a total of 2 pants on fire—both for Clinton (ISIS was not using Trump in their videos) and none for Sanders and O’Malley. In stark contrast to the Republicans, their interaction has been civil and substantial on the issues.

Following in the footsteps of Mitt Romney, whose record 19 pants on fire were 9 percent of his 2012 campaign statements (Obama had 9 for 2 percent), the seven Republicans have racked up 43 ridiculous falsehoods that account for 9 percent of their total statements. So far Trump has the most at 17 pants on fire (for example, “the unemployment rate may be as high as 42 percent), but Christie gave us this doozy: “Bernie Sanders’s plan is to raise your taxes to 90 percent.” Lying about Obamacare is a daily occurrence, as Rand Paul demonstrates: “For every Kentuckian that has enrolled in Obamacare, 40 have been dropped from their coverage.”

Reagan Raised Taxes Seven of his Eight Years and Tripled the Deficit

Republican leaders boast about Reagan’s courage to cut taxes and still grow the economy. What they neglect to mention is that Reagan was forced to raise taxes in seven of his eight years in order to head off huge budget deficits. According to Reagan’s economic adviser Bruce Bartlett, the 1982 Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which hit the middle class especially hard, “was the largest peacetime tax increase in American history.” Even so, Reagan tripled the national debt, primarily because of huge, unnecessary military expenditures.

In 2014, calling on the name of Reagan, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback won substantial tax cuts claiming that they would lead to great economic growth, which did not happen. In June 2015 the Legislature reluctantly voted for $432 million in new taxes, the largest increase in the state’s history.

The current GOP presidential candidates have also called for major tax cuts. If any of them are elected president and the promised growth does not occur, will they follow Reagan’s example, or will they subject the nation to certain economic disaster?

Nick Gier of Moscow taught philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years. He was also the university’s coordinator of religious studies from 1980-2003. He is currently the president of the Idaho Federation of Teachers, AFT/AFL-CIO. For more from Gier on the topic of Ronald Reagan, visit www.NickGier.com/ReaganMyths.pdf and /ReaganLiar.pdf.