Was Ronald Reagan a good president?
I’ll answer that in the following essay.
First, let me define what a good president is: he is a man that solves his nation’s problems at the time of his administration. We are too often inclined to measure presidents by our own problems. We can’t do this without being markedly unfair to these men. They can’t be expected to foresee and solve problems which in their era were much smaller.
So what were the main problems during Reagan’s administration? They were:
- A bad economy
- The Soviet Union
- The decline of nationalism
When Reagan took office, inflation and joblessness were rampant. It was a terrible time to be a worker in America. It was also a terrible time to be an investor, since inflation was eating the value out of people’s money. The bad economy was also hurting government revenue, since a poor economy is a poor tax base. Economically, it seemed the US was sliding into oblivion.
By the end of his administration, the economy was cooking right along. Revenue was up for the same reason. People could get jobs more easily, keep them more assuredly, and optimism about the economy was high.
There were mistakes made that hurt the economy. For instance, Reagan did not end the free trade policies of past administrations, which allowed our trade deficit to grow. This hurt our economy, and allowed the continued erosion of our manufacturing base.
At bottom, Reagan’s administration was a good one economically. He made some bad choices, especially on free trade, but overall he got the economy rolling again.
The Soviet Union:
In 1981, the Soviet Union was marching across the globe. During the past decade they had overtaken us in many military spheres, especially in terms of strategic missiles. They had added multiple countries to the Soviet bloc of nations and were successfully intriguing in South America and the Caribbean.
NATO, on the other hand, was weak and disunited. Soviet efforts to weaken the organization had been going on for decades, and were bearing terrible fruit. Closet communists and socialists were in many positions of power, sending information and sympathy back to Moscow.
Britain was resisting the Soviet Union, of course. But there was little the island nation could do to oppose so vast a power. Only the United States was strong enough for such a task. And unfortunately we had been neglecting the task for years, and had fallen behind militarily. So when Reagan came into the presidency, he had little less than a disaster on his hands.
But he strengthened our relations with those who were willing among our allies to work with us. He reinforced the military and rebuilt its confidence in itself. He invigorated our national science establishment, which hadn’t been done since Kennedy and the Space Race. He reinforced American confidence by his own confidence. He made us believe we could win. And win we did.
Within half a decade of his administration’s end, the Soviet Union collapsed. The Red Threat disappeared from the globe, pushed over by Reagan. Defeating this soul-crushing tyranny is enough to guarantee him a place in history. Few presidents have done so much for the United States in the realm of foreign policy as Reagan.
Overall, he succeeded completely.
The Decline of Nationalism:
After the “disillusionment” of the 60s and 70s, American confidence had been shredded. Assailed day in and day out by the media, by academics, and by our surrender in Vietnam, our confidence in ourselves had been battered to bits. We didn’t believe in ourselves because we didn’t win anymore.
With the “disillusionment” of those two decades came daily assaults on nationalism. People were encouraged to think of themselves as individuals living in a vacuum, without responsibilities to their country or their fellow man. The military was scorned in many places. Veterans often didn’t advertise their service in order to avoid jeers and insults. It was a bad time.
Reagan worked a mild cultural revolution in America. By the end of his administration, veterans held their heads high, and nobody outside of college campuses dared insult them openly. They were treated with respect. It was no longer popular to criticize America. The vast masses of the public, who had been quietly patriotic for decades, finally felt safe to broadcast their patriotism since they had a friend in the White House. Over the course of Reagan’s administration, the poisonous forces of anti-nationalism receded and hid away. For the first time in years, they where the ones that kept their mouths shut about what they thought. Nationalism became popular and normal again. People felt safe broadcasting their love of country for all to see.
There were ways in which his nationalist revolution were limited. For instance, whilst military and intellectual nationalism were fostered, Reagan was not economically nationalistic, as noted above. Our economic policy was still globalist in nature. But he still re-nationalized our military and our thinking. In these crucial ways he was a great success. Because he won much more for nationalism than he lost, he deserves to be called a successful president for nationalism.
For the reasons stated above, Reagan must be considered a good president. There were many issues that I didn’t address, but these were the main, pressing issues of his time. A president never gets to solve all of the problems he inherits. It is always a question of tackling the biggest problems first, and hoping that the next president can work on the ones farther down the list. That successive presidents usually fail to do so can’t be held against a particular president. He is only human after all, and must make do with the best arrangement he can get.