The passing of Ronald Reagan in June brought an outpouring of lavish praise for our 40th president. Much of it, however, wasn't motivated by Christian charity or a polite refusal to speak ill of the recently departed. The right-wing forces that launched Reagan's conservative revolution have engaged in an all-out media blitz to whitewash one of the worst presidencies in U.S. history.
In speaking honestly about the Reagan presidency, there's no need to offer personal criticisms about Ronald Reagan, the man. By all accounts he was every bit as affable as his carefully crafted image.
But presidents - as all leaders - must be judged by history not on the basis of their personal likeability, but by the real-world effects of their policies. And Reagan's policies were disastrous and destructive. While poverty worsened at home and abroad, he spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the largest peacetime military buildup in history, including $80 billion (and counting) for the fantasy of Star Wars and tens of billions for first-strike-capable nuclear weapons. Conventional wisdom, of course, holds that Reagan's militarism "brought down the wall" of communism. Historians might well debate the opposite view: That his militaristic approach helped bolster the hardliners in the Soviet Union and forestalled rather than caused the inevitable downfall of the USSR and the end of the Cold War.