Seven Things About Ronald Reagan You Won't Hear at the Reagan Library GOP Debate
Seven Things About Ronald Reagan You Won't Hear at the Reagan Library GOP Debate
By Jon Schwarz /

Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debates are being held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California — so you can be sure that each candidate will deliver an effusive homage to Reagan, and then explain why he or she is Reagan’s one true heir.

(The first GOP presidential debates were in Cleveland, and even there Reagan was invoked by Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum and Lindsey Graham.)

But no matter how much the candidates talk about Reagan, you can be sure that none of these extremely important things about him will come up. And maybe that’s appropriate — since if Reagan stood for anything as president, it was creating a completely fictionalized version of the past.

1. Reagan launched his 1980 general election campaign with a speech lauding “states’ rights” outside Philadelphia, Mississippi — the site of the notorious “Mississippi Burning” murder of three civil rights workers in 1964.

The bodies of slain civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner lie in an earthen dam June, 1964 just southwest of Philadelphia, Mississippi.

James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were abducted and killed in Mississippi by the local Ku Klux Klan in June 1964 — a case that garnered enormous national attention because, as Schwerner’s widow said, he and Goodman were white.

The bodies of slain civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner lie in an earthen dam June, 1964 just southwest of Philadelphia, Mississippi.

On August 3, 1980, Reagan traveled to the Neshoba County Fair, which a prominent state Republican had recommended as the place to find “George Wallace-inclined voters.” There — within walking distance of the earthen dam where the murderers of the three civil rights workers had surreptitiously buried them just 16 years before — Reagan delivered a speechincluding these lines:

I know that in speaking to this crowd, that I’m speaking to what has to be about 90 percent Democrat. I just meant by party affiliation. I didn’t mean how you feel now. I was a Democrat most of my life myself. …

I believe in states’ rights. … And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the Constitution to that federal establishment. …

As columnist William Raspberry wrote upon Reagan’s death, his endorsement of “states’ rights” — the same phrase white Southerners had used for decades to justify Jim Crow segregation — was “bitter symbolism for black Americans” and “an important bouquet in [GOP] courtship” of Dixiecrats.

The “states’ rights” reference was just one of many racist dog-whistles Reagan employed throughout his political career. During his unsuccessful 1976 run for the Republican presidential nomination, Reagan decried “welfare queens” and a “strapping young buck” who bought T-bone steaks with food stamps. In his 1984 reelection campaign he even returned to Philadelphia and declared that “the South shall rise again.”

2. Reagan probably made a deal to keep U.S. hostages in Iran until after the 1980 election.

If there was one issue that dominated the 1980 presidential race between Reagan and Jimmy Carter, it was that 52 Americans were being held hostage by Iran’s then-brand new Islamic Republic. After holding the hostages for 444 days, Iran finally released them on January 20, 1981 — right after Ronald Reagan finished his inauguration speech.

In the first GOP debate this year, Ted Cruz suggested that Iran let the hostages go because they were so scared of Reagan. A more likely explanation is that Reagan’s campaign, worried that Carter would get a last-minute boost if he were able to free the hostages before the election, made a secret agreement with the Iranian government to keep them. (As a headline in the Onion book Our Dumb Century put it: “Hostages Released: Reagan Urges American People Not to Put Two and Two Together.”)

Decades later, it’s unlikely that there will ever be a definitive answer to what happened. However, some people who were in a position to know have said there was such a deal. These include Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, the first post-revolution president of Iran, and Yitzhak Shamir, then-Foreign Minister of Israel. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat later said the Reagan campaign asked him for help keeping the hostages in Iran. And while a House of Representatives investigation cleared Reagan in 1993, the declassified version of the report failed to mention that the Russian government had sent them a six-page report claiming that William Casey (Reagan’s campaign manager and then his first head of the CIA) secretly met with the Iranian government three times in Paris and Madrid. And Rep. Lee Hamilton, the Indiana Democrat who led the inquiry, said in 2013 that their conclusion might have been different if they’d known that the George H.W. Bush administration had concealed a 1980 State Department cable reporting that Casey was in Madrid.

While this may seem like a conspiracy theory, remember that the 1968 Nixon campaign is proven to have done something very similar: conspiring with the South Vietnamese government to prevent a peace deal that could have bolstered Nixon’s opponent Hubert Humphrey.

Moreover, as the Iran-contra scandal later demonstrated, Reagan clearly wasn’t averse to secret deals with Iran. In 1985, representatives of Iran sent the Reagan administration secret messages asking to buy U.S. weapons for their war with Iraq. The Iranians offered to pay both in money and the use of their influence to gain the release of American hostages held in Lebanon by Iran’s allies. Reagan agreed. (Making the scheme even more convoluted, money generated by the arms sales was eventually used to circumvent a congressional ban on U.S. funding of the Contras, an anti-communist militia fighting the Nicaraguan government.)

3. Reagan wasn’t a particularly popular president.

Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev (L) talks to President Ronald Reagan (C) and President-elect George Bush (R) on December 7, 1988.

Photo: Mike Sargent/AFP/Getty Images

Of the 11 presidents since World War II, Reagan had the sixth-highest average approval rating while in office, behind Kennedy, Eisenhower, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and Johnson.

That’s not to say Reagan wasn’t beloved by some Americans. According to former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, George H.W. Bush told him in 1987 that “Reagan is a conservative. An extreme conservative. All the blockheads and dummies are for him.”

4. The economy wasn’t much better during Reagan’s presidency than during Carter’s.

If Americans remember anything about politics in the ’70s and ’80s, it’s that the economy was horrible when Carter was president, but then Reagan came in and fixed everything and the economy boomed.

This isn’t true at all. The U.S. economy grew at an average annual rate of 3.6 percent when Reagan was president, just a little faster than the 3.4 percent under Carter. Reagan’s presidency had a higher average unemployment rate — 7.5 percent compared to the average during Carter’s presidency of 6.5 percent — with more jobs created each month under Carter. And for those who care about such things, the federal budget deficit was much lower under Carter. The one thing that was significantly better when Reagan was president is that the average rate of inflation was 4.1 percent, compared to 10.4 percent under Carter.

What Reagan did have that Carter didn’t was a dedicated cadre of pundits who came to work every day to tell Americans how great they had it with Reagan. Their figurative children are still telling the same fairy tale today.

5. Reagan’s biggest fan? Saddam Hussein.

It’s well known that Reagan helped arm Iraq during the extraordinarily brutal Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and sent Donald Rumsfeld to Baghdad for a chummy meeting with Saddam Hussein.

What’s less understood is that Saddam reciprocated the affection. After the U.S. captured Saddam in 2003, he was interrogated by FBI agent George Piro. Saddam told him, in Piro’s words, that Reagan had been a “great leader” and an “honorable man” whom Saddam wished he could have met in person.

6. Reagan was to blame for the biggest pre-2008 bank bailout.

“This bill is the most important legislation for financial institutions in the last 50 years. … All in all, I think we hit the jackpot,” said Reagan as he signed the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982. Reagan declared that the bill, which changed the rules governing Savings & Loans, was “the first step in our administration’s comprehensive program of financial deregulation.”

By the end of Reagan’s presidency, the S&L industry lay in smoking ruins after a long campaign of looting that eventually cost taxpayers about $132 billion. This was the largest bailout of the financial industry in U.S. history until the Wall Street collapse of 2008.

7. Reagan didn’t meaningfully cut taxes for anyone except the top 1 percent.

Reagan didn’t cut taxes on the U.S. as a whole as much as he changed them. He cut income taxes, which fall most heavily on richer taxpayers, while increasing payroll taxes, which are disproportionately paid by the middle and working class. When all the alterations to the tax code aretaken into account, by the end of his presidency the poorest 20 percent of households were paying a slightly higher tax rate than when Carter was president; the middle 20 percent had gotten a minuscule tax cut; and the top 1 percent had seen their taxes fall significantly.

This was, of course, by design. As David Stockman, Reagan’s budget director,acknowledged in 1981, the promise of tax cuts for everyone “was always a Trojan horse to bring down the top rate” for the richest. “Do you realize the greed that came to the forefront?” Stockman asked about the passage of Reagan’s first tax bill. “The hogs were really feeding. The greed level, the level of opportunism, just got out of control.”

Caption: President Reagan adjusts a white Stetson hat presented to him following a speech on the budget to the Trade Association. Reagan’s hand is bandaged from surgery, Jan. 9, 1989, Washington, DC, USA

0.0 ·
What's Next
Trending Today
Noam Chomsky Has 'Never Seen Anything Like This'
Chris Hedges · 11,345 views today · Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite...
Donald Trump Is the Mirror and Hillary Clinton Is the Mask
Chris Agnos · 10,760 views today · Disclaimer: I do not support Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president. I think the scope of the political debate is far too narrow for the kinds of actions that need to...
Gil Scott-Heron Deconstructs Colonialism and Black History in His Own Unique Style
3 min · 5,749 views today · His-Story: I was wondering about our yesterdays, and starting searching through the rubble and to say the very least, somebody went to a hell of a lot of trouble to make sure...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 4,556 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 2,229 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
For Those Who Don't Want to Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils
Peter White · 2,225 views today · Ranked-choice voting is catching on, and Maine might become the first state to help citizens vote for candidates they actually want.
Donald and Hobbes Is Genius
Various · 2,083 views today · Some clever folk have been replacing precocious 6-year-old Calvin, from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, with Donald Trump and the results are, well, take a look...
HyperNormalisation (2016)
161 min · 1,713 views today · We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion. Events keep happening that seem inexplicable and out of control. Donald Trump, Brexit, the War in Syria, the endless...
Anarchists - What We Stand For
unknown · 1,593 views today · Anarchism : The word “anarchy” comes from Greek and means “no rulers”. As a political philosophy, anarchism is based on the idea that organization does not require rulers—that...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 1,301 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
10 Quotes From an Oglala Lakota Chief That Will Make You Question Everything About Our Society
Wisdom Pills · 1,235 views today · Luther Standing Bear was an Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief who, among a few rare others such as Charles Eastman, Black Elk and Gertrude Bonnin occupied the rift between the way of...
Mark Corske's Engines of Domination (2014)
60 min · 1,019 views today · Political power -- armed central authority, with states and war -- is it part of human nature? Is it necessary for human communities? Or is it a tool that ruling elites use to...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 877 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
Lessons in the Calais Jungle: Teaching Life Stories and Learning About Humanity
Aura Lounasmaa · 758 views today · I am part of a team of academics teaching a course to residents in the Calais Jungle, a camp for migrants and refugees outside the French city. Life Stories in the Jungle has...
Planet Earth II Could Be Best Nature Doc Ever Made
3 min · 754 views today · 10 years ago Planet Earth changed our view of the world. Now we take you closer than ever before. This is life in all its wonder. This is Planet Earth II. A decade ago, the...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 721 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Eckhart Tolle: Your Facebook Ego, That's Not Who You Are
2 min · 389 views today · “Identification with thoughts and the emotions that go with those thoughts creates a false mind-made sense of self, conditioned by the past: the "little me" and its story. This...
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 385 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
The Untold History of Palestine & Israel
22 min · 339 views today · Previewing Abby Martin’s on-the-ground investigation in Palestine, The Empire Files looks at the long history of Zionist colonization, expansion and expulsion of Palestine’s...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 335 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Seven Things About Ronald Reagan You Won't Hear at the Reagan Library GOP Debate