Reagan: The Legacy

by Victor Davis Hanson

Private Papers

Reagan’s achievement and legacy are twofold, but do not necessarily lie in either his legislative record or seminal foreign policy initiatives-although it is hard to believe few other presidents would have gone ahead with the substantial tax cuts, necessary Pershing missile deployments, the decision to fund missile defense, or his reconstruction of our military forces.

First, he halted the incremental and insidious growth in rates of taxation and indeed questioned our accepted faith in ever larger government. While deficits resulted and government itself grew nonetheless, at least he established the principle that the United States would not follow the path of European socialism, and would be aware of the peril posed by statist, utopian, pacifist, and welfare systems. That we are not like a struggling, centrally-planned France and Germany today is in large part due to his life-long warning and public service.

Second, he restored an honesty of expression in government and tried to stop the encroaching debasement of language; “tear down this wall”  and “evil empire” shocked our establishment elite, but few doubted either that there really was a wall in Berlin and or that the Soviet Union was both evil and an empire. And out of that honest confidence in American exceptionalism grew a number of good things.

He hastened the fall of the Soviet Union. We could not have been able to have fought Gulf War I without his prior commitment to reconstituting our forces; he established the principle we would support democracy and be active in its promotion, whether in undermining leftist thugs like the Ortegas or rightist tyrants like Noriega and Marcos. Like Clinton he was a great communicator, and like Clinton again, he sometimes compromised and moved to the center; but unlike the latter, he had a sense of core beliefs that remained unchanged and would not be sacrificed to the politics of the day. And it showed-and thus he will be remembered (even by Democrats) far more favorably than will be the similarly two-termed and glib Bill Clinton.

© 2004 Victor Davis Hanson

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