“…sleeping on the grates…the homeless…are homeless…you might say, by choice”—President Ronald Reagan
Last week, many Americans celebrated the 100th year of President Ronald Wilson Reagan’s birth. In honoring Ronald Regan’s impact on the United States of America his policies have been mislabeled as good and positive. In reality, Reagan era policies have had a net negative on our nation and its promise to grant life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all citizens, regardless of color or cash in hand.
My mother always admonished me that if I did not have anything good to say about someone, then say nothing. Thus, Ronald Reagan made three significant contributions to public policy formation: 1) Projection of national pride; 2) Discipline of message; and 3) Generational training of young policy students. That said Reagan’s policy legacy leaves a lot to be desired.
As a high school student government leader in 1980, at the beginning of the “Reagan Revolution,” I instinctively recognized that a massive cold front would be in the political forecast for many years. And, I was correct.
Sure enough, in 1988, at the end of an 8-year Reagan Administration the nation was not better off for most Americans. In particular, Reagan and his cohorts:?
•Dismantled labor unions
•Decreased living standards
•Deregulated financial industry
•Decreased wages by freezing minimum wage at $3.35 per hour for 8 years
•Increased gap between rich and poor
•Increased number of Americans in poverty
•Appealed to racist people in America
In 1984, by my third year in college President Reagan had been re-elected to a second term. In doing so, he announced his plan for a second term in Philadelphia, Mississippi at the Neshoba County Fair. As a student of civil rights history, I was keenly aware of the secessionist symbolism of Philadelphia, Miss., as a chosen venue. In 1964, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Mickey Schwerner were brutally murdered while registering African-American residents of Philadelphia to vote. Later, trial evidence would reveal that after leaving Meridian, Miss., the three civil rights workers were followed by Neshoba County Sheriffs and pulled over. Those present have testified that the Sheriff “released” the three only to be followed and murdered by a mob of Klu Klux Klansmen and other racists. The bodies Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner were found week later in the dirt of an earthen dam. With such a notorious history Ronald Reagan selected Neshoba County to launch his bid for re-election to the White House.
On Sunday, Feb. 6, I read an article in The Nation written by Peter Dreier that compellingly drove the point of Reagan’s regressive public policy ideas. In response to Reagan supporters’ insistence that he was the “Great Communicator,” Dreier researched a quote from President Reagan in which he said, “I was not the ‘Great Communicator’ as much as I communicated great ideas.” Great ideas? Really?
I, like Peter Dreier, believe that great ideas should have positive outcomes. Not true in the Reagan repertoire. Dreier correctly concludes that today’s dismal economy and widening wealth gap are due, in large part, to the you-are-on-your-own political and policy choices of Ronald Reagan rather than mere social and economic forces.
Today, for example, Republican Gov. Cristie decries “big government” as the reason states and local governments are facing budget deficits. Contrarily, it may well be the fact that under the Reagan Administration federal assistance by 60 percent, resulting in the elimination of revenue sharing to cities; cuts to funding for public service jobs; reduced funds for public transit; severely weakened legal services for the poor; anti-poverty programs; and lowered federal funding for Section 8 rent subsidies housing. Accordingly, as federal funds decreased, homelessness increased.
Today’s mindless mantra of Tea Party conservatives that “government is not a solution to our problem…government is the problem.” Actually, good governmental policies benefit society; and bad policy hurts future generations. As the Reagan Administration robbed the poor and raised the rich in the 1980s, such policies continued in the 1990s and 2000s with the George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.
In particular, the deregulation of the Savings and Loan industry by the Reagan Administration (with the help of Neil Bush—brother and son to presidents Bush) looted the S & L industry of $130 billion dollars. In turn, the Clinton Administration deregulated the banking industry by letting the Glass-Stegall Act expire. By 2008, the second Bush Administration had allowed American corporations to eliminate domestic jobs in return of international tax credits. Moreover, two undeclared wars had given obscene profits to war companies such as Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.
In short, Reagan Administration policies of the 1980’s penalized the poor and pumped up private profiteers, which are still reaping benefits, to the demise of the most Americans.
(Gary L Flowers is the executive director and CEO of the Black Leadership Forum, Inc.)