Your Opinion: Reagan's legacy - myth vs. reality

Dear Editor:

The good thing about Steve Sampson’s Sept. 7 letter praising Reagan is he adds supporting information. The bad thing is his poor judgment. He concludes with a definition of lying as creating a false or misleading impression and then implies that more factual letters about Reagan are lying because they differ from his impression.

The comedy in Sampson’s letter is the false impression he gives just before he calls others liars. He blandly admits Reagan tripled the national debt but he then accuses President Obama of increasing the debt by $4 trillion versus Reagan’s meager $1.8 trillion.

The first thing is we are talking raw numbers 30 years apart with no adjustment for inflation. With 3 percent yearly inflation $1.8 trillion becomes $3.4 trillion in today’s dollars. Is 3.4 versus 4 a big difference?

More importantly Sampson performs a switcheroo from percentages to raw numbers. The current increase in debt level is a 35 percent increase versus Reagan’s 300 percent increase. Sampson has clearly constructed a false impression that by his own definition would be “lying.”

Another Tribune letter defending Reagan against Mr. Haslag’s facts about Reagan policies was pure hero worship with zero supporting argument. Such worship is understandable in the context of the human experience. In his classic “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” Joseph Campbell explores the nature of the human journey and the human need to be “retold” mythic tales of greatness. These tales have been told in every culture with many different heroes.

Much of the Reagan legacy is myth. It’s a feel good tale for conservatives. When his legacy was in the dumper in the late 1990s neocons felt the need to create a “great leader” program to advance their ideological goals. Thus was born in 1997 The Reagan Project, another Grover Norquist scheme.

Reagan was not an “amiable dunce” but he was a pragmatist. That is why he raised taxes, avoided serious foreign entanglements, compromised policies and reached for peace with the Soviets. In his second term his staff misguided him down the path of Iran Contra, an illegal operation.

The problem with being a “true believer” is rational thinking is not possible when allegiance comes first. Re-writing the past in Reagan’s name to advance misguided political goals is dangerous. This is what has led to today’s foreign wars of entanglement which were exactly what Reagan avoided.

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