On January 24, USA Today published nine commentaries on Ronald Reagan’s legacy. One of the selected contributors was Sam Donaldson. Why McPaper thought the former ABC White House correspondent deserved a place among the other eight (President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, John McCain, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese, biographer Lou Cannon, and scholar Leon Aron) is a mystery.
The former ABC White House correspondent deserves some credit. In his retrospective, titled “My Respect for Reagan Only Grew,” Donaldson confesses that many underestimated the Gipper. “I must admit,” he ruefully notes: “I was one of them.” (So were many in Reagan’s own party. Example: after the former California governor finally won the GOP presidential nomination in 1980, Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes, along with the entire Republican establishment, barely lifted a finger to assist in the general election effort. Reagan’s grassroots supporters in the Buckeye State did virtually all the work. I suspect that this was also the case in many other states.)
But Donaldson can’t seem to offer Reagan more than backhanded compliments. When it comes to “running up the national debt, it was Reagan, not George W. Bush or President Obama, who put us on the upward trajectory” — even though “forcing Soviet communism onto what Reagan called ‘the ash heap of history’ wasn’t such a bad way to spend the money.” Did Donaldson feel that way when it mattered? As it is, he conveniently forgets that Tip O’Neill’s Congresses repeatedly broke promises to rein in spending, and completely overlooks the fact that even after adjusting for inflation, our current president’s deficit spending, which is on track to break yet another record this fiscal year, is historically unprecedented. Worse, it has accomplished virtually nothing for the economy.
These errors, and others, are bad enough. But Donaldson’s worst offense occurs when he shows that he has fallen hard for a false meme that has achieved gospel status within the historically revisionist left:
History will continue to assess his performance, particularly his policies — minorities and women were neglected….
This is one of those “everybody knows” assertions that apparently no longer requires anything like evidence or support. It happens to be utterly baseless.
I’ll try to leave the female element of Donaldson’s dumb declaration alone after making two points. First, while they covered his presidency, cynical establishment press members like CBS’s Mike Wallace thought that the wonderful way Ron treated Nancy, the most important woman in his life, was some kind of public act. They had to quickly backtrack when Nancy published a collection of her husband’s incredible love letters in 2000. Second, the economic points I’m about to make with minorities can also easily be made about the economic progress of women during The Seven Fat Years.
There’s plentiful support for the idea that Reagan was personally concerned about the vestiges of racism that lingered in some Americans’ hearts. In 1982, a cross-burning incident five years earlier in Maryland troubled him so deeply when he read of it that he felt compelled to visit the affected family to “tell them this isn’t the way it is in America.”
The best information available about the economic progress of minorities comes from the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Census Bureau. Here’s just a sample of what their statistics tell us about the period between when Reagan finally got most of the tax cuts he wanted and when presidential successor Bush 41 stalled the economic expansion by breaking his 1988 presidential campaign’s “no new taxes” pledge in 1990 (all figures seasonally adjusted):