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Reagan 'Neglected Minorities'?

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 PalinMitt 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):

  • How about the unemployment rate? From October 1982 through June 1990, it dropped as follows: whites, from 9.2% to 4.5%; blacks, from 20.1% to 10.5%; Hispanics, from 15.0% to 7.7%. Oh, and for good measure, and because I can’t resist addressing the female element of Donaldson’s diss: during the same period, the overall male unemployment rate plunged from 10.9% to 5.3%, while the female rate went from 9.8% to a still-lower 5.2%.
  • Census information tells us that inflation-adjusted median black household income grew by 18.7% from 1983 to 1989. For Hispanics, that figure jumped by 12.5%. White median household income increased 9.3% from 1984 to 1989 (1983 data isn’t available).
  • Looking at average household income during the same years, the results were: blacks, +18.4%; Hispanics, +17.9%; whites (again, 1984-1989), +13.3%.

It’s obvious that not only did supposedly “neglected” minorities benefit significantly from Reagan’s policies; they also benefited disproportionately.

By contrast, through December 2010 under Barack Obama:

  • During calendar 2010, the median weekly earnings of wage and salary workers went up by 0.5%. Unfortunately, prices increased by 1.3%. On the whole, average Americans fell behind. It’s virtually certain that blacks and Hispanics were not spared.

Obamanomics has hurt millions of Americans and their families. Minorities have not escaped the pain. Everyone would welcome a bit of Reaganesque “neglect” at this point.

What really bothers Reagan’s detractors isn’t that he didn’t pander to minorities. It’s that he was conservative and a Republican. In the naysayers’ world, “everybody knows” that neglecting and oppressing minorities is in the right’s DNA; facts don’t matter. In the real world, however, it’s as clear as can be that Ronald Reagan’s policies did more to improve the plight of America’s minorities than anything Barack Obama’s administration has done or is on track to do.

Exit question setup for Sam Donaldson: Ronald Reagan’s economic policies led to impressive progress for Americans of all races, creeds, and colors. Reagan was also staunchly pro-life. Jesse Jackson believed that we need more, not less, of the economic statism that hasn’t worked and isn’t working. More crucially, Jackson’s early-1980s repudiation of his previously courageous pro-life views effectively ended the black civil-rights movement’s involvement in attempts to curb abortions. Largely as a result of that horrible shift, “black women (today) are more than 3 times as likely as white women to have an abortion, and Hispanic women are roughly 2 times as likely.”

Exit question: who “neglected minorities” more, Sam?