Of all the things that Reagan is known for, his signature policy accomplishment will always be tax reform. When the Tax Reform Act of 1986 passed, it was hailed by many as one of the greatest economic accomplishments of any president in modern history.
But perhaps not as well known is the fact that Reagan’s signature tax reforms were largely responsible for the fact that the poor in America have little to no federal income tax liability. In fact, that was actually the point of the bill:
An overriding goal of the Committee is to relieve families with the lowest incomes from Federal income tax liability. Consequently, the Bill increases the amounts of both the personal exemption and the standard deduction…so that the income level at which individuals begin to have tax liability will be raised sufficiently to free millions of poverty-level individual from Federal income tax liability.
This point has been made before. Many times, actually. And it certainly remains no small irony that Reagan’s tax reforms are largely responsible for the fact that many low-income Americans have no federal income tax liability (excluding payroll taxes, which they most certainly do pay). Yet even at this late date, Reagan continues to be praised by same politicians who complain that the poor don’t pay their fair share, and posit this accursed state of affairs as the legerdemain of furtive sleeper communists whose agenda includes things like discussing the female reproductive system in public and making America safe for terror babies.
Which is preposterous. Everybody knows that furtive communist democrats prefer to reauthorize the patriot act and destroy poor and minority communities with “tough on crime” policies. Foolish Republicans!
But this is all well and good I suppose. Utopianism and historical revisionism are an American birthright. Reagan raised taxes 11 times, gave amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, smuggled weapons to Iran, and "cut and ran" from Lebanon after 299 American and French servicemen died in a barracks in Beirut. He also had a bad habit of regularly compromising with democratic lawmakers, which would probably get him uninvited from Eric Cantor’s birthday party. One wonders how a list of accomplishments like this would fare in today’s political zeitgeist. Not well, I’d imagine.
Which is a shame. With the possible exception of smuggling weapons to Iran, every one of these decisions made sense in the context which they were made. We should have granted amnesty to illegal immigrants. We should have raised taxes when balancing the budget required it. We should have left Beirut; there was no reason for us to be there. But it is highly unlikely that a single one of these decisions could have happened in our present political climate. Whether from a democratic or a republican president. And it boggles my mind that there are still people out there who praise him, while condemning analogous policies when they fall from the mouths of political adversaries. Just another example of the Spectacle in action, I suppose.
(Also, Reagan sort of enabled a genocide in Guatemala. But I can understand why his supporters might leave that one out. Bit of a gaffe, that one).
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