Letter: Was Reagan a socialist?
Liberalism, or progressivism, does not equate to socialism or Marxism. Calling a belief by a different, derogatory name is simply a method to marginalize it and demonize its adherents, thereby rendering proponents’ ideas as unsafe and not to be believed. Andrew Maggard’s recent letters have prompted me to examine these terms. I’ve relearned what I always knew: new ideas are not necessarily bad ideas.
Rather than the fearsome philosophy some would have us believe, progressive thought has brought America many positive programs, in particular, the idea of freedom from British rule in 1776. Others have been: training and professionalism for teachers and social workers, Social Security, Medicare, Human Rights legislation, Civil Rights legislation, suffrage for African-Americans and women, child labor laws, the eight-hour workday, minimum wage, worker’s compensation laws, public education, direct election of senators, the right of recall of elected officials, the institution of the city manager system that uses trained professionals to deal with the day-to-day affairs of local government. Then there is conservation: the establishment of national parks and wildlife refuges and the Antiquities Act protecting large land areas from development. And let’s not forget the interstate highways systems, and many more.
None of these things would have happened without forward-thinking (progressive) Americans asking themselves, "What’s wrong with this picture and how can I help fix it?"
Conservatives can be progressives, too. One particular president comes to mind. He promised a conservative revolution, to slash the size of government, radically scale back entitlements, and use his presidential power to pursue socially and culturally conservative goals.
What he actually did was expand the federal government, compromise with our enemies on nuclear armament (In his memoirs, he noted, "My dream became a world free of nuclear weapons."), increase the number of federal workers by 61,000, saved Social Security, and raised taxes four times during his administration, including the largest corporate tax increase in history. He also expanded the earned income tax credit which, in the 1990s, was raising 4.3 million Americans out of poverty every year.
This president’s actions were in some degree the normal compromise of political office. Still, he was a conservative who did not fear new ideas. His conservative biographers omit these compromises to preserve his conservative credentials, but they are part of history. His name was Ronald Reagan. Was he a socialist/Marxist, too?