As of June 22nd, the California state capital is home to an 800 pound, 8 foot tall replica of former US president and California governor Ronald Reagan. Until now, Reagan was the only president not to be immortalized with a statue in the state house of his home state. The statue was funded by private donations and joins other figures such as Christopher Columbus and The Roman Goddess Minerva. The statue comes right as the American election cycle is heating up and the Republican candidates will surely name-drop Reagan, as he is the only Republican president they can actually admit to liking.
While few young voters have any memory or admiration for Reagan, older, establishment Republicans overwhelmingly revere him. This reverence is completely misguided, especially for anyone who values individual liberty, free markets and limited government. On trade, Reagan was protectionist to the core. For example, Reagan presided over an increase in tariffs and import quotas and actually encouraged the Japanese to impose export quotas on microchips and cars. He also increased price supports (at a great cost to the American taxpayer) and production quotas for agricultural products.
His much celebrated 1981 tax cuts were largely counteracted by two tax increases later that year. Despite actually increasing taxes, his administration managed to triple the national debt with its runaway military spending and atrocious international intervention. Reagan supported murderous dictatorships in Guatemala, Columbia, the Philippines, Argentina, not to mention Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and apartheid South Africa, as well as death squads in Angola, Nicaragua and El Salvador. The number of mass murders, rapes and other human rights violations carried out under Reagan’s client regimes is staggering. Equally atrocious is the enormous amount of human misery caused by Reagan’s revamping and expansion of the completely failed War on Drugs.
His administration sold weapons to an enemy state to fund secret and illegal warfare. Relatedly, 138 members of his scandal ridden administration were investigated, indicted, or convicted of criminal activity. Additionally he embraced the hardcore religious right, one of the most authoritarian, and statist factions of US politics, and was more than happy to use race-baiting and homophobia in his political strategy.
Reagan’s abysmal record stands in sharp contrast with what a genuine free society should look like. A free society would not have runaway deficits, murderous death squads, client dictatorships, secret warfare and weapons deals, massive drug prohibitions, a booming prison industrial complex, or any of the many other ugly Reagan creations. In this regard, Reagan was not unlike other US presidents from his own era or in the time since. We should not be glorifying any of them. When people have the institutionalized, coercive power of the state at their disposal, they tend to become mass murderers and thieves.
True freedom is about voluntary interactions, not global dominance, ideological warfare or puritanical “family values”. Let’s stop pretending murderous, elitist thugs like Reagan embody individual liberty or limited government. Reagan’s use of government power was nearly unlimited in its horrific scope. Furthermore, let’s move away from celebrating imperial, authoritarian brutes with enormous statues in government buildings. Aside from being barbarically antiquated, it is just ugly.
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