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The Blame-Reagan Shift: From the Media to the Historians

The Blame-Reagan Shift: From the Media to the Historians
by L. Brent Bozell III
October 9, 1997

Throughout the 1980s and beyond, news media liberals blamed Ronald Reagan for everything from flammable children's pajamas to earthquakes. While the attacks never stop, they did abate in 1994, when Reagan's Alzheimer's disease became public.

Now the battle over the Reagan legacy has entered a new and far more important dimension. The authors of "history" are hard at work, specifically encyclopedias and textbooks, distorting the Reagan record for generations to come.

Try the Encyclopedia Britannica: "In 1981, Congress passed most of the President's proposals, drastically cutting nondefense spending and approving a reduction in personal income taxes...massive budget deficits resulted from the tax cuts."

The Encyclopedia Americana flat-out lies! "His administration succeeded in dismantling much of the welfare state and many of the regulations on big business that had been instituted in the 1930s and expanded in the 1960s....Massive federal deficits piled up, however - a reflection of tax cutting, greater defense spending and other economic factors."

Collier's Encyclopedia baldly declares: "Reagan persuaded Congress to enact a series of tax rate cuts that mainly benefited upper-income taxpayers. To offset some of the revenue losses, he obtained severe cuts in spending for 'social' items, including Social Security, job training, college loan guarantees, aid to cities, food subsidies and medical care for the poor, disability payments for the handicapped, day-care centers for children, and geriatric centers."

A simple look at a Statistical Abstract would show now none of this garbage is true. Tax revenues lost? Individual income tax revenues increased from $286 billion in 1981 to $349 billion in 1986. Overall tax revenues increased from $599 billion in 1981 to $769 billion in 1986. R.R.'s 21 million new jobs saw to that.

Drastic cuts in social spending? Social Security rose from $118.5 billion in 1980 to $287.5 billion in 1992. In the same time span, Medicaid went from $14 billion to $67.8 billion; food stamps, from $9.1 billion to $21.8 billion, AFDC, from $6.9 billion to $15.1 billion. From 1980 to 1992, defense spending rose 30 percent, while social spending rose 44 percent.

Encyclopedia accounts of Reagan may be reprehensible, but some textbooks are even worse. In the conservative weekly Human Events, Peter LaBarbera and Allan Ryskind found an incredibly sloppy mess called "A History of Us" by Joy Hakim. Some distortions are right out of the DNC playbook: "Supply-side economics didn't work. Reagan was spending more money on arms and weapons than had ever been spent before, and the government's income from taxes wasn't keeping up." Some statements just aren't true: "The 80s, when he presided, were a high-living time. The rich got very rich, and the poor got much poorer." Census Bureau data - those natty numbers again - show that average family income increased in every fifth of income earners from 1982 to 1989.

Other statements were just goofy: "This president was about to make some radical changes in the nation's economy, but he did it in such a pleasant manner that at first hardly anyone noticed." Did this woman spend the 1980s in a cocoon?

And then there were the ridiculous mistakes that show this woman has no idea what she's doing, and rather than writing school textbooks, ought to be in school: "The deficit became GIGANTIC. It rose from $58 billion in 1981 (when Reagan became president) to $220 billion in 1986, to $2.3 trillion in 1988 (when Reagan's presidency ended)." (Capitals and italics hers.) Wow. Makes you wonder what the debt was? Hakim makes no mention that in the last three Reagan years, the deficit dropped into the $150 million range. The actual deficit in 1988 was $155.2 billion. That beats the first few deficits of the Clinton years.

Don't dismiss this ridiculous nonsense. Hakim recently claimed that sales from the factually-challenged Oxford University Press "are close to 1 million copies." Hakim defends her top-of-her-head observations as scholarship because "my aim in writing the books was to get boring textbooks out of our schools...Children, like the rest of us in the Information Age, want to read about things that really happened." (Insert snickers here.)

Despite the sad spectacle of Hakim's sloppy work, her ten-book series is touted across the country to school administrators and home-schooling parents. The Los Angeles Times declared the book with the Reagan tripe in it "caps off the liveliest, most realistic, most well-received American history series ever written for children."

The Human Events authors note that the "conservative" Weekly Standard recently published a piece by David Warren Saxe calling "The History of Us" the "excellent new history series," and wonder if anyone there bothered to read it. Judging by title Bill Kristol's call for conservatives to salute the big-government policies of FDR and JFK, I think the answer is...yes.