The 40th President of the United States, the larger-than-life Ronald Reagan who left office 25 years ago with an impressive 63 percent approval rating among Americans, passed away 10 years ago this week. Amidst the celebrations this week for the man and his presidency, reflecting on the America Reagan left behind in 1989, in particular on the Americans Reagan left behind, should not be left out of the conversation.
While those in Simi Valley and at Eureka College will be talking about all of Reagan's domestic and foreign policy accomplishments -- for example, that the 40th president saved the United States from economic disaster by simultaneously reducing taxes and government spending while also winning the Cold War -- it is important to consider the costs of those cutbacks.
Cuts to mental health treatment facilities led to increased homelessness and incarceration rates; the burden of treating the mentally ill shifted from the federal government to state and local governments; and domestic budget cuts in the Reagan era delayed advances in health care, as HBO's production of The Normal Heart, recently reminded us. Reagan could have potentially helped save millions of lives worldwide had he made AIDS research a priority early in his administration.
Tax cuts combined with out-of-control defense spending had similarly devastating consequence. Reagan realized as much: During a March 19, 1981 meeting on increased aid to Pakistan, the President explained his predicament: "My silence on this matter is not from a lack of interest, but rather because I'm afflicted with two allergies: the allergy of wanting to control government spending and the allergy of wanting to increase our national security posture." Despite draconian-cuts to domestic programs, Reagan still left office with a record $3 trillion debt and never having submitted a balanced budget to congress. Americans are still paying that debt.
So as Americans celebrate the "optimism" of Reagan and his mighty efforts to stare down the Soviet Union and defeat communism, let's not forgot the costs of doing so to millions of Americans at home. Let's be thankful that Reagan got us through the 1980s without a nuclear war, but at the same time remember all those who paid the price of that victory.