Reagan’s Final Years

REAGAN’S FINAL YEARS….In the course of a column advocating that President Bush create several new empire-building agencies, including a Department of Peace (!), Max Boot makes this claim in passing:

These ideas may sound overly ambitious for the final two years of an administration mired in major difficulties. But remember that in his second term, despite the Iran-Contra scandal, Ronald Reagan was able to simplify the tax code and streamline the military chain of command — major reforms — by working with a Democratic Congress.

This is not the biggest deal in the world, but for some reason this is a very common claim. Can we please put it to rest?

First: The “last two years” of a presidency surely don’t start until, um, the last two years of a presidency. At its earliest, it starts after the sixth year midterm elections. For Reagan, this happened on November 4, 1986. Until then, he had a split Congress (Democratic House, Republican Senate).

Second: the 1986 Tax Reform Act was negotiated in 1985-86 and passed in October 1986. Ditto for the Goldwater-Nichols Act. None of this happened in Reagan’s final two years.

Third: News of the arms-for-hostages deal was first reported in the Lebanese press on November 3. So neither of these two pieces of legislation were passed “despite the Iran-Contra scandal.”

I’m not sure why this bugs me, but I see it often and it’s just wrong. The fact is that Reagan accomplished very little domestically in his final two years, and largely for the same reasons Bush won’t: Democrats won the midterms, after November he was mired in scandal, and seventh year presidents are widely considered lame ducks anyway.

That is all. You may now return to the 21st century.