Days of Rage

So, who do you think was worse?

January 20 marks the anniversary of two of the darkest days in recent American history–the thirty-fifth anniversary of the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan, and the fifteenth anniversary of the inauguration of President George W. Bush.

I was only three years old when Reagan assumed power; had I been of a mature age, I’m sure I would have wept at the thought of this man, who had race-baited his way to the White House, preparing to impose his right-wing will over this country. I’m sure I would have shook as Reagan used this grand occasion to demonize the very government he had been elected to run. I’m sure I would have mourned the end of the Carter administration, and the political downfall of a gallant and humble man at the hands of a conservative curmudgeon from California.

I was twenty-three on January 20, 2001, and I’ll never forget the weird and odd feeling of that day. I remember listening to the Bush inauguration on WBZ radio in Boston on my way to seeing the Jack Nicholson film The Pledge at the AMC Fenway Theatre, and feeling this strange, uneven energy in the air, almost as if something had gone off balance in the world. Who could have imagined, at that time, just how bad of a president he would turn out to be? Who could have imagined just how many lives would be lost under his watch?

After Reagan died in 2004, Grist pointed out that some of Reagan’s worst excesses, particularly on the environment, were blocked by Democrats and moderate Republicans in Congress, so a case can be made that Bush was worse. Yet Reagan injected anti-government sentiment into the very bloodstream of American culture like no other politician before him; from this perspective, he was perhaps even more destructive, more pernicious, more dangerous than Bush.

Both men were fond of illegal invasions and lying to the American people. Reagan ignored the threat of acid rain, while Bush dismissed concerns about the climate crisis. Both men contaminated the Supreme Court with reactionary appointees. Perhaps it could be argued that they were equally bad?

Consider this an open thread. Between Reagan and Bush, who inflicted more damage upon this country? Who brought more dishonor to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Who was worse?

UPDATE: More from Thom Hartmann and John C. O’Day.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.