In 2004, Harry Browne wrote an article about Ronald Reagan, just following Reagan’s death. It is an interesting read. If you are a Reagan conservative, you will probably hate it.
Browne admits in the article that he was somewhat sympathetic towards Reagan at the beginning of his presidency. All of the proponents of big government were bashing Reagan to no end, and basically claiming that horrible things would happen. It is hard not to cheer for a guy when your worst enemies are cheering against him.
As Browne states, the fantasy land of libertarians quickly came to an end, whether they realized it or not. It became evident within a short amount of time, for those really paying attention, that Reagan would not be a great friend to the cause of liberty. On the bad things he said he was going to do, he mostly followed through. This would include social issues, foreign policy, and other issues of civil liberties.
On the good things Reagan talked about, he didn’t follow through, at least for the most part. He did drastically cut income tax rates, which is probably one of the few really good things that he did. Unfortunately, he also eliminated a lot of deductions and increased taxes at other times.
In terms of spending, Reagan was a total disaster. The budget grew by about two-thirds during his presidency and the total debt increased by almost $2 trillion. The Reagan years had the biggest deficits by far up to that point in history. Of course, the last 6 years has dwarfed the Reagan deficits, incredible as it may be.
Looking back on Reagan, I think about the best thing that a libertarian could say about him was that he at least didn’t start any major wars, including a nuclear war. He wasn’t good on foreign policy, as he did aggress against several small countries. But in comparison to the Bush/ Obama years, Reagan was virtually a pacifist.
One thing about Reagan is that he sure knew how to give a speech. He was brilliant with his rhetoric. His digs against big government could have brought any libertarian to tears. Unfortunately, his policies did not match his talk.
As I heard Harry Browne say, if only Reagan had actually done half of what the Democrats had accused of him. The Democrats constantly said that Reagan was going to cut Social Security, pull welfare away, and dramatically shrink government services. So there was just as much rhetoric coming from the other side.
Maybe one day we will get someone who is as articulate and persuasive as Reagan was, while also following through on a pro-liberty philosophy. If the Democrats are going to make accusations of cutting government, I would like to see an actual reduction in the size and scope of government.