While I’ll admit that comparing two presidents is extremely difficult (because let’s face it, times are always changing) there are a few ways people can go about determining if one president has been more successful (or even liked) than another.
However, when it comes to former presidents (at least in the modern era) no one is as endeared by a party as Ronald Reagan is by Republicans. Unfortunately, the GOP worship of Reagan is based more on myths and legends rather than realities. After all, this is a man who raised taxes several times, sold illegal arms to Iran and passed an amnesty bill for undocumented immigrants. Yet he’s the standard on which so many Republicans claim to base their ideological beliefs. Even though those are all things that, if President Obama were to do them, would be met with over-the-top outrage and fear-mongering by just about every single Republican in this country.
After all, most Republicans absolutely loathe this president.
That being said, I find it funny how “terrible” most Republicans claim President Obama has been, yet by many indicators he’s been a far more successful president than Reagan was.
So I thought I’d list five ways in which President Obama has been much more successful than the “conservative icon himself” Ronald Reagan.
1. Unemployment: Even though President Obama took over an economy that was in far worse condition than what Reagan did, on this president’s watch, the unemployment rate only reached 10 percent. Whereas under Reagan, unemployment hit a high of 10.8 percent. Not only that, but once President Obama got the economy heading on the right path, we’ve seen a record-setting streak of private sector job growth, blowing away anything we experienced during the Reagan administration.
Now I know what many conservatives will say, “But that’s because more people have dropped out of the labor pool because they’ve given up looking for work.” Okay, that’s a half-true statement, but not entirely accurate. While it’s true that we’ve seen a spike in the number of Americans no longer looking for work, most of that spike is due to baby boomers hitting retirement age. This isn’t complicated: 2015 – 65 (retirement age) = 1950. The “baby boomer” generation is considered anyone born between 1946-1964. They’re not “giving up looking for work” – they’re retiring.
And one other thing, under Reagan the unemployment rate never fell below 5.5%. Right now, under President Obama, we’re at 5.3%.
2. Approval Rating: While Republicans will have you believe that Ronald Reagan was this infallible American icon who everyone loved, that’s not true. In fact, Reagan’s approval number hit a low of 35% at one point – whereas Obama’s has never gone below 40%. Even Reagan’s “high” of 68% is only one percentage point higher than Obama’s (67%). Is this a huge deal? No, not really. But it does help to dispel this myth Republicans like to perpetuate about President Obama that he’s someone who’s pushing an agenda that the vast majority of Americans oppose. When you look at overall approval numbers, despite this president dealing with a media that’s much more cynical and negative, his numbers are about on par with Reagan’s.
I would even argue that President Obama’s numbers (or any modern president’s numbers for that matter) are even more impressive than Reagan’s considering the far more unforgiving and relentless media which politicians must deal with nowadays. Let’s face it, negativity and cynicism sells in the media – and business is good.
3. Terrorism and the Middle East: While Oliver North took the fall for Iran-Contra, you’re a fool if you don’t believe the Reagan administration knew about this. Republicans are losing their minds over a nuclear deal with Iran, could you imagine if he was caught selling them weapons? Not only that, but the Reagan administration helped Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War. Yes, the same dictator we ended up fighting two wars against.
Then let’s not forget about that little thing in Afghanistan. You know, the proxy war we fought where we ended up training and arming the “freedom fighters” that would ultimately become the Taliban – otherwise known as the terrorist organization that organized the 9/11 attacks.
While the Middle East is currently a mess (mostly due to the Iraq War and the complete incompetence of the handling of that quagmire), I’m not sure if anyone can top Reagan helping Saddam Hussein and basically training and arming the individuals who would eventually become the Taliban.
Meanwhile, on Obama’s watch the worst thing most Republicans have is that he’s only ordered several thousand airstrikes against ISIS; he carried out the SOFA agreement Bush agreed to with the Iraqi government; he brokered a nuclear deal with Iran and several of our allies; and the attack on the Benghazi embassy where four Americans died.
4. Health Care: Quick, what did Reagan do to help ensure that every American had access to health care? Oh, I know. He passed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act that basically just said emergency rooms couldn’t turn people away if they couldn’t afford to pay. How kind of him.
But he “made up” for that by tossing many Americans suffering from severe mental illness out on the streets.
Meanwhile, under President Obama, millions of Americans have gained access to health care; health care costs have risen at their slowest rate in decades; and our uninsured rate is at its lowest level since Gallup began tracking it. While the Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect, it’s a step in the right direction.
5. The Deficit: Perhaps the biggest myth about Reagan is that he was “fiscally conservative.” When, in fact, deficits skyrocketed during his presidency, nearly tripling our national debt – something that this nation had really never seen before. Which is why I’m always astonished that he’s considered the “fiscally conservative icon” when he was really the first president this country had who absolutely blew up our national debt.
Meanwhile, President Obama has reduced our deficit by $1 trillion. And while our debt remains high, the bulk of that growth during his presidency is tied to our economic crash and the steps he had to take to save this country from eight years of Bush’s incompetence.