- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2001

A mere 20 years ago, when Ronald Reagan entered the White House, the principal issues on both the economic and foreign-policy fronts were incalculably more serious than any this country faced in the 2000 election. Indeed, to appreciate the legacy of Mr. Reagan, it is imperative to recall the world he inherited in 1981 and transformed during his two terms as president.

Consider the state of the Cold War. The Soviet Union's belligerent domination of Eastern Europe seemed permanent. Moreover, after several years of deploying intermediate-range, multiple-warhead ballistic missiles aimed at Western European and Asian capitals, the USSR aggressively sought to demoralize America's NATO and Pacific allies and to uncouple them from their partner across the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, after decades of arming the terrorist-supporting regimes throughout the Middle East, the USSR had recently invaded Afghanistan.

Domestically, the situation Mr. Reagan inherited a mere 20 years ago was no better. America's world economic leadership had slipped in the face of a severe bout of stagflation, which was brought about by declining output, rising unemployment, spiraling oil prices, accelerating inflation and leapfrogging interest rates. No less than the incumbent president had chastised his countrymen over a mood of "national malaise."

Mr. Reagan would have none of that. Visiting his staunchest ally, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, in June 1982, Mr. Reagan delivered a rousing speech before the British Parliament, which most members of the opposition Labor Party boycotted. Calling for "a crusade for freedom" to promote "democratic development" throughout the world, Mr. Reagan confidently predicted that "the march of freedom and democracy" would "leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history."

Less than a year later, Mr. Reagan successfully neutralized the misguided nuclear-freeze movement, which would have solidified the Soviet Union's unilateral missile advantage in Europe and Asia. Asserting that the Soviet Union was "the focus of evil in the modern world," Mr. Reagan urged the West not to "ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire." Mr. Reagan insisted on deploying U.S. medium-range missiles in Western Europe, a development that eventually resulted in the complete abolition of medium-range, land-based missiles throughout Europe and Asia.

During the same month he described the Soviet Union as an "evil empire," Mr. Reagan unveiled his dream of building defenses against nuclear ballistic missiles. Mr. Reagan refused Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's demand to scuttle ballistic-missile defense in exchange for a landmark agreement to slash long-range nuclear weapons. In the end, Mr. Reagan's successor reached an agreement to slash strategic nuclear weapons. By then, however, the evil empire had collapsed. Indeed, the Reagan Doctrine was instrumental in expelling the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. But the USSR's ultimate collapse was a direct result, as former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev later admitted, of Mr. Reagan's adamant refusal to disband America's missile-defense program.

Mr. Reagan achieved comparable success on the economic front. Inheriting a system that taxed so-called "unearned income" stock dividends, interest income, etc. at rates as high as 70 percent, Mr. Reagan reduced income-tax rates across the board in 1981. Massive tax-reform legislation passed in 1986 further reduced the top rate to 28 percent. Even subsequent backsliding, which permitted the top rate to climb to nearly 40 percent, could not stifle the economic expansion Mr. Reagan's policies unleashed. Apart from the mildest postwar recession an eight-month pause in 1990 and 1991 the American economy has been growing continuously since late 1982.

By any standard, Mr. Reagan's achievements are monumental. Happy Birthday, Gipper.

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