Who's The Better Reagan?

Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan

It's Not Who You May Think

The year 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birthday. There is no one more revered in the conservative iconography than Reagan, and perhaps no one currently more reviled by hard-core conservatives than President Barack Obama. The time seems perfect for an objective comparison of the policies of these two presumed opposites of the political spectrum.

To be fair and accurate, since Obama has completed only two years of his term, we'll limit our actual policy comparisons to Reagan's first two years as well. However, to gain a more complete picture of each President's political ideology, personal and public statements made outside those time frames have also been considered. Since the purpose of this hub is to determine "who is the better Reagan?" all comparisons will be made in the context of Reagan's actual policies or declared intent.


We'll begin by first examining each President's tax policies. It's taken as gospel that Ronald Reagan was an enthusiastic tax cutter. However, after cutting taxes in 1981, Reagan raised them in 1982 (on businesses) and again in 1983 (on employee payrolls). Like Reagan, Obama has also lowered taxes. Yet, unlike Reagan, he has yet to raise them. Let's compare the specifics after two years in office:

Reductions in the tax rate on capital gains (the profits from stocks, bonds and real estate) are one of the holy grails of conservative tax policy. Reagan was somewhat successful in this area, lowering them to 20% for individuals by midway through his first term. However, Obama has managed to "out-Reagan" the 40th President, achieving an even lower 15% individual rate (to be fair, this rate was established by George W. Bush, but if not for a deal directly negotiated by Obama, it would have expired). With regard to capital gains, the "better Reagan" turns out to be the current President. WINNER: Obama.

Aside from capital gains, lowering the estate tax is the most cherished objective of those who subscribe to Reaganomics. How do Reagan's first two years stack up against Obama's on this point? By 1983, Reagan had managed to lower the top rate to 60% with a minimum threshold of $3.5 million. Yet here, also, Obama managed to do more. Not only did he lower the top rate to 35% (it was scheduled to rise to 55%), he raised the threshold to $5 million ($10 million for couples). Thus, fewer people will be taxed on their inheritance, and they'll be taxed at a lower rate. WINNER: Obama.

Barack Obama
Barack Obama

The income tax rates are another important focus of "Reaganomics," especially with regard to the richest Americans. After a year in office, Reagan did manage to decrease the top marginal rate to 50%, the lowest rate in fifty years. However, Obama has managed to top Reagan in this category as well, preserving the current top marginal rate of 35% (again, set to expire if not for Obama). WINNER: Obama.

Who's the better Reagan with regard to payroll taxes paid by employees? It's really no contest. Reagan raised them, to 5.4% (and even higher in subsequent years, but we're only counting the first two). Obama lowered them, from 6.2% to 4.2% WINNER: Obama (by a landslide).

Social Security

Speaking of payroll taxes, they provide the funding for the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI), more commonly known as Social Security.  Nearly two decades before George W. Bush attempted to partially privatize Social Security, Ronald Reagan proposed the same idea.  Yet, as President, political circumstances forced him to raise payroll taxes to shore up the program.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, recently decreased payroll taxes as part of his negotiated tax deal with Republicans in Congress.  Not only will this reduce the funding for Social Security, making it more vulnerable, it will enable Republican opposition in two years when the new rate expires, when they can portray the expiration as a "tax increase" on working Americans.

Republicans (including Reagan) have largely opposed the program since it began back in 1935.  Yet, in one fell swoop, Obama has accomplished what every one of them has thus far failed to do:  He has begun the dismantling of Social Security.  WINNER: Obama.

National Defense

One of the foundations of Reagan's governing philosophy was expanding the U.S. military to confront and undermine Soviet hegemony. To that end, he actively supported anti-Communist insurgencies in Afghanistan and Nicaragua and invaded the Caribbean island of Grenada. Obama has largely maintained George W. Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, obstensibly to confront and undermine worldwide terrorism. Still, Reagan gets points for initiating his own military actions, with a clear underlying objective. Obama has merely continued his predecessor's muddled military adventures. WINNER: Reagan.

However, in total Defense Department spending, Obama has far outpaced Reagan. Even adjusting the figures for inflation, Reagan's defense budget in the second year of his administration was $429.15 billion. Obama's 2011 defense budget is a whopping $708.2 billion. To be fair, Obama's budget does include two ongoing wars, but he's had two years to reduce those military commitments. At best, he's merely shifted resources from one war zone (Iraq) to another (Afghanistan), and has done nothing at all to reduce America's global military presence. WINNER: Obama.

The Categorical Winner

In almost every category that defines Ronald Reagan's early administration, Barack Obama has implemented policies that have outpaced his earlier predecessor. Reagan was for lowering taxes, especially for the wealthy, and Obama has uniformly achieved even lower rates. Reagan disliked Social Security, but it's Obama who's finally managed to hammer the first nail in its coffin. Reagan believed in an expanded military, but it's Obama who has maintained two wars and increased the Defense budget to historic new levels. Additionally, with his bailouts of the banking and automotive industries, Obama has done more to advance the idea of "trickle-down" economics than Reagan could ever dream.

One could argue, I suppose, that the political culture in Washington DC has moved significantly to the right since Ronald Reagan's day, and Barack Obama is simply working within the prevailing reality. However, that argument fails on two counts. First, Barack Obama was elected largely because of his campaign theme of "change." His promise to radically alter the business of Washington included specific pledges like resisting tax breaks for wealthy Americans and reducing America's military commitments, ideas contrary to the very policies that Reagan embraced.

Second, if Obama's policies have merely followed a Washington paradigm shift to the right, why is he so often called a "socialist" and even a "communist" by those who cherish Reagan's legacy most? If Washington politics since Reagan's day have shifted so far rightward that Obama's policies are still considered "socialist" by comparison, what does that say of Reagan's policies?

Either Ronald Reagan has been left behind by the very rightward drift he helped create, and is by comparison a "socialist" himself, or the Washington paradigm has not drifted so far from Reagan, after all, and Obama's record stands on its own as an amplification of Reagan's agenda. Either way, with regard to Reagan's own policies, Obama's example consistently proves more "Reagan-ish." Barack Obama is, in all relevant measures, the "better" Reagan.

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Comments 34 comments

Anaya M. Baker profile image

Anaya M. Baker 6 years ago from North Carolina

Seems Reagan wasn't even very good at being "Reagan" lol. What a wonderfully written and well-informed article... I really like the way you set up the comparisons. I was curious about whether you were writing from a left or right standpoint or bias, and your objective portrayal of facts kept me guessing. Great information that I wasn't aware of. Thanks!

Paladin_ profile image

Paladin_ 6 years ago from Michigan, USA Author

Thank you Anaya! I'm glad my attempt to be objective paid off. Ideologically, I'm predominantly progressive, though politically I'm an independent. So I have no personal partisan investment in Barack Obama.

Having said that, I'm mostly disgusted with his policies, though I'm certainly not surprised by them.

profile image

HSchneider 6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

Great comparisons Paladin. The common thread between Reagan and Obama is that they were both pragmatic. They took the hands they were dealt and attempted to pursue the best policies to solve their respective problems. Reagan did come from the right and Obama from the left. But they both threw out ideology to do what was best for the country at that time. That made them statesmen and patriots rather than party hacks.

OpinionDuck profile image

OpinionDuck 6 years ago

Paladin you are a pawn and not a knight.

When Reagan took office the prime rate was over twenty percent.

Obama should be compared for equivalency with FDR and rated with the results of Jimmy Carter who Reagan followed.

Poor comparison, had to rate down this hub.

Paladin_ profile image

Paladin_ 6 years ago from Michigan, USA Author

OpinionDuck, what does the prime rate have to do with my comparisons? Yes, it was at historical highs when Reagan took office, and except for a few fluctuations, it has more or less steadily declined since then. So what?

If you're going to just throw out a number and claim it contradicts all my arguments, you should at least explain why it does so. But you've done nothing of the sort. In fact, all I know so far is that you disagree with my premise, and you haven't even supported that. All you've done is offered your opinion and voted down my hub.

Shame on you, OpinionDuck. Go back in the water!

M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 5 years ago from United States

Very interesting and compelling hub. I've noticed that Regan is used more as a caricature for the republican party rather than an actual man. Whatever policy the republicans are embracing today, was best accomplished by Regan and if you bring up any contradictions, you are dismissed. Similarly, any comparisons between Regan and Obama are thought to be blasphemous. Every president will have similarities to previous presidents because every president must continue to deal with the opposite party in various ways (most notably congress).

The problem, in my mind, is that compromise (a trait all presidents should have) is now portrayed as a weakness. This has been taken to such a ridiculous degree that republicans in congress have unanimously voted no on almost every issue even vaguely tied to the president over the last three years. The result of this is that the president has had to compromise left and right, which I'm guessing is the reason he has so many Regan similarities. In other words, it's his compromises that have made him similar to Regan. He would have let the millionaire tax cuts expire if he could and he would have strengthened social security. Not that I think there is anything wrong with this president being similar to Regan, but I feel like he would be considerably different if he hadn't been so violently opposed so often. Anyway, great hub, voted up.

Paladin_ profile image

Paladin_ 5 years ago from Michigan, USA Author

Thank you, M.T.!

gconeyhiden profile image

gconeyhiden 5 years ago from Brooklyn, N.Y.C. U.S.A

very interesting comparison.

Steve Orion profile image

Steve Orion 5 years ago from Tampa, Florida

I read a Time article about the comparison between the two that that this article reminded me of. It seems there are many common misconceptions about Reagan in the Republican party, idolatry sometimes distorts even the more obvious facts. good Hub, rated up!

Paladin_ profile image

Paladin_ 5 years ago from Michigan, USA Author

Steve, do you remember how long ago that Time article appeared? I'd like to check it out, if only to see how close it is to mine.

aslaught profile image

aslaught 5 years ago from Alabama

Very interesting hub!

artblack01 profile image

artblack01 5 years ago from New Mexico

Very interesting and informative, you could definitely teach me a thing or two or three or four.... about politics... maybe point my last hub in a good direction.

Paladin_ profile image

Paladin_ 5 years ago from Michigan, USA Author

Thanks, artblack!

If one were to listen to Fox "News" 24/7 (or, the mainstream media, for that matter), one could easily believe that Obama is a diehard Marxist, just to the left of Kim Jung-Il. But the actual facts tell a vastly different story.

artblack01 profile image

artblack01 5 years ago from New Mexico

I think if one were to listen to FAUX News one would get a very different view of reality (also called paranoid fantasy and sensationalism).

Deacon 2 years ago

I di'ndt know where to find this info then kaboom it was here.

Paladin_ profile image

Paladin_ 2 years ago from Michigan, USA Author

Hehe. Well, I'm glad you found it! :-)

jackclee lm profile image

jackclee lm 17 months ago from Yorktown NY

You've got to be joking. Nice try but no cigar. Latest presidential ranking has Reagan number 4 over Obama at 10 of the 13 most recent Presidents. Carter was number 13. By every measure, Obama has failed as a leader from the economy to foreign affairs to homeland security to world peace, one disaster after another. If you consider what we have today as success, what do you define as failure? Your grand children will be paying off the debt that this president has racked up over the last 7 years.

Paladin_ profile image

Paladin_ 17 months ago from Michigan, USA Author

Thanks for the comments, Jack. But perhaps you should go back and actually READ the hub.

Personally, I don't think EITHER president was worth a damn, though they both had their own particular qualities. But that's NOT what this hub is about!

The analysis is based upon a comparison of the two presidents' first two years using specific standards that are commonly attributed to Reagan. I've already explained them in the hub, so I'm not going to repeat them here. If you dispute any of the particular details I've offered, I'll be happy to discuss them with you.

jackclee lm profile image

jackclee lm 17 months ago from Yorktown NY

Paladin, I have read your hub and I think it is total non sense. For example you claim Obama spends more on the defense department than Reagan. That is total false. It is well know that Reagan built up the defense department big time in order to challenge the Soviet Union and caused the eventual down fall. That is "historical fact". Meanwhile, Obama drew down our military so that we could not fight two wars at the same time. He out spent Reagan overall with entitlements including food stamps and disability and Medicaid... Our debt went from 10 trillion to over 18 trillion under his watch. Look at the big picture. You can cherry pick facts all day long but that is not what determines a successful presidency. Your whole hub premise "who is the better Reagan?" is faulty. Reagan is unique and one of the few president that had leadership qualities that makes him great. I wish you and others would read up on Reagan firsthand. He is not perfect and made mistakes as any human, but on the big items, he got them right and we are the beneficiary.

Paladin_ profile image

Paladin_ 17 months ago from Michigan, USA Author

I'm sorry, Jack, but you either did NOT read my hub, or you've failed to comprehend its meaning. This hub isn't about who's the "better" President. It's about who's the better REAGAN -- based upon factors commonly attributed to him.

And the facts are on my side. The numbers I give for both presidents' military spending in their first two years are indisputable. Even adjusted for inflation, Obama spent MORE than Reagan, not less.

I notice you didn't mention the tax rates, which is supposedly one of Reagan's great marks. But, as the facts show, during the first two years of their presidencies, Obama's tax rates were LOWER than Reagan's.

Incidentally, though I didn't address deficits in my hub, since you brought it up, let's take a look at the FACTS regarding the respective budget deficits of the two presidents.

According to the Office of Management and Budget, federal deficits under Obama have DECREASED EVERY SINGLE YEAR he's been in office! (Incidentally, the same thing happened under Bill Clinton, the previous Democratic President, who actually ended his second term with a budget SURPLUS!)

On the other hand, Reagan's budget deficits went up and down, peaking in 1986.

And here's the fact that just might pierce that right-wing bubble in which you seem to reside (or, at least it might put a dent in it!):

-- Adjusted for inflation (in 2015 dollars), Reagan's highest budget deficit, in 1986, was 518.1 billion dollars. Obama's most recent (and lowest) budget deficit (again, adjusted to 2015 dollars), in 2014, was 518.3 billion dollars! That means that Obama has managed to reduce the federal budget deficit to Reagan-era levels! This, despite the fact that his budgets must also pay the interest on the largesse of his predecessors.

You suggest that I should "read up" on Reagan. I make a counter-suggestion to you -- perhaps you should "read up" on Obama, beyond the lies you hear on Fox "News" Channel and right-wing media. What you discover may just blow your mind!

jackclee lm profile image

jackclee lm 17 months ago from Yorktown NY

Paladin, I think you are confused. Do you even know what you are trying to say with this hub? I realized you wrote this a few years ago and I happen to come across it recently. If you disagree with Reagan politically, that's fine, it's a free country. But don't deny his accomplishments and try to tie Obama to Reagan. Obama is no Reagan by any stretch. In fact, he is the anti-Reagan. You didn't address my question. What is success in your mind? That will explain a lot.

Paladin_ profile image

Paladin_ 17 months ago from Michigan, USA Author

Jack, I'm not trying to "tie" Obama to Reagan. I'm comparing the two, and in a fairly tongue-in-cheek manner, if you hadn't noticed.

I'm not addressing your question about "success" because I'm not going to get into a long debate about the relative merits of the two (other than to repeat that I don't find EITHER of them particularly memorable). That's not the purpose of this hub and, to be frank, partisan politics is not a topic with which I'm much involved anymore.

As you noted, I wrote this hub years ago. Religion and atheism are now more my focus.

jackclee lm profile image

jackclee lm 17 months ago from Yorktown NY

paladin, along the same line tongue-in-cheek comment, the one item Obama was the better Reagan is winning the Nobel peace prize. Reagan never got that honor which he well deserved...

Now I saw this in the news -


Paladin_ profile image

Paladin_ 17 months ago from Michigan, USA Author

Though I don't exactly consider the Washington Times an objective source, I'd have to agree with the sentiment expressed in the article. I thought it was absolutely absurd to award Obama the Nobel Peace Prize. For the life of me, I STILL can't fathom what it was for.

As for Reagan, he does deserve recognition for his work with Gorbachev in reducing nuclear weapons (including the somewhat groundbreaking efforts to remove entire classes of weapons!). Still, whether he actually deserved a Nobel is open to debate. It's all academic now, anyway.

jackclee lm profile image

jackclee lm 17 months ago from Yorktown NY


You are not giving Reagan the credit for ending the cold war without firing a shot and for the missile defense system "star wars" that is protecting Israel today. Those would have won anyone else the Nobel Peace prize except the Nobel committee is too liberal to admit it. That's is why the Nobel peace prize is cheapened and a token award.

Paladin_ profile image

Paladin_ 17 months ago from Michigan, USA Author

Jack, I'm not giving Reagan credit for ending the Cold War because I'm not convinced he's responsible (and even if he were, that's not exactly grounds for a Nobel Prize for Peace).

The Soviet system was ultimately unsustainable, and it was only a matter of time before it collapsed. If ANYTHING hastened its demise, it was the appearance of Mikhail Gorbachev, who was pragmatic and honest enough to recognize this inevitability. Reagan just happened to appear at the right time.

I will agree, however, that awarding Obama the Peace Prize DID "cheapen" it.

jackclee lm profile image

jackclee lm 17 months ago from Yorktown NY

Paladin, WOW, if ending the cold war did not qualify for the Nobel peace prize, what would in your mind? You are letting your politics cloud your judgement. Reagan was a great president on so many levels, and it drove the left crazy.

BTW, even some people in Reagan's administration disagreed with Reagan's position on the Soviet Union. The conventional wisdom was to keep the status quo. Reagan went by his principles and it succeeded. I suggest you go back and check your history. Many foreign policy experts at the time was wrong on Soviet Union and did not support Reagan's famous speech "tear down this wall". He wrote it in his speech over the objection of his speech writers. All this is well documented.

Paladin_ profile image

Paladin_ 17 months ago from Michigan, USA Author

Actually, after I had reflected somewhat on my statement regarding the Cold War and the Nobel Prize, I had second thoughts.

Then I thought to myself, let's just see how Jack approaches this. Will he make a detailed and comprehensive case for how my statement is wrong, or will he take some other, more partisan or ideological approach?

You chose the latter, making some assumption about my "politics" when you don't even know what my politics are (as I've given no indication thus far of any political preference).

In any case, I'm willing to concede that, on second thought, ending the Cold War could be sufficient reason for consideration for the Nobel Prize for Peace, if only for the Cold War's potential for catastrophe (not to mention the anxiety and worry it so often created in the societies involved).

However, I still see no reason to believe that Reagan was responsible for the end of the Cold War. Whether he bucked the "status quo" within his own party has no bearing on his actual influence on inevitable events.

As for "checking my history," I'm actually quite familiar with the history, as I LIVED THROUGH IT. (In fact, I voted for Reagan in 1980).

jackclee lm profile image

jackclee lm 17 months ago from Yorktown NY

Paladin, yes so did I live thru the Reagan years and I voted for him twice but did you read some of his writings? I don't know your politics but it doesn't matter. We are discussing Reagan and his accomplishments. Know that you are in the minority if you don't think he was instrumental in ending the Cold War along with Thatcher and Pope John Paul II. I have encountered quite a few here on hubpages who are trying to re-write history when it comes to Reagan. I hope you are not one of them. I just re-published a hub I wrote a few years ago when I visited the Reagan library. I hope you will check it out. Peace.

Paladin_ profile image

Paladin_ 17 months ago from Michigan, USA Author

Actually, my politics apparently DO matter, because you said I was allowing them to "cloud" my "judgment. In any case, that's a relatively minor matter.

As for my presumably being in the "minority" regarding Reagan's responsibility for the end of the Cold War, that's completely irrelevant to whether or not I'm right. I'm perfectly content to be in the "minority" (if that is, indeed, the case) if the majority is wrong.

As for those who "rewrite history," recall that, in your first comments here, you came with metaphorical guns blazing, saying that my hub was "total nonsense." Yet none of the facts or statistics I've presented here have been (or can be) refuted.

Rest assured, I don't make a habit of "rewriting history." Instead, it was you who recited the talking points about deficits -- a "rewrite" of history if there ever was one -- which I corrected with the actual historical statistics.

That said, as I previously observed, my interest in politics isn't what it used to be, so I probably won't visit your Reagan hub. However, I see you have hubs on other topics, so I'll try to visit some of those!

Thanks again for stopping by and commenting! :-)

jackclee lm profile image

jackclee lm 17 months ago from Yorktown NY

Paladin, my interests are history, politics, religion, and technology. I welcome your comments on any of my hubs. Sorry for the harsh comments on your hub. I've been reacting to some other hub attacking Reagan and just want to set the record straight for some younger readers who did not know him as I do. Reagan's legacy will stand on its own merit. Historians will make the case better than I. I just wish people would understand his contribution to our country and not perpetuate the false caricature of him. One last comparison to Obama. Reagan was a humble leader. He never want to take credit even when it is due and he accepted responsibility when he faltered. On the other hand, President Obama, is thin skinned and never accept responsibility. IMHO

artblack01 profile image

artblack01 17 months ago from New Mexico

As someone who lived through the Reagan era, I can tell you for a fact that he was, at least for people of the middle class and below, and in their twenties and below, one of the worst Presidents ever. We almost had world war 3, gas prices were terrible and there was such a shortage we actually had to wait in line for gas, to give credit to Reagan for anything good that happened in this country is to admit that you not only don't know politics or history but also never lived it. Remember who writes history. Obama my not be a great president, in fact very few in my opinion are in this era, but he was far better than Reagan. But all out recent Presidents for me fall below what I would consider.... Leaders... Puppets, especially Bush Jr and Reagan and Obama... This country is dead.

jackclee lm profile image

jackclee lm 17 months ago from Yorktown NY

Artblack01, right Reagan was so bad that he was re-elected by 49 out of 50 states majority. Either your memory is faulty or you are one of those I wrote about. There are some on the left that hated Reagan so much that they wrote they have a bottle of champagne in their fridge for the day Reagan past away to celebrate. I feel sorry for those lost souls.

Wild Bill 7 months ago

Where have I made personal attacks? As for me getting other Hubbers banned, that is on them because they wouldn't get banned if they didn't break the rules i.e make personal attacks. That is what happens when they realize they are wrong, especially Austinstar. She never has a point, just makes fun of people, therefore she is now banned from Q&A for life. That is also why she got your Hub unpublished. She made personal attacks. That is all she knows how to do.

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