Among the many horrors of our current era (taking mothing away from kids in cages) is a collective remembrance of past Republican presidents as somehow adorable. We think of Ronald Wilson Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush as perfectly reasonable. Even Richard M. Nixon gets a break.
Not long after being sworn into office, Reagan declared a more militant policy in the “War on Drugs”. He promised a “planned, concerted campaign” against all drugs. He signed a large drug enforcement bill into law in 1986; it granted $1.7 billion to fight drugs and ensured a mandatory minimum penalty for drug offenses. The bill brought huge racial disparities in the prison population because of the differences in sentencing for crack versus powder cocaine.
His administration’s policies did little to reduce the availability of drugs or crime on the street, resulting in a great financial and human cost to American society, although teenage drug users declined during the Reagan years.
Nancy Reagan made the War on Drugs her main cause as First Lady, by founding a fun “Just Say No” drug awareness campaign. Today, there are still hundreds of “Just Say No” school clubs around the country aimed at helping and rehabilitating teenagers with drug problems. The program demonstrates various ways of refusing drugs and alcohol.
Ronnie and Nancy were actors and he once served as president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), yet they had a curious record on support for the arts. There was a 1982 Executive Order, that Reagan used to establish the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. But in each year of his presidency, Congress pushed back on his Administration’s efforts to cut federal money for arts programs, including the National Endowment for the Arts. In a 1983 speech he declared:
“We support the National Endowment for the Arts to stimulate excellence and make art more available to more of our people.”
Yet, beginning with an early threat to cut Jimmy Carter-era arts budget in half, Reagan’s economic and social agendas put him at contentious odds with artists and arts communities.
No civil rights legislation for LGBTQ people passed during Reagan’s time in office. During his 1980 campaign, he spoke of Gay Rights:
“My criticism is that the gay movement isn’t just asking for civil rights; it’s asking for recognition and acceptance of an alternative lifestyle which I do not believe society can condone, nor can I.”