Joe Biden and Ronald Reagan: A Comparison

Reagan is totally lost and out of his depth. He does not have enough
knowledge to cut through the contradictory advice that is being offered to him. —Richard Pipes, Reagan’s national security aide, 1981

Facts are stupid things. —Reagan mangling John Adams’ “facts are stubborn things.”

“Ten Myths about the Reagan Presidency” at

Read a previous article on Biden at

Read other articles at, and search “Reagan” for more

U.S. economic growth for 2021 was 5.9 percent, the best in 38 years, but at 7.5 percent, inflation is the highest since 1981. These were the years of the Reagan administration, so a comparison readily suggests itself. Reagan would have been 111 years old on February 6.
The similarities are instructive. During Reagan’s second year in office, his favorability ratings had fallen to the low 40s. Inflation was higher than Biden’s and unemployment was rising, but it is going down under Biden. The 1982 mid-terms saw the Republicans lose 26 seats in the House, but the held on to the Senate.
Neither caused High Inflation
When Reagan came into office in 1981, inflation was 10.3 percent, and it was still a high 4.8 percent at the end of presidency. Many believe that President Jimmy Carter caused the high inflation of the 1970s, but it was President Richard Nixon’s imposition of wage and price controls during the oil crisis of that period.
Our current inflation is due to the pandemic cutting off supplies of goods from abroad. In addition to semiconductors, there was a large backlog of finished electronics, furniture, pharmaceuticals, textiles, and auto parts. Cash rich Americans chasing too few goods was a perfect recipe for the inflation we are now experiencing. For the same reasons, the United Kingdom, now governed by the Conservative Party, will have an 8 percent inflation rate this year.
Reagan: Record Tax Increases
Biden has yet to pass the tax increases on the rich he has promised, but let’s bust a myth about Reagan and taxes. According to Reagan’s own economic adviser Bruce Bartlett, the 1982 Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which hit the middle class especially hard, “was the largest peacetime tax increase in American history.” Even so, Reagan tripled the national debt, primarily because of huge, unnecessary military expenditures. That debt was financed at interest rates as high as 21.5 percent as opposed to two percent or lower in recent years.

Democrats Had Lower Budget Proposals
Reagan defenders are wont to say that the Democrats were responsible for the increase in spending. The facts, however, show that, when the Democrats controlled Congress (only two of Reagan’s 8 years), they passed budgets lower than what Reagan requested. If you include the two Bush administrations, Democrats, when they controlled Congress, persuaded these three Republican presidents to sign budgets that were $17 billion less than what Reagan and the Bushes proposed. See the data at
Deficits Don’t Cause Inflation
In 1974, the deficit was only $5 billion, but inflation was 9 percent. In 1976 President Gerald Ford left Carter with a $66 billion deficit, but the inflation rate had fallen to 5.7 percent. Spending during the Reagan administration increased by an average of 2.5 percent, but inflation went down rather than up.
Obama-Biden: Lower Spending than Reagan
Reagan promised that he would cut government spending, but it did not return to Carter’s lower level of spending until 1984. Data from the St. Louis Federal Reserve shows that Reagan reduced, as a percentage of GDP, federal spending by only 2 percent at the end of his two terms. In their first six years Obama-Biden reduced federal spending by 2.7 percent and it did not rise appreciably until the end of 2016.
Obama-Biden: Lower Budget Deficits
The Obama-Biden administration faced a 9.9 percent budget deficit at the beginning of the Great Recession, but it was able to reduce that to 3.8 percent as Donald Trump took over in 2017. Primarily because of huge tax cuts and $800 billion in new spending, the deficit climbed to 14.4 percent. As a result, Trump added $7.8 trillion to the national debt—the third largest in post-war history.

The free-market journal The Economist estimates that Biden’s deficit will be 7.8 percent in 2022, and it is expected to decline even more if he is able to balance new spending with tax increases. Primary because of the effect of Reagan’s hatred for taxes, the GOP preaches tax cuts regardless of the economic conditions. This is the reason why, in the post-war era, Democrats have averaged two percent lower budget deficits.

Diversity on the Supreme Court
The GOP is calling Biden a racist for limiting his candidates to Black women, but Reagan did the same in confirming the first female justice—Sandra Day O’Connor. Opposing the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 1970s, Reagan came late to women’s equality. But when his pollsters told him that he was losing the women’s vote, he announced, just before the 1980 election, that he would nominate a woman to the highest court. Both Biden and Reagan played politics, but Biden was for racial equality long before Reagan was for women’s rights.

Reagan’s “Reign of Error”
In There He Goes Again: Ronald Reagan’s Reign of Error, the authors document over 300 errors and misstatements up to 1983. It is safe to say that the Gipper had a record number of these, at least until Donald Trump came along. After all, as Reagan once said, “facts are stupid things,” mangling John Adams’ “facts are stubborn things.”
At times Joe Biden can be truth challenged, but according to Politifact, which fact checks only when asked, he does better than all the recent GOP leaders, especially Trump. In 2020, the GOP presidential candidates averaged 47 percent true, mostly true, and half true.
Biden’s current rating is 56 percent in the truth categories, whereas Trump’s rating is 23 percent. Trump has 163 “pants on fire” versus Biden’s 6. In the 2012 election Mitt Romney registered 19 of these absurdly false statements.
Reagan: Not Tough on Terrorists
As president who is praised for being tough, Reagan turned tail and withdrew from Lebanon after 221 Marines were murdered by Hezbollah on October 12, 1983. Reagan pulled out all U. S. forces, and the result was a major victory for these Iran-back terrorists. Even though Sen. John McCain objected, Reagan ordered the battleship New Jersey to shell Lebanese villages indiscriminately, which provoked the terrorists.
Reagan was indeed briefed on the Tower Commission report, and in February 1987, as one reporter wrote, “Reagan held a copy (of the report) aloft and said he planned to take it to Camp David to study.” The GOP is now requesting that Biden take an annual cognitive test, but no such test was ever suggested for Reagan.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall: Whose Credit?
Much has been made about Reagan’s great challenge to the Soviets in 1987: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Four days after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, a poll, reported in Will Bunch’s “Tear down This Myth,” showed that 43 percent of Americans believed that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was responsible for the wall’s demolition. Only 14 percent gave Reagan credit, not surprising because his general approval rating had dropped to 48 percent.
The Iran-Contra Crisis
Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about sex with an intern, but Ronald Reagan was let go after lying to Congress about the Iran-Contra affair. It was the worst non-military post-war foreign policy disaster, and 14 top officials were indicted for their involvement.
Reagan denied that his government had sold arms to our enemy Iran in order to release hostages held in Lebanon. (Reagan’s policy was that there was to be no negotiations with terrorists.) The scandal brought Reagan’s approval rating to a low of 40 percent with 32 percent of those polled believing that he should resign.
“Too Old” to Impeach
In January 1987, Democratic senators caucused, and they decided not to ask the House to start impeachment proceedings. Expressing a bipartisan generosity that does not exist today, the senators concluded, according to Seymour Hersh, that Reagan was “too old,” and that he “did not have the mental capacity to understand what had happened.”
In February 1990, at the trial of his former national security adviser John Poindexter, Reagan answered “I don’t recall’ or “I can’t remember” 88 times. He didn’t remember that he had ordered the setting up of the Tower Commission to investigate the affair, nor could he recall the name of Gen. John Vessey, who was his chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Reagan was indeed briefed on the Tower Commission report, and in February 1987, as one reporter wrote, “Reagan held a copy (of the report) aloft and said he planned to take it to Camp David to study.” Just think: Republicans are now demanding that Biden take an annual cognitive test.
The Tragedy that was Afghanistan
So far Biden’s most serious foreign policy mistake was the precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan. It should be remembered, however, that as vice-president, Biden did not support Obama’s unsuccessful troop surge in 2009.
Biden was left with few options after Trump signed what H.R. McMaster, Trump’s second national security adviser, “a surrender agreement with the Taliban. The Taliban didn’t defeat us. We defeated ourselves.”
One condition of that fateful agreement was that 5,000 Taliban prisons were released right back into the ranks of those who overran the government troops we spent billions to train. Trump wanted us out in January, 2021, but even August was too early to arrange a proper airlift for our Afghan allies. For more of my views on this tragedy see
Biden is Firm on Ukraine
Many Republicans are now saying that Trump would have been more successful in countering Russia’s Vladimir Putin in his threats to Ukraine. How could the Ukrainians possibly trust a man who, at a G-7 meeting in 2018, and supported Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a historical part of Ukraine, in 2014. Equally reprehensible was his blackmail of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, which led to his first impeachment.

Even worse are Trump allies who are now supporting Putin. More Republicans have a more favorable view of Putin than of Biden. Trump has called Putin a “genius,” “savvy,” and a “peacekeeper” in Ukraine.
NATO is fully united against Russia because this military alliance trusts Biden. Most Europeans were glad that Trump did not get a second term, because he said that he would pull the U.S. out of the alliance. Before he left office, he ordered that 12,000 U.S. troops be withdrawn from Germany.
Trump is abysmally ignorant of how NATO operates, confusing NATO dues, with which all countries are current, and defense budgets, which all promise to bring up to 3 percent by 2024. Trump once declared that he would not honor Article 5 of the NATO treaty. As the cornerstone of the alliance, it states that an attack on one member is an attack on all members
HIV-AIDS, Covid-19, and Anthony Fauci
Ronald Reagan ignored HIV-AIDs for six years. Finally, in 1987, he spoke publicly about the epidemic. By that time there had been 57,572 cases and 27,909 deaths. Not once did he condemn evangelical preachers who declared that it was God’s wrath on gays and lesbians; not once did he reach out to the families who lost loved ones. Reagan’s inaction may have cost thousands of unnecessary deaths.
In 1981 Anthony Fauci was senior investigator for the Centers for Disease Control, and he was the first medical scientist to recognize how dangerous HIV-AIDS was. His first article on the disease was rejected as “alarmist,” but of course he was proved to be right.
Recently, Fauci has related stories about working with AIDS patients and how it shook him to the core. He still suffers from PTSD from the trauma he experienced working with them, from AIDs activists at the time who thought he was not doing enough, and then the effects of the persecution (including death threats to him and his family) he has suffered from Sen. Rand Paul and other anti-vaxxers.
What about their Cognitive Abilities?
In 1994, just five years after leaving office, Reagan announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. As with Biden, Reagan’s earlier forgetfulness, a common sign of aging, was no sign of dementia. When interviewed in 1993, White House doctors asserted that new tests of his mental status showed that his disease had not begun until the summer of 1993.
Fox News’ Brit Hume has repeatedly declared that Biden is “senile,” which is a medically imprecise term. Professor Donald Jurivich at North Dakota’s School of Medicine counters by saying that this charge is “a shameful display of ageism and ignorance.” Both Reagan’s and Biden’s doctors saw no need for either to take cognitive tests. The one that Trump took was only the first of many that could have led to a firm diagnosis.
Reagan’s Negative Legacy
By and large, bipartisanship was the norm during Reagan’s eight years. He worked well with Democrats and none, to my knowledge, ever said, as Mitch McConnel promised about Obama, that their main goal was to make sure that Reagan did not have a second term.
Reagan’s legacy is marred by fostering deep distrust in government, hatred of taxes, and growing wealth inequality. Until the pandemic, which allowed many workers to dictate, for the first time, wages and benefits, the decline in unions has ceased. When Reagan fired members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Association in 1981, union busting, aided by law firms devoted to this tactic, became standard practice for employers.
The late R. W. Apple, Jr. of the New York Times wrote that Reagan “was not a great president, but he was master at projecting a mood; he could certainly rally the country.” Yes, it was “morning in America,” but only for some, not for millions who lived off the crumbs of the rich.
If one says that Biden is unfit to be president, then Reagan was, too.

Nick Gier of Moscow is emeritus professor at the University of Idaho. Read “Ten Myths about the Reagan Presidency” at Read a previous article on Biden at Read other articles at, and search “Reagan” for more. Gier is indebted to Will Bunch’s book: Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future. Email Gier at for discussion and sources.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *