As the late President Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday is observed, historians point out that his political successes, not his persona, have been mythologized over the years.
"Today's Republicans created this fantasy role of Reagan as anti-government," said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. "He was really Reagan of government efficiency."
Reagan's myth has grown over time - CNN
Ultimately, Reagan signed measures that increased federal taxes every year of his two-term presidency except the first and the last. These included a higher gasoline levy, a 1986 tax reform deal that included the largest corporate tax increase in American history, and a substantial raise in payroll taxes in 1983 as part of a deal to keep Social Security solvent. While wealthy Americans benefitted from Reagan's tax policies, blue-collar Americans paid a higher percentage of their income in taxes when Reagan left office than when he came in.
With the exception of the 1986 bombing of Libya, Reagan also disappointed hawkish aides with his unwillingness to retaliate militarily for terrorism in the Middle East. According to biographer Lou Cannon, the president called the death of innocent civilians in anti-terror operations "terrorism itself."
In 1987, Reagan aide Paul Bremer, later George W. Bush's point man in Baghdad, even argued that terrorism suspects should be tried in civilian courts. "A major element of our strategy has been to delegitimize terrorists, to get society to see them for what they are - criminals - and to use democracy's most potent tool, the rule of law, against them," Bremer said. In 1988, Reagan signed the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which stated that torture could be used under "no exceptional circumstances, whatsoever."
Five myths about Ronald Reagan's legacy
Few read the history, but instead hear the myths and accept them. This means the myth becomes the reality for too many. As the journalist in the movie "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence" said: "When the truth conflicts with the myth, print the myth."