By Chief foreign affairs correspondent
NBC News
updated 6/8/2004 5:37:29 PM ET 2004-06-08T21:37:29

In his speech at the 1980 Republican convention, candidate Ronald Reagan announced, “Indeed, it is time our government should go on a diet.”

From the very beginning he was a man of contradictions: a deficit cutter who, over eight years, almost tripled the size of the federal budget. 

In the 1988 State of the Union address he emphasized the size of a report, “1,153 pages report, weighing 14 pounds.”

He engineered the biggest tax cut in history in his first year in office, and then raised taxes every year after.

He promised to eliminate the Education Department, and then let it flourish.

Even Reagan’s first budget director, David Stockman, warned that the Reagan revolution was going off course.  Stockman said, “Lunch with the president was more in the nature of a visit to the woodshed after supper.”

Now, Stockman tells NBC News Reagan was right — it was Congress that got it wrong, “The problem at the end of the day wasn’t President Reagan — it wasn’t the White House," said Stockman.  "It wasn’t the Democrats.  It was the Republicans on Capitol Hill who couldn’t give up their pork.”

What about Reagan’s performance on social issues?  When anti-abortion protestors rallied each year, the president addressed them by speakerphone — never in person.

Two out of his three Supreme Court appointees — Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy—were moderates, not hardliners.

But perhaps the biggest contradiction in his record was his promise to get tough with terrorists.  “Our policy will be one of swift and effective retribution,” he announced on Jan. 27, 1981.

Still, when terrorists killed 241 sailors and Marines in their Beirut barracks, Reagan withdrew the troops.

And despite his early denial that he was trading arms for hostages, “Those charges are utterly false,” he said on Nov. 13, 1986. 

When the Iran-Contra scandal threatened his presidency, he apologized on Mar. 4, 1987: “A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages… my heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.”

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