February 12, 2008


Airbrushing Ronald Reagan (John J. Pitney, Jr., February 12th, 2008, Britannica Blog)

Reagan’s deeds were as balanced as his words. In his first year as governor of California, he learned that state finances were worsening badly. To balance the budget, he agreed to the largest tax increase in the state’s history. In his first year as president, he did persuade Congress to cut income tax rates. During the following year, however, concern about deficits prompted him to sign the largest peacetime tax increase in American history up to that time. In reacting to the measure, a junior House member spoke for many conservatives:

The fact is, on this particular bill, the President is trying to score a touchdown for liberalism, for the liberal welfare state, for big government, for the Internal Revenue Service, for multinational corporations, and for the various forces that consistently voted against this President.

The speaker’s name was Newt Gingrich.

Reagan followed suit several more times. In inflation-adjusted dollars, federal revenues grew 21 percent between 1981 and 1989. Spending grew 23 percent, so the deficit got bigger.

The increase in spending may surprise those who remember Reagan as the scourge of big government. At the start of his administration, some of his supporters talked about scrapping some Cabinet departments. By the end, all the departments were still standing, along with a new one: the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Conservatives rightly remember Reagan for winning the Cold War. But they forget that the endgame entailed friction between Reagan and his political base. In an interview with television broadcasters, he complained about conservative opposition to an arms pact. “Now, I think that some of the people who are objecting the most and just refusing even to accede to the idea of ever getting any understanding, whether they realize it or not, those people, basically, down in their deepest thoughts, have accepted that war is inevitable and that there must come to be a war between the two superpowers.”

Conservative senators reacted angrily.

If Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were running in the 2008 GOP primaries the Right would rank them well to John McCain's Left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 12, 2008 9:06 AM

But as Rush always like to point out about Reagan. What made him special is that while he was signing tax hikes and spending bills into law he was talking about how spending should be cut and taxes lowered. Rush and the other righties like to look past the actions and focus on the rhetoric. I wonder if 20 years from now people will remember W the same way?

Posted by: mc at February 12, 2008 9:40 AM


You won't have to wait that long for W to receive the same sort of hagiography Reagan has been receiving for the past 15 years. My guess is that some media conservative (not Rush; he has too much invested in the persona he created for Reagan) will sing the praises of W. And that person will have radio/TV ratings that dwarf Rush's AT HIS PEAK.

Posted by: Brad S at February 12, 2008 10:57 AM