November 22, 2011


On Conservatism and the Quest for Purity (Peter Wehner    11.21.2011, Commentary)

In his book Keeping the Republic, Mitch Daniels relays an event from his tenure as Indiana governor that illustrates a wider political reality.

Governor Daniels set out to reduce Indiana's property taxes and spent weeks examining all the options, including abolishing property taxation completely. But according to Daniels, "In order to wipe out local property taxes totally, we would have had to more than double the state sales tax, or double the state income tax, or some equally onerous combination of the two." The costs of complete abolition of property taxes "would have crushed our state's rapidly improving status as an attractive place to invest and create jobs," Daniels writes.

No matter. A well-organized, anti-tax citizens' group, Let Us Vote, demanded total elimination of the tax. The Daniels administration showed them the mathematical impracticality of their approach and the flawed assumptions they were embracing. The Daniels plan slashed property taxes by more than one-third, to what would prove to be the lowest level in America. Nevertheless, Let Us Vote became the loudest lobby against the reform.

Daniels eventually prevailed, enacting the largest tax cut in state history. But for a time, according to Daniels, "this signal achievement was endangered by good folks who not only agreed with our low-tax, limited-spending policies, but agreed so strongly that they almost derailed any progress at all."

What are we to make of this and similar episodes?

For one thing, such clashes are a long-standing feature of political life. During his presidency, even the now-iconic Ronald Reagan was considered a sell-out by some prominent movement conservatives. For example, Richard Viguerie, an influential figure in what was then called the "New Right," was a persistent critic of Reagan, going so far as declaring in 1987, "In other important matters he [Reagan] has changed sides and he is now allied with his former adversaries, the liberals, the Democrats and the Soviets." That same year Howard Phillips, the founder and chairman of Conservative Caucus, called Reagan "a useful idiot for Soviet propaganda."

The Liberal Misappropriation of a Conservative President (Steven F Hayward, October 2011, Commentary)

Of all the unlikely developments in American politics over the last two decades, the most astonishing is this: liberals suddenly love Ronald Reagan. They have taken to celebrating certain virtues they claim Reagan possessed--virtues they believe are absent from the conservative body politic today--while looking back with nostalgia at the supposed civility of the political struggles of the 1980s.

"There's something there I miss today," mused the former Democratic staffer and longtime talk-show host Chris Matthews in January about the relationship between Reagan and House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, the most powerful Democrat in Washington during Reagan's first term. Matthews dreamily evoked a time when Reagan and O'Neill had drinks together, swapped Irish stories, slapped backs, and, they say, cut deals with a minimum of personal rancor--as opposed to the ugly relations between the two parties today.

Even more notable is the fact that Reagan has become a model for presidential governance for . . . Barack Obama. Time, having proclaimed Obama to be the second coming of FDR in January 2009, abandoned that image in favor of declaring an Obama "bromance" with Reagan in January 2011. The White House's press office revealed that Obama had read Lou Cannon's biography of Reagan over the 2010 Christmas holidays, a choice that might once have seemed as incongruous as John F. Kennedy reading up on Calvin Coolidge. Obama even wrote an homage to Reagan for USA Today in February at the time of Reagan's centennial birthday. "Reagan recognized the American people's hunger for accountability and change," the president said, thereby conferring on Reagan two of his most cherished political slogans.

All in all, say Time's Michael Duffy and Michael Scherer, "there is no mistaking Obama's increasing reliance on his predecessor's career as a helpful template for his own." After all, Reagan governed during a punishing recession with horrific unemployment, both of which led to a bad midterm election for his party and approval ratings in the 30s--only to win a 49-state landslide reelection. It is only natural for Obama and his political team to look at Reagan's example to glean lessons about how they might achieve a similar result in 2012.

We can start with Obama's use of Reagan's words about "raising revenue from those who are not now paying their fair share," which the current president deployed to place Reagan's imprimatur on his own support for tax increases to reduce the deficit. Reagan spoke those words about a budget deal struck with Congress before the 1982 elections. That deal, which came to be known as TEFRA (the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act), featured what was then, to date, the largest tax hike in American history.

It's too bad that Mr. Obama isn't actually emulating The Gipper, which would consist of giving the GOP all the cuts they want in exchange for mere promises of hikes.

Posted by at November 22, 2011 6:22 AM

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