With Many Claiming His Mantle, It's Important to Get Reagan Right
February 4, 2012
This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published February 6, 2012 in The Washington Times.
Ronald Reagan, who would have turned 101 on Feb. 6, no doubt would have been amused by the number and ideological diversity of people claiming some part of the Reagan mantle.
Barack Obama has been doing it for years.
In an interview with Nevada’s Reno Gazette-Journal on Jan. 17, 2008, President Obama said:
“I don’t want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what’s different are the times. … I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating.”
Indeed. In less than four years, Mr. Obama has piled up $5 trillion more in national debt, appointed a slew of unaccountable “czars,” hired a quarter of a million new federal employees, added hundreds of regulations and bypassed Congress using the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Labor Relations Board, the Federal Communications Commission and other federal agencies as sledgehammers in service of a left-wing agenda. The Gipper, he’s not.
But Mr. Obama talks a good game. In October, he suggested that Mr. Reagan was in agreement with the Democrats’ “tax the rich” mantra. Repeating the absurd anecdote about Warren Buffett’s secretary supposedly paying a higher tax rate than the billionaire, Mr. Obama said:
“When I point this out, some of the Republicans in Congress, they say, ‘Oh, you’re engaging in class warfare.’ Class warfare? Let me tell you something. Years ago, a great American had a different view. All right? I’m going to get the quote just so you know I’m not making this up. Great American. Said that he thought it was crazy that certain tax loopholes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary.
“All right? You know who this guy was? Wasn’t a Democrat. Wasn’t some crazy socialist. It was Ronald Reagan. It was Ronald Reagan. Last time I checked, Republicans all thought Reagan made some sense. So, the next time you hear one of those Republicans in Congress accusing you of class warfare, you just tell them, ‘I’m with Ronald Reagan.’ “
Cute, but no cigar. Reagan was a stern critic of our labyrinthine tax code, but he despised and opposed the “soak the wealthy” mentality that has come to define the modern Democratic Party.
To counter the tendency of today’s politicians to take Reagan out of context and to reinforce short memories about what Reagan actually said and did about domestic policy and economic issues, the new Carleson Center for Public Policy has compiled a unique document for release on Reagan’s birthday.
Titled “The Reagan Resolve,” this guide to policy positions Reagan would advocate were he here today comes with an impressive pedigree: Every member of the Carleson Center’s policy board worked for Reagan either when he was president or when he was governor of California. Their approval is the acid test for what Reaganism is all about.
For instance, contrast Mr. Obama’s snarky Reagan reference with this quote from Reagan’s book An American Life:
“Any system that penalizes success and accomplishment is wrong. Any system that discourages work, discourages productivity, discourages economic progress, is wrong.
“If, on the other hand, you reduce tax rates and allow people to spend or save more of what they earn, they’ll be more industrious; they’ll have more incentive to work hard, and money they earn will add fuel to the great economic machine that energizes our national progress. The result: more prosperity for all – and more revenue for government. A few economists call this principle supply-side economics. I just call it common sense.”
Mr. Obama missed this next one from the same book when he was pushing the $2 trillion federal health care takeover and the almost $800 billion “stimulus” package: “People are tired of wasteful government programs and welfare chiselers, and they’re angry about the constant spiral of taxes and government regulations, arrogant bureaucrats and public officials who think all of mankind’s problems can be solved by throwing the taxpayers’ dollars at them.”
In addition to countless pithy Reagan quotes, “The Reagan Resolve” includes copies of executive orders, policy prescriptions and outcomes and contrasts them with those of his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, and today’s failed welfare-state policies.
Reagan’s economic plan had four major premises: Reducing tax rates, reducing federal spending, deregulation and a stable monetary policy.
“The four-point plan resulted in the most successful economic experiment in world history – setting a new record for the longest peacetime expansion ever,” the report states. “The Reagan recovery lasted 92 months without a recession from November 1982 until July 1990, when the ill-conceived tax increases of the ‘1990 budget deal’ killed it.”
There are so many great quotes in this volume that it’s hard to choose the most evocative. Here’s one from Oct. 16, 1974, when Reagan spoke to the American Trucking Association in San Francisco:
“When a business or an individual spends more than it makes, it goes bankrupt. When government does it, it sends you the bill. And when government does it for 40 years, the bill comes in two ways: higher taxes and inflation. Make no mistake about it, inflation is a tax and not by accident.”
As the Obama administration pushes the nation over a fiscal and moral cliff and into a sea of debt, we should not only look back with affection at Ronald Reagan’s philosophy, character and accomplishments. We should use them as a policy guide right now.