Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) made headlines recently by declaring that Reagan wouldn’t be electable in today’s Republican Party. He’s right. Senator Graham points out that that the Tea Party wishes to take their country back, but when asked what they’ll do with it when they get it, have no ideas. No solutions. Nothing but blank stares and silence. This contradicts the image of Saint Ronald Reagan, the Messiah of the Republican Party. Even those on the fringe of the far right, like Sean Hannity, refer to themselves as “Reagan conservatives” – and in the next breath rail against Reagan’s very own ideas reincarnated in the current Democratic administration.
In this spirit, the Tea Party has released the “Contract FROM America” (as if separating yourself from your country makes you patriotic?). It’s interesting to compare some of the words of this contract to the actions of the last “great” Republican president and wonder what this means for the future of the G.O.P.
The contract cries for balanced budgets, cutting “pork”, stopping tax hikes, limiting government, etc. Yet Reagan “tripled the debt, from $900 billion to $2.7 trillion. Ford and Carter in their combined terms could only double it. It took 31 years to accomplish the first postwar debt tripling, yet Reagan did it in eight.” He entered office calling for slashing the size of government, yet his actions caused it to grow larger than ever before – by a lot. He created the Department of Veterans Affairs, instead of eliminating the Departments of Energy and Education (he did increase those budgets, though). He added 61,000 government jobs (Clinton eliminated 373,000, Bush added 200,000). He promised to slash entitlements, but ended up saving social security.
It’s conservative lore that Reagan the icon cut taxes, while George H.W. Bush the renegade raised them. As Stockman recalls, “No one was authorized to talk about tax increases on Ronald Reagan’s watch, no matter what kind of tax, no matter how justified it was.” Yet raising taxes is exactly what Reagan did. He did not always instigate those hikes or agree to them willingly–but he signed off on them. One year after his massive tax cut, Reagan agreed to a tax increase to reduce the deficit that restored fully one-third of the previous year’s reduction. (In a bizarre bit of self-deception, Reagan, who never came to terms with this episode of ideological apostasy, persuaded himself that the three-year, $100 billion tax hike–the largest since World War II–was actually “tax reform” that closed loopholes in his earlier cut and therefore didn’t count as raising taxes.)
The historic Tax Reform Act of 1986, though it achieved the supply side goal of lowering individual income tax rates, was a startlingly progressive reform. The plan imposed the largest corporate tax increase in history–an act utterly unimaginable for any conservative to support today. Just two years after declaring, “there is no justification” for taxing corporate income, Reagan raised corporate taxes by $120 billion over five years and closed corporate tax loopholes worth about $300 billion over that same period.
Graham is right. The tea party, if purely about ideology of small government and balanced budgets, would be much more inclined to support Bill Clinton.
Furthermore, lets ask the Governor of Arizona, or Senators Kyl and McCain, what they think of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, happily signed by Reagan, that granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants.
It’s just not really about ideology with them. It’s about moving a progressive country backwards – to a time that’s glorified, much like the Reagan presidency, to be much more prosperous and happy than it really was. A time where people knew their place – albeit socially or economically – and stayed there.
Those days are gone. It’s time to work with the current administration to compromise and continue to push this country into the future. That means reforming entitlements, the tax code, immigration, wall street – the whole bit. The key is compromise. Calling every single bill the President supports socialist or amnesty or job-killing regardless of its merit is keeping us stalled in a place none of us wants to be. Our economy is hurting. Our military is weakened by years of unnecessary conflict. It’s time to stop glorifying a past that never was and move toward a future that we can all sustain. It’s about living up to the truest ideals of our founding fathers and do what’s best for all Americans, not just those that look like us or live in houses like ours or go to similar churches. It’s time to move past this cycle of blocking legislation for the sake of blocking it and time to start to repair what is broken in America.