What would Ronnie do?
That’s the question Tea Partiers continually insist GOP conservatives answer and answer “correctly.”
That demand has fueled the stalemate in Washington over raising the debt ceiling.
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For the Tea Party types, Ronald Reagan has assumed the aura of a religious icon—they worship his steadfast faith in shrinking government, cutting spending, and holding down taxes.
They are waving this shibboleth threateningly in the faces of GOP Congressmen and women enmeshed in ideologically-driven warfare.
But, wait a minute! These self-styled Reaganites are rewriting history--and risking the country’s economic future in the process.
By stalling compromises necessary to resolve the U.S. debt crisis, they are not so much engaging in the “Reagan nostalgia” that has swept his acolytes during his centennial year, as they are suffering from “Reagan amnesia.”
Californians know a different Reagan.
In 1966, he successfully campaigned for Governor against the Democratic incumbent, Pat Brown, on the promise to “squeeze, cut, and trim” spending and taxes.
But when Reagan entered office, he found a daunting budget deficit.
According to Reagan biographer Lou Cannon, “No amount of budget reductions, even if they had been politically palatable, could have balanced California’s budget in 1967.”
Reagan opted instead for a sweeping tax package that, as Cannon put it, ”had the distinction of being the largest tax hike ever proposed by any governor in the history of the United States...An economist who analyzed the tax bill without knowing its political background, might conclude that it had been crafted by a New Deal Democrat.”
Then there was Reagan’s approach to enacting state income tax withholding –an example of the kind of big government intrusion into the lives of ordinary people that’s abhorred by the Right Wing.
Governor Reagan entered office rigorously opposed to withholding, insisting his "feet are set in concrete" on the issue.
But in 1971, he signed a tax increase that included a withholding provision. "The sound you hear is the concrete cracking around my feet," Reagan announced to the media.
Governor Reagan preferred cutting taxes to raising them, but raise them he did when he felt it was necessary.
President Reagan had a similar governing philosophy—even when it came to that reviled debt ceiling monster.
In a 1987 radio address, Reagan outlined his concerns with the impact of freezing the debt ceiling, stating, “The United States has a special responsibility to itself and the world to meet its obligations.” (To help their case, House Democrats just recently posted Reagan’s words on YouTube, which you can view here.) Or here:
In his speech to the nation last Monday, President Obama was careful to note that, as President, Reagan raised the debt ceiling 18 times. Reagan also agreed to 11 tax increases. Not exactly Tea Party dogma.
Philosopher George Santayana long ago observed, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
In the case of Tea Party types and the debt ceiling mess, “Those who ignore history shouldn’t attempt to make it.”