Thursday, September 16, 2010

Reagan was not a Conservative

From the 20 September 2010 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Ronald Reagan is widely regarded as one of the best of the American Presidents. To many, he was a great communicator who made Americans appreciate the American Way, motivating them to aspire for a better self and a better country. His fans say that his economic policies eliminated obstacles to business and investing that helped to spur private sector growth. Republican talking heads (like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh) put him on a pedestal and not a day goes by that they don’t paint him as the pinnacle of Conservatism, someone whose policies and philosophies hearken to our nation’s founding principles and are much needed in today’s world.

Despite all of his perceived positives, Reagan was far from the perfect President. As a matter of fact, he was a proponent of very large government. His policies were dangerous and you might even say that some of them are actually being used today.

Barack Obama has been highly criticized by Republicans for the growth of federal spending under his watch. In times much more trying than those faced in 1980s, the Obama Administration’s spending as a portion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been much like Reagan’s. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), government spending averaged 22.4 percent of GDP during Reagan’s 2 terms. Based on estimations of federal spending during the final years of his first, maybe only, term, the CBO figures that Obama’s fiscal legacy will average 24.6 percent of GDP, not too far off from what Reagan accomplished. It should be noted that Reagan’s 22.4 percent stands as the all-time record amongst US Presidents. If the CBO’s calculations hold true, Obama will break that record but the fact that the Conservative torchbearer holds the record now (and he didn’t have wars like other presidents to blame it on) really puts everything into perspective.

In a related topic, Obama’s ability to “create jobs” (an outcome of government expansion/contraction) is never considered as being at par with Reagan’s. Yet, it is eerily similar. During the first year and a half of his presidency, Reagan saw the unemployment rate increase from 7.5 to 9.8 percent. When Obama came into office, unemployment stood at 7.2 percent and 18 months later it was at 9.5 percent. Reagan’s growth for that period was 2.3 percentage points. Obama’s? 2.3 points, too.

The Reagan myth also has the man pegged as the greatest tax cutting president ever. Yes, in 1981 he forced through Congress some major tax cuts but, in other years of his presidency (specifically ’83 through ‘87) he introduced a multitude of tax increases and new taxes that pulled in revenues from other bases. Historians look at 1982 and 1984 as featuring the highest tax increases in peacetime America. While in power, he also increased funding for America’s two behemoth entitlement programs: Social Security grew by 50 percent from 1981 to 1987 while Medicare grew by a startling 84 percent over that same period.

If you step back and look past the rhetoric and hero worship that surrounds the Republican Insiders’ Reagan myth, you’ll realize that he was anything but a Conservative (based upon the most factual definition of the political belief) and - like most people who count themselves as Conservatives nowadays - he is more appropriately identified as a Neoconservative, someone who, like George W. Bush, is socially conservative yet quite liberal in the application of government powers and military might. His approach to governance was, quite frankly, no different than Obama’s. So, if you count yourself as a true Conservative and a believer in small government and free markets, it’s high time you found yourself a new hero.

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