In a recent Newsweek Andrew Romano wrote an extensive examination of the President Ronald Reagan years and the misuse of his legacy by today’s Republican Party. In view of the total lack of constructive ideas coming from the GOP, it’s not surprising they are clinging to anything that will save their brand.
What, for example, is a "Reagan Republican"? First, we have to realize that the world is a different place than in the 1980s. We’re fighting global terrorism, not the Soviet bloc.
Yet Reagan was the most functional Republican president since Teddy Roosevelt and most effective GOP leader in the last 50 years.
He remains the best GOP model for winning and leading.
Today’s myth of Reagan was that he always lowered taxes, always reduced government and always rattled sabers. The reality of the Reagan administrations was something different: Yes, Reagan would have opposed health-care reform, regulations on the oil industry and resisted government spending its way out of the recession.
Well, Reagan lowered taxes all right, from a top tier of 70 percent to the 38.5 percent maintained during the President Bill Clinton years. In 1982, however, he agreed to restore a third of those massive tax cuts, the largest increase in our history.
Why? Because he had to fund Medicare and Social Security without going into debt, that’s why. Can anyone imagine a Republican of today doing that?
In 1984, the Reagan Administration attacked tax loopholes to the tune of $50 billion and added new taxes to businesses worth $420 billion. Maybe he thought that the government actually needed money by which to operate. Today’s tax burden is the lowest it’s been since the 1950s.
And how many jobs has this created?
Reagan also wanted to reduce government’s size besides winning the Cold War and lowering taxes. During the Reagan years, the size of our government grew by 60,000 jobs, but during Clinton’s years the number of government workers diminished by 373,000.
During the Reagan years we changed from the world’s largest creditor to its largest debtor, with the national debt increasing from $700 billion to $3 trillion. Another contribution to larger government was Reagan’s increase in military spending by more than 40 percent to a total of $2.8 trillion during his eight years.
Using the Reagan example of how to run a government bears no resemblance to what the current Republican Party is willing to admit. Today’s spending orgy by the Democrats and Republicans is our worst nightmare brought on by deregulation, fraud in entitlement agencies, poorly conceived wars and misguided leadership in all financial institutions, not just Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac.
Our government, during the last agony of the President George W. Bush administration, had to bail out the world’s financial disaster to save it from collapse. It was crumbling under the weight of its own greed and absence of ethical practices it knew were right.
We are going to spend more than $800 billion on defense this next year. That is more than the next 26 nations combined, all but six being our friends. We operate 13 super-carrier task forces around the world. The rest of the world has none. What are we doing? Do we have to have an F-16 for every AK-47 owned by some angry peasant somewhere we’ve never heard of in order to feel safe?
I used to work in the defense industry and enjoyed the career it provided and praise it earned me. These days, however, I am stupefied by how much money we are spending and wasting on things we do not need now, or in the foreseeable future. Nobody is even thinking about building a stealthy fighter with air superiority using exotic materials, avionics and weapons systems, so why do we need the F-35? What is its mission? What do our carriers and nuclear submarines do on their days off? How afraid are we of being invaded by a hoard of Afghan camel trainers or Pakistani rice growers, or Mexican carpenters?
Maybe that’s all that’s left of the Reagan legacy: Fear of everybody else.
Turner is a retired teacher and industrial engineer who lives near Marble Falls. He is an independent columnist, not a staff member, and his views do not necessarily reflect those of The Tribune or its parent company.