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Rubio and Reagan

I was going to note the following in my previous post, but it had already gotten too long.  On the subject of rhetoric and reality, the following also struck me from Senator Marco Rubio’s speech at the Reagan Library:

There was something else though that defined the Reagan presidency and that was defining the proper role of government. He did that better than any American has done ever before. And I stand before you, it has always been important for Americans and America to do that, but I stand here before you today all of us gathered here today at a time when defining the proper role of government is as important as it has ever been.

I am just a few years older than the Senator and I, too, grew up admiring President Reagan.  However, the notion that Ronald Reagan did a better job at “defining the proper role of government” than “any American has done ever before” is some pretty hefty hyperbole.  And yes the event was at the Reagan Library, but still.

Beyond the hyperbole, however, is the fact that while Reagan did famously state “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem” the truth of the matter is that Reagan did not actually govern in a way that was substantially different from his predecessors nor his successors.

There is also the niggling facts of things like the Reagan administration’s willingness to negotiate over reforms to Social Security with the Democratically controlled Congress and the willingness to raise taxes (multiple times) as needed to deal with the demands of the federal budget.

Again:  there is a lot of room for debate, but anchoring that debate in reality would be really nice.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. EddieInCA says:

    Reagan raised taxes, multiple times.

    Reagan pushed for, and signed an Amnesty Law for Illegal Aliens.

    Reagan pulled our troops from Lebanon after the bombing.

    Reagan had gay friends and acquaintances.

    Reagan was from “Hollywood”.

    If Reagan were in office today, the Tea Party would be running a primary opponent against him.

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  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Again: there is a lot of room for debate, but anchoring that debate in reality would be really nice.

    My fantasies are a lot more enticing.

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  3. Wayne says:

    It is Democrats that constantly misrepresent what Reagan stood for.

    He lower taxes much further than he ever agreed to raise them. He also fought against tax increases not for them. He agreed to some tax increases out of compromise and in order to get spending cuts. Again total tax decreases outweighed total tax increases he agreed to. Reagan agreed to amnesty to get border enforcement.

    What he got was promises that were broken. If he knew then what we know today, I bet he would insist on some sort of enforcement measure to insure those promises were kept.

    Liberals don’t seem to understand that there is a big difference between what you fight for and against. Agreeing to something out of compromise doesn’t mean a person is for it.

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  4. @Wayne:

    Agreeing to something out of compromise doesn’t mean a person is for it.

    Actually you hit on what is, to me, the fundamental issue: the willingness to compromise (indeed, the ability to understand that governing in our system requires compromise).

    Reagan was willing to negotiate and compromise. At the moment, the GOP is not so interested in such trifles.

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  5. Hey Norm says:

    @ Wayne…yes it’s those damn Democrats. Why – if they didn’t point out the 3x growth in the debt under Reagan it wouldn’t actually be true.
    Like most things the tax issue is not black and white. Revenue as a % of GDP was 19.6% in 1981 then fell to 17.3% in 1984, before being raised back to 18.4% by 1989. The most important impact under Reagan was where that revenue was coming from…suddenly it was more from payroll, and less from higher earners and capital gains. This was the beginning of the 30+ year attack on the middle-class which has led to the staggering income inequality we see today…which we haven’t seen since just before the Depresion. This massive income inequality, in the absence of a tech bubble or housing equity bubble, leaves the middle-class with no ability to generate demand to drive the economic engine.

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  6. mantis says:

    He agreed to some tax increases out of compromise and in order to get spending cuts. Again total tax decreases outweighed total tax increases he agreed to.

    Something that would get him kicked out of today’s Republican Party.

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  7. WR says:

    I wonder if Rubio and co. like the idea of selling missiles to Iran in order to fund their own pet projects.

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  8. Davebo says:

    Largest tax increase in US history. And mostly a burden on the middle class.

    Does anything else need to be said about the sheep?

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  9. Wayne says:

    @ Steven
    Compromise is a two way street not giving the Democrats most of what they want.

    Again it would be foolish not to learn from history. Promises of future cuts as even liberals will admit, aren’t worth the paper they are written on. Without some enforcement mechanism to enforce those promises they are worthless.

    If compromise is so good then why not this compromise. We will agree to some tax increases after a balance budget amendment is passed. Oh I know, compromise is only good if you get what you want without giving up anything that you don’t want, right? At least that is how it is in liberals’ minds.

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  10. mantis says:

    Oh I know, compromise is only good if you get what you want without giving up anything that you don’t want,

    Wayne, that’s the Republican definition of “compromise.” You may not have noticed, as you are quite oblivious to reality.

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  11. Wayne says:

    As was shown in a previous thread, liberals are not willing to compromise. When ask what they were willing to comprise, we had “one” that say he was willing to cut social security benefits and that was it. Conservative like me pointed out several places where we would make tradeoffs. One liberal in one area was all we got from the left.

    Everyone wants compromise as long as they are not the ones compromising.

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  12. Rob in CT says:

    @Wayne:

    This is total bullshit, Wayne. The opposite of reality, in fact.

    Not just with liberals/conservatives here at OTB, but in the political realm too. Those of us here who lean liberal have pointed this out, repeatedly.

    Obama, Reid and Pelosi are all on the record as favoring a balanced approach of cuts + tax increases. The GOP leaders keep repeating that it’s their way or the highway. That you don’t see this is absolutely amazing.

    Oh to hell w/it.

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  13. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Well, it’s become de rigueur for certain elements of the right to misrepresent Reagan and to misappropriate his actual legacy.

    Reagan didn’t reduce the size of the federal government; he increased it. Even with respect to non-defense spending there never were cuts. He signed onto three huge tax increases. He expanded federal regulations with COBRA. He signed onto a blanket amnesty for illegal immigrants. Iran-Contra was a staggering error of judgment.

    Now, having said that, ultimately I’m OK with all of that. I for one take the bad with the good. I’m a crazy right-wing radical and yet I consider Reagan to be the greatest president of my lifetime.

    But the elevation of Reagan into this quasi secular saint by certain elements of the right is just plain silly. It’s also a reflection of a larger issue: the intellectual simplicity and insincerity of various segments of the right wing.

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  14. An Interested Party says:

    Again: there is a lot of room for debate, but anchoring that debate in reality would be really nice.

    You’re asking too much of Rubio and his fellow travelers…

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  15. anjin-san says:

    You know Wayne, one thing Reagan was not was a whiner. You should try and learn something from him.

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  16. Jon says:

    Reagan is such a lightning-rod for discussions about American politics. I recently read his Presidential Diaries, and it’s a real eye opener. I highly suggest that anyone interested in trying to actually understand his beliefs and positions, rather than how they’ve been presented to us in the media, read the book.

    It’s also interesting to read through that period of history through that lens, BTW.

    It’s very clear that he did not want to raise taxes and did so out of concession. He spends an amazing amount of time and effort fighting increases, and it’s evident in the journals. He raised the debt limit and taxes mainly because he had no choice- he was extremely concerned with the possibility of American default (back when the deficit was 40 billion, ah to live that again).

    For all of the blame he gets in the modern narrative about increasing the debt, he complains often in the diaries about how the democratically controlled congress refused to submit an actual budget for over 5 years. Emergency spending increases were basically forced without a real budget to operate from.

    Reagan had gay friends and acquaintances.

    I found it very interesting that, for all of the gay anger directed at Reagan, he never once talks about disliking or hating them. In fact, he doesn’t write about that very much at all. In fairness, if you read most of Reagan’s written work, he doesn’t spend a lot of time discussing social conditions. His entire writing output is heavily focused on Taxes, Regulation Reform, Military affairs, desire for a smaller government, etc.

    I have to take some objection to the stated point of this article, as Reagan truly is the 1st American president in the modern era that made it a major point to even discuss the size and legitimate functions of government.

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  17. Wayne says:

    @Rob
    That is total bullshit. When they say they want a balance approach they mean they want tax increases now and promises of cuts way in the future that they know will never happen. As has been pointed out many times before, the Democrats have many of the “it is my way or the highway” issues that they won’t compromise on. They won’t compromise on doing away with Obamacare, on “voting” on a balance budget amendment, on immediate meaningful cuts, entitlement reforms and many more things. The fact that they won’t compromise on those issues have been admitted to even by liberals.

    That you don’t see that after it has been showed time and time again is absolutely amazing.

    Hate to break it to you but your liberal fantasy land is not reality.

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  18. jan says:

    @Jon:

    It’s also interesting to read through that period of history through that lens, BTW.

    It’s very clear that he did not want to raise taxes and did so out of concession. He spends an amazing amount of time and effort fighting increases, and it’s evident in the journals. He raised the debt limit and taxes mainly because he had no choice- he was extremely concerned with the possibility of American default (back when the deficit was 40 billion, ah to live that again).

    The key here is seeing or reading a commentary through a different lens or perspective. It has often been said that Reagan was not predisposed to raising taxes, and his objective was limited government. However, he had to work with a democratic congress who saw government differently. Consequently, his record was formulated through compromise and working legislatively with the dems.

    Now, though, the progressives are using that very record as a wedge issue, a template in which to criticize any politician or movement (the teas) for again wanting to restrain the appetite of government and their control of the populace through hand-outs, entitlements etc.

    It was also interesting for you to note that the dems didn’t have a budget for 5 years. This seems to be a God-given political trait of theirs.

    I’m reading Jim Powell’s book, FDR’s Folly, detailing how FDR lengthened the depression by his policies — policies that are very similar to what the progressives are calling for Obama to do today — raising taxes on the ‘rich,’ tightening business regulations and the like. While much of the depression has been written through the likes of pro-New Deal historians such as James Burns and Arthur Schlesinger, it is interesting to note, in Schlesinger’s own autobiography, that he acknowledged a “disinterest in economics.” And, yet he is considered to be the current progressive go-to source about the economics of the depression.

    It’s a vicious circle of unraveling historical lies and misconceptions of the past.

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  19. Jon says:

    The key here is seeing or reading a commentary through a different lens or perspective.

    While I understand and appreciate your comment, I was really referring more to the whole of the 1980′s, and current events that transpired, as commented upon by the President. For example, the day that the Space Shuttle exploded is a particularly striking entry by President Reagan.

    It’s also interesting how little he wrote the day he won the 84 election. Massive landslide in political history- only gets a few short paragraphs. Then he expresses his interest in taking a few days off to ride horses, then wants to get right back to the job at hand. No gloating. No over the top bragging (even when you would almost expect it, given the scale of the victory). Just very pragmatic and genuinely nice.

    With regard to concession, and deal making, it’s also interesting to see how horrified Reagan was by the deficit and outstanding debt. It’s a major point of discussion over and over again in those journals. The idea that we, as a nation, have allowed the debt to get where it stands now is insane, and unthinkable back then.

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