Saturday, June 16, 2012

Oh, My. How Very Unexpected!

Hey there, everyone. What say we play a little game I like to call, "Who said it?"

"Collective bargaining in the years since [Gompers] has played a major role in America's economic miracle. Unions represent some of the freest institutions in this land. There are few finer examples of participatory democracy to be found anywhere. Too often, discussion about the labor movement concentrates on disputes, corruption, and strikes. But while these things are headlines, there are thousands of good agreements reached and put into practice every year without a hitch."
This might surprise you. It was Reagan. Ronald Reagan, the godfather of the modern GOP, extolled the virtues of unions. Can you imagine someone like Scott Walker or John Kasich saying something as, well, as downright reasonable as what you've just read above? Reagan basically just said that unions are often seen as corrupt, but many of them do a lot of good. Yet, somehow, amazingly, Ronald Reagan's legacy hasn't been cast out for such seemingly traitorous words. Instead, he's remembered as the small-government, tax-cutting, budget-balancing ideological icon of the modern Republican Party. 

The problem we now face is that the many who look to him for such a legacy either don't realize or refuse to believe that his time in office yielded almost none of these things. Yes, he did cut taxes in 1981. Then he raised them 11 times after that, including (at the time) the largest peacetime tax increase in history. As far as balancing the budget, I've talked about how that just isn't true. Remember this chart?

Even after we regained full employment after the recession of 1981-82, the deficit never did shrink back down, so the recession can only be blamed so much. The larger deficit was structural after that point. That is to say, it was not caused by the recession.

As far as small-government goes, federal employee payrolls expanded from 2.8 million to 3 million during Reagan's two terms in office, largely from his military buildup.

I don't want readers to get the wrong idea from this post--I'm not bashing Reagan just for its own sake--I'm trying to make a point. Well, actually, I guess I'm trying to make two. The first point is one I've made many times before, and its that Reagan's legacy is literally nothing like what many in the modern GOP seem to think it is. That is to say, his terms in office were not ones in which the budget was balanced and the size of government decreased. The second point I'm trying to make is largely that Reagan was very clearly not averse to accomodation. When he saw that the budget deficit was getting large, he was willing to raise taxes. Contrast that with Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge. Reagan's legacy was not one of strict adherence to conservative principles, in spite of all of his rhetoric. He was a pragmatist. So instead of invoking some mythologized version of his legacy and stonewalling anything Barack Obama tries to do in the name of unachievable conservative principles, perhaps Republicans should emulate the real Ronald Reagan.

I think Reagan would be ashamed of his party if he saw it today.