Hayward reviews all the Democrats including Obama and Pelosi are pulling a quote out of context to pretend that Reagan favored raising taxes on the wealthy.
We can start with Obama’s use of Reagan’s words about “raising revenue from those who are not now paying their fair share,” which the current president deployed to place Reagan’s imprimatur on his own support for tax increases to reduce the deficit. Reagan spoke those words about a budget deal struck with Congress before the 1982 elections. That deal, which came to be known as TEFRA (the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act), featured what was then, to date, the largest tax hike in American history. TEFRA came a little more than a year after the enactment of the Kemp-Roth bill, which slashed marginal tax rates at every level by 23 percent over three years and was the heart of what came to be known as “Reaganomics.”And liberals have glommed onto Reagan and continue to try to pretend that they have always been big fans. I well remember the encomiums to Reagan that Democrats and liberal pundits were giving him after his death. It was nice, but ahistorical. While he was in office, they talked of him just as they talked of George W. Bush.
Obama’s appropriation was and is disingenuous on every level. When Obama says, “fair share,” he means something very specific: higher marginal income tax rates on the group he calls the rich. This is the polar opposite of Reagan’s policy approach in 1982. All the “tax increases” to which Reagan agreed as part of TEFRA were temporary excise hikes on cigarettes and telephone calls. The bill also featured technical changes in the tax code (such as the elimination of depreciation schedules and the reduction of tax credits and deductions).
Reagan understood that not all taxes are created equal, nor do they have the same effect on economic performance. He believed that his tax cuts needed to be permanent if they were to have a positive effect on the economy (in line with Milton Friedman’s permanent-income hypothesis). Thus, he adamantly refused to consider any changes to the 1981 marginal income tax cuts, even as the revocation of those changes became the chief liberal domestic-policy objective from 1981 onward. Indeed, when the economy tipped into recession in the fall of 1981, leading to the ballooning of the budget deficit, the first and leading demand of Democrats was to cancel the third year of the income tax cut and roll back the elimination of “bracket creep.” 1
Reagan never budged an inch, then or in the rest of his presidency. And his stubbornness was the cause of outrage so universal among liberals that they deafened themselves to the populist appeal of Reagan’s supply-side policies—so much so that Walter Mondale came to believe it was a sensible strategy to tell the American people in his 1984 acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention that he was going to raise their taxes.
Liberals hated Reagan in the 1980s. Pure and simple. They used language that would make the most fervid anti-Obama rhetoric of the Tea Party seem like, well, a tea party. Democratic Rep. William Clay of Missouri charged that Reagan was “trying to replace the Bill of Rights with fascist precepts lifted verbatim from Mein Kampf.” The Los Angeles Times cartoonist Paul Conrad drew a panel depicting Reagan plotting a fascist putsch in a darkened Munich beer hall. Harry Stein (later a conservative convert) wrote in Esquire that the voters who supported Reagan were like the “good Germans” in “Hitler’s Germany.”And all those friendly stories about how Reagan and Tip O'Neill are just a fond mythology that belie the real relationship.
There was ample academic support for this theme. John Roth, a Holocaust scholar at Claremont College, wrote:I could not help remembering how 40 years ago economic turmoil had conspired with Nazi nationalism and militarism—all intensified by Germany’s defeat in World War I—to send the world reeling into catastrophe. . . . It is not entirely mistaken to contemplate our postelection state with fear and trembling.Eddie Williams, head of what the Washington Post described as “the respected black think tank, the Joint Center for Political Studies,” reacted to Reagan’s election thus: “When you consider that in the climate we’re in—rising violence, the Ku Klux Klan—it is exceedingly frightening.” (This was not far removed from Fidel Castro’s opinion about Reagan, offered right before the election: “We sometimes have the feeling that we are living in the time preceding the election of Adolf Hitler as chancellor of Germany.”) In the Nation, Alan Wolfe wrote that “the United States has embarked on a course so deeply reactionary, so negative and mean-spirited, so chauvinistic and self-deceptive that our times may soon rival the McCarthy era.”
As for the supposed sweetness and light between Reagan and Tip O’Neill, it was mostly blarney. The two had numerous tense phone calls and meetings. In private they called each other’s views “crap” on more than one occasion; as the budget talks in 1982 headed to a climax, Reagan told O’Neill, “you can get me to crap a pineapple, but you can’t get me to crap a cactus.” O’Neill publicly called Reagan “callous . . . a real Ebenezer Scrooge,” whose program was “for the selfish, the greedy, and the affluent.” In his diary, Reagan wrote: “Tip O’Neil [sic] is getting rough; saw him on TV telling the United Steelworkers U. that I am going to destroy the nation.” He also told his diary that “Tip is a true pol. He can really like you personally & be a friend while politically trying to beat your head in.” That was Reagan at his most charitable. He noted once that in a White House meeting where O’Neill “sounded off in a very partisan manner,” “I almost let go the controls but I didn’t,” and on another occasion he described one of O’Neill’s public claims as “the most vicious pack of lies I’ve ever seen.”Then Hayward reminds us of all the Democrats who fretted that Reagan was going to get us into a war. Liberal writers wrote books about how Reagan was a stupid, simplistic, and lazy man who was ignorantly selling out the poor and middle class with his tax cuts for the rich and cuts in programs for the poor. But later on went from denigrating Reagan to ignoring him to attempting to appropriate him for their own partisan purposes today.
Reagan had in mind such O’Neill gems as his remarks in 1981 on ABC that Reagan “has no concern, no regard, no care for the little man in America. And I understand that. Because of his lifestyle, he never meets those people.” This was a mere warm-up for O’Neill’s blast at Reagan during the 1984 campaign:The evil is in the White House at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.
In the end, liberals from Obama on down haven’t actually discovered hidden virtues in Reagan. They are deploying Reagan as a weapon against the possibility that his conservative governing philosophy is going to be revived—and next time, perhaps, will make more progress in rolling back the welfare state.Exactly. This is a valuable clip-and-save article to pull out every time you hear a liberal lying today about Reagan in order to employ their fantasy Reagan to attack Republicans and conservatives today.
Then they’ll remember why they hated him all along.