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The Tally Ho

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

The Great Reagan Debate

It was my attempt to not write one thing about the legacy of Ronald Reagan. The blogsphere was literally overflowing with posts about Reagan, and some of the debates turned nasty. But something that Craig from NAAS commented about the OTM piece below made me want to, just a little.
I am not surprised at the difference in tone between "liberal" and "conservative" media. One of the fundamental fault lines in our society is the Enlightenment, with Liberals defending Reason while Anti-Enlightenment reactionaries are siding with Faith. As a result, Cons are starting with a preferred conclusion in which the "believe" and are grabbing any factoid that supports this course of action and gluing it on their argument. Liberals are looking at evidence and attempting to reach a logical conclusion.
You can see the "faith-based" approach at work in coverage of Reagan this week, with all mention of his progressive tax hikes and arms control measures removed by the right, who prefer to remember his rhetoric and forget his record.

This morning reading while sifting through the online version of the New York Times I came across Paul Krugman’s op-ed, The Great Taxer. He has a series of comments that address the difference between rhetoric and record. On Reagan being the most popular president of our time, he writes:
A number of news sources have already proclaimed Mr. Reagan the most popular president of modern times. In fact, though Mr. Reagan was very popular in 1984 and 1985, he spent the latter part of his presidency under the shadow of the Iran-Contra scandal. Bill Clinton had a slightly higher average Gallup approval rating, and a much higher rating during his last two years in office.

On the Economic boom:
We're also sure to hear that Mr. Reagan presided over an unmatched economic boom. Again, not true: the economy grew slightly faster under President Clinton, and, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, the after-tax income of a typical family, adjusted for inflation, rose more than twice as much from 1992 to 2000 as it did from 1980 to 1988.

But what I found more interesting is his tax cutting status, and the promotion of Bush as Reagan’s heir. Krugman points out that Regan actually raised taxes after figuring out that the early cuts were irresponsible, something that junior Bush will not do. He continues:
Mr. Reagan's second tax increase was also motivated by a sense of responsibility — or at least that's the way it seemed at the time. I'm referring to the Social Security Reform Act of 1983, which followed the recommendations of a commission led by Alan Greenspan. Its key provision was an increase in the payroll tax that pays for Social Security and Medicare hospital insurance.

For many middle- and low-income families, this tax increase more than undid any gains from Mr. Reagan's income tax cuts. In 1980, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, middle-income families with children paid 8.2 percent of their income in income taxes, and 9.5 percent in payroll taxes. By 1988 the income tax share was down to 6.6 percent — but the payroll tax share was up to 11.8 percent, and the combined burden was up, not down.

So while the debate will continue about Reagan conservatism and how the Bush people would probably like to use Reagan as a campaign tool (did you hear the difference between Reagan's and Bush's Normandy speeches?), they aren't the same person. Did you see Ralph Reed's comments about Reagan and religion in an article by MSNBC’s Tom Curry that appeared Saturday?
Another conservative, Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, viewed the Reagan presidency with chagrin: “His eight years in office did little to transform a political culture that had become insensitive to religious values and uncaring about innocent human life.”

Reed said conservatives “woke up the morning after Reagan’s two terms to discover that many maladies still afflicted our nation and many pathologies had grown worse.”

So perhaps while this is all being hotly debated, Reagan can have a different kind a legacy away from tax policy, religious conservatism, Iran-Contra, and the Cold War. Perhaps his passing will provide Congressmen and women the cover they need to ease the restrictions on federal support of stem cell research. As you may know, Nancy Reagan has been advocating for stem cell research. An article yesterday by Erica Warner of the Associate Press claims that
Fifty-eight senators are asking President Bush to relax federal restrictions on stem cell research, and several said Monday that the late President Reagan's Alzheimer's disease underscored a need to expand the research using human embryos.


Hopefully this happens.

Update: Speaking of Reagan as a campaign tool, check out the new front page on Bush's reelection page.

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