Monday, July 17, 2006

The Reagan Myth

It’s good to see one columnist who is fair to President Bush when comparing the size of government now to the size of government in the President Reagan years.

Hats off to Fred Barnes.

Selected excerpt:
With Reagan in the White House, spending reached 23.5% of GDP in 1984, the peak year of the military buildup. Under Mr. Bush, the top spending year is 2005 at 20.1% of GDP, though it is expected to rise as high as 20.7% this year, driven upward by Iraq and hurricane relief.

Mr. Reagan was a small government conservative, but he found it impossible to govern that way. He made tradeoffs. He gave up the fight to curb domestic spending in exchange for congressional approval of increased defense spending. He cut taxes deeply but signed three smaller tax hikes. Rather than try to reform Social Security, he agreed to increase payroll taxes.

The myth would have it that Reagan was tireless in shrinking the size of government, a weak partisan always ready to deal with Democrats, and not the hardliner we thought he was. The opposite is true. Reagan compromised, as even the most conservative politicians often do, to save his political strength for what mattered most--defeating the Soviet empire and keeping taxes low. Today, the latter still remains imperative, and the former has been superseded by a faceless death cult. We can't understand George Bush if we distort the real Ronald Reagan.


Rick and Gary said...

A graph of GDP vs spending is here:

To me, it shows that government spending vs. GDP was reversed under Reagan, bumped up under Bush I (probably because GPD shrank), was radically reduced under Clinton, and reversed course under Bush II.

In addition to current spending, the future obligations under Bush II were increased radically because of the Medicare drug benefit (which was proposed by Gore as a way to buy votes from the seniors). Here's a government graph of future spending obligations as a percentage of GDP:

David M. Smith said...

Hi Rick,

I didn’t mean to imply that we should be happy with the current level of government spending or that Medicare prescription drug benefits are a proper function of the Federal government. I am of the opinion that the Federal government is way to large and that Medicare prescription drug benefits are one of the worst functions of government.

However, there are many opinion makers on the right who worship the conservatism of President Reagan without acknowledging he almost always bargained and compromised with the legislature.

Anonymous said...

Dave, and through you Rick and Gary:

I just took time to look at the link

It was like watching "24" and discovering that what followed "an now a word from our sponsor" was the scariest part of the program.

Derek Simmons