RONALD REAGAN AND THE PRESIDENCY: HIS ORTHODOXY VERSUS POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY
RONALD REAGAN’S POLITICAL ORTHODOXY AND PHILOSOPHICAL UNDERPINNINGS: HOW HIS BELIEFS SHAPED HIS PRESIDENTIAL POLITICKING
For many, Ronald Reagan typifies the modern conservative movement. Its rise during the 1980’s signified the emergence of a new idealism within the United States, one that espoused shrinking the federal government, taxes and overall government intervention. Even today, myriad radio announcers, scholars, and television personalities continue to pontificate about the Reagan administration and whether it was beholden to the very principles it asserted. Reagan was steeped in the beliefs of several philosophers, including John Locke, Hobbes, Adam Smith and Lemuel Boulware, the executive at General Electric who lubricated Reagan's eventual defection from the Democratic Party in the 1960’s. However, if one carefully analyzes what Reagan did, it rapidly becomes clear that there were contradictions in his prescription for the country. Although Reagan, as evident from his political and philosophical background, clearly pledged a process of devolution of the federal government, it becomes more difficult to draw out whether or not his presidential actions truly mirrored this platform.
This essay will trace the administration of Ronald Reagan, comparing and contrasting what Reagan initially set out to do as well as what resulted. It attempts to advance the notion that Regan, while a stalwart fiscal conservative and advocate for “smaller government,” did not implement his orthodoxy entirely into practice. Instead, the federal debt exponentially grew as he nourished the military with an ever-expanding budget. This essay will attempt to methodically unpack these details and get at the root of the true legacy of the Reagan administration. It will delve into the philosophical background of government, in particular the types of ideas Reagan held about the interests of government. Philosophers who had an immense effect on the country’s political and economical framework such as Locke and Smith will be examined. Subsequently, it will briefly explore the transformation from Democrat to Republican, while working for General Electric as an internal spokesperson. This will lay the groundwork for an appropriate analysis of his presidency through a philosophical lens. Lastly, a discussion of his administration’s policies, in particular its economic and militaristic goals, and whether they contradicted or advanced his undertaking to devolve the federal government.
PHILOSOPHICAL FOUNDATION: THE PRINCIPLES THAT INSPIRED RONALD REAGAN
According to Quentin Skinner, an expert modern philosopher, the definition of what the state is has evolved over time, resulting in a series of preconditions of what a leader must do in order to preserve it. Regan romanticized the concept of sticking to the constitution, respecting the institutions offered in it as well as maintaining their respective jurisdictions. Most philosophical writers also employ this outlook and explain that it is necessary to prevent the state from disintegration. It is imperative that the character of the government remain intact (Goodin, 7).
Reagan was known to discuss at great lengths that the government should serve the people and be as unobtrusive as possible. The “social contract” dates back to theorists such as Hobbes, who depicted the hallowed principles of the contract in his Leviathan among other works. Hobbes points out that through cooperation among men, rights are relinquished in order to obtain new rights. Otherwise, as he accurately points out, man has unfettered discretion in what avenues he must pursue to meet his goals, even at the expense or fatality of another. More importantly, the attributes, goals and principals society is founded on are reflective of its constituents (Goodin, 57-58). Skinner also posits the theory that upholding the state requires the containment of territories (Goodin, 7). There must be no concession of land or property. Although Reagan was never put in this position, it may be possible to draw a conceptual parallel to the struggle over global supremacy during the Cold War. Reagan, as his predecessors, was sure to fiercely stand up against the Soviet Union and prevented the United States from losing any political “ground.”
Reagan was grounded in the principles of the free market economy. He fervently believed that the impingement of government held back economic progress and innovation. One of the fathers of “laissez-faire” economics was Adam Smith. It was determined by the famous capitalist that those who strove for the public good, often in a monolithic, unilateral fashion, failed despite good intentions. The centerpiece of this theory relied on the selfish interests of others, out of which would birth a viable market economy and prosperity for citizens influenced by another's success. These interests impelled teamwork and cooperation because people would need to rely on others to meet their own individual goals and desires. He captures the essence of this notion in a widely-quoted phrase:
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chooses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow-citizens (Smith, 23-24).
In this excerpt, Smith momentarily transforms into a social theorist, picking out consistencies within society that the audience identifies with instantaneously, though it might not be transparent at first. Without the narcissistic desires of others, society would be bereft of any entrepreneurial ingenuity. It is economically deplorable, therefore, to rely on the good conscious of others who are trying to fend for themselves. This perception would echo quiet often throughout the Reagan administration, as his politicking for the dissolution of trade barriers and other labor restrictions were produced from this theoretical springboard. Nonetheless, the inner-workings of an economic market may only exist if there is arable land from which goods may be produced. For one philosopher, owning private property is a crucial natural right that must not be trammeled upon.
From a natural perspective, John Locke believed that since the world was given to man to live on by God, he is allowed to take enough to sustain his own life. Private property is derived from his own person as well as whatever he “mixes his labor with.” However, Locke may have been a bit naïve in this respect, as he believed that people would only take enough to sustain themselves. He takes the precautions necessary not to fall into this trap, stating that the use of money “could now convert any amount of perishable goods which did not spoil” (Macpherson, xvi - xvii). Locke understood that it was possible that private enterprises would take more than they needed. He acknowledged that the land that was under production or labor would become more useful for society, benefiting those who invested in the project. Notwithstanding, Locke’s principals have been enshrined, though as a slight variations, in the Constitution.
Locke expounds that the government can not be “arbitrary” and has a duty to respect its boundaries. He states that:
Man cannot subject himself to the arbitrary power over the life, liberty of possession of another, but only so much as the law of nature gave him for the preservation of himself, and the rest of mankind…and by it to the legislative power, so that the legislative can have no more than this. Their power, in the utmost bounds of it, is limited tot the public good of society (MacPherson, 70-71).
Locke recognizes that man is naturally free and, in asking for him to give up some rights, must be able to rely on the structure of the government to protect his newly-founded rights, specifically in relation to the preservation of his own person. He fears that if there is arbitrary government that chooses when and in what context it will interject itself into the lives of the citizens, then man’s life and liberty are at stake.
Expanding on the theme of governmental capriciousness, Locke believed that:
For the law of the land being unwritten, and so nowhere to be found but in the minds of men, they who…miscite, or misapply it…and so it serves not as it ought, to determine the rights, and fence the properties of those that live under it, especially where everyone is a judge, interpreter and executioner of it too (MacPherson, 71-72).
In this excerpt, Locke exhibited keen insight in the human condition. If the government is an arbitrary organism that sets its own flexible rules, then there is no stability or reliability in it. There would be a flurry of misapplications of the law of the land. Taking this a step further, Locke insinuates that there may even be instances of exploitation on the part of some. Since the government would be arbitrary, then so would the jobs of the people, as some who weren’t judges would consider themselves fit to operate in that vocation. Ambiguous definitions of jobs and scopes are a caustic threat to natural freedoms, and therefore this kind of practice must be heavily curbed. Locke believes that this is one of the main functions of the Constitution (as do many others), in that the realms bestowed upon the legislature and other branches are fixed. There should be no elasticity to expand the scope of a governmental sector, but only to facilitate its discharge of its responsibilities. If the government is allowed to redefine itself consistently, it will undermine the legitimacy of the constitution, society and, even more dangerous, itself. This definition of the Constitution is widely held by most Republicans, as Reagan would soon learn as his political career gradually blossomed.
Despite his prior allegiance to the Democratic Party, Reagan defected to the Republican Party in 1960 because he identified with conservatism, believing it defended the constitutional liberties of the individual, as exemplified in another work that he read entitled, “The Conscience of a Conservative” by Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. In 1960, Goldwater had published this work in the face of a caustic repudiation of conservative principles by the American public, as demonstrated by the political demographics of the Congress and Executive branches, which were dominated by Democrats. In 1964, Reagan would give “The Speech” for Senator Goldwater’s presidential campaign. This instantly catapulted Reagan onto the national political landscape, as his efficacy managed to romance an entire nation. Goldwater’s book was an attempt to regain and re-energize the conservative base as well as to remove the guilt and shame that were beginning to consume the ideology.
One of the first tenants of conservatism according to Goldwater is that rugged individualism is the mechanism by which people pursue survival and even dreams. He states that people are naturally different, resulting in expected discrepancies among abilities and talents. As a result, an individual must independently nurture his spiritual and entreprenuerial sides. There is no force that can compel him to do otherwise, as it would not be synchronized with his natural being. Moreover, a conservative believes that freedom is achieved through order in society, but not through the veneer of benign government intervention (Goldwater, 3-5).
Unlike Reagan, Goldwater is highly critical of the New Deal government implemented and expanded upon by Franklin Roosevelt. He highlights the implicit flaw in the New Dealers’ argument that if there is a need or demand that the private sector cannot meet, it automatically falls under the province of the federal government. In response, Goldwater points out that if the federal government is the sole arbiter of whether or not it has a duty to act on a specific interest, there will be instances in which it will marginalize other branches and institutions in the government. He advocates that limited government is the centerpiece of conservative organization; it must be marshaled into its proper place and be bound by its constraints. His argument shifts to a historic sphere, as the founders of the Constitution provided a schematic outline of what the federal government can do. This was done in a larger attempt to prevent the government from curbing individual rights, as the writers of the constitution were well-versed in the pitfalls of tyranny and its oppressive nature. Instead, the object of the constitution was to create a governmental apparatus by which to ensure the possibility of “maximizing freedom.” He enunciates quite effectively that the purpose of the Constitution is to employ “a system of restraints against the natural tendency of government to expand in the direction of absolutism” (Goldwater, 9-10). The framers of the Constitution were well-aware of the unpredictability of the human condition and appreciated that, no matter how they construed the boundaries of the government; it would be relatively easy to unravel if one held an unyielding desire to discard them.
Goldwater laments that the “system of restraints” has encountered that dreaded occurrence. The framers took steps to safeguard citizens from self-opportunists vying to interject the government onto the people through illusory overtures of economic gain. Irrespective of this, the author argues that, by the 1960s, the federal government has inserted itself into every conceivable area of society without constitutional justification, preempting laws and statutes that it finds inconvenient. Specifically, both the judicial and executive branches have legislated and implemented law that have nothing to do with their jurisdiction. He cites that the federal government in 1960 was spending close to $100 billion per year, whereas nearly thirty five years ago it spent $3.5 billion. He argues that politicians who have promised to spend more on certain programs have exponentially increased the budget and girth of the federal government, choosing to put off its highly-needed down-sizing (Goldwater, 10-13).
The failure of the Republican Party to cry foul on this is also exposed, being that they call for a return to states’ rights but instead accept federal aid like every other politician. The counterargument to this is that the federal government only means to encourage growth and harmony within states for the betterment of its citizens. These programs provide an invaluable service against societies’ vices such as poverty, crime, and disease. However, Goldwater would retort that these services provide an opening wedge for the federal government to shamelessly intervene in the affairs of the states. Once it has a financial stake hold in one or several state(s), much in the same fashion as a shareholder in a company, it can begin to dictate what the state may or may not do, unleashing threats if it does not meet the federal government’s standards (Goldwater, 18). In effect, Goldwater’s concern for individual rights trumps the stretched authority of the federal government, regardless of benevolent intentions.
One of the main canons of the Republican Party is to preserve states’ rights in the face of expanding or retaliatory federal government. He reiterates that the tenth amendment specifically mandates the “States’ jurisdiction in certain areas. States’ Rights mean that the States have a right to act or not act, as they see fit, in the areas reserved to them…the duties are owed to the people of the States, not to the federal government.” Hence, the tenth amendment contemporaneously emboldens state action where there are no federal rights and clearly delineates the boundaries of the federal government. This bifurcation is one of the hallowed precepts of the constitution, protecting against the unlawful encroachment of the federal government into the theatre of state affairs. Instead, he leaves the gauntlet to seek change in government to the people. It is their obligation to pressure state legislatures to change things such as insurance law. (Goldwater, 21-22). Goldwater embodied the movement back to conservative standards, though the country would experience a raucous and violent though spiritual decade during the 1960’s, which was punctuated by violent protests, assassinations and an embracement of nature. However, during this time Reagan was making his conversion from Democrat to Republican through a unique job with General Electric.
During the early 1940s, Reagan’s acting career was debilitated by several box-office failures. He would find employment with General Electric as the host of its Sunday-night television program from 1954-1962. In The Education of Ronald Reagan, author Thomas Evans illustrates Reagan’s slow but solidified political allegiance shift from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. During this eight-year service, Reagan toured the country, giving speeches to hundreds of thousands of workers about the plant’s missions, its business, and how important it was to understand its economic framework (Evans, 1). Although Reagan was at first a New Deal Democrat, his philosophy and outlook on America would change with influence from Lemuel Boulware, GE’s vice president and labor strategist. Still, Reagan was an ardent anti-communist, taking pleasure in the Kremlin’s remark that “American films [were] the worse enemy of communism” (Evans, 16). Reagan was comforted by this admonition and was motivated to continue to protect the Screen Actor's Guild, of which he was President from 1947 to 1952 and during a labor strike in 1959, from the influence of communism.
It was Boulware’s contention that communism was the adversary of free markets and that it was imperative to prevent its ideology from poisoning the country (Evans, 33). Reagan had felt the same way, having served in World War II, he repudiated the doctrine of totalitarianism as soon as he came to understand what it meant.
The theory of “Boulwarism” was a twofold approach. First, it circumvented union officials and spoke directly to blue-collar workers about an ideology of what America should be and the method in which these goals would be realized. Reagan has long-since called this experience “his ‘post-graduate education in political science” (Evans, 38). As he began to listen to workers, most of the complaints he received dealt with government interference in their lives (Evans, 63).
Reagan was influenced by Boulware, who acted as his mentor during this time. As Reagan continued to tour the country, he slowly realized that the essence of his speeches had changed. What were once full of Hollywood anecdotes now contained political caveats against obtrusive governments, overwhelming tax brackets and even antipathy towards communism (Evans, 113).
In his own diaries, Reagan personally reflected about his feelings towards the malfeasance that was communism. In May of 1975, in one of his journal entries, he compared communism to a lingering disease that should have been surgically removed from the world during World War II. He criticizes its duplicity, in that leaders of the Soviet Union asserted their people were liberated, despite the inconvenient barb wire and machine guns kept to prevent people from leaving the country. He was just as disgusted with the invasiveness of the government into the lives of its people. At nearly every stop in daily life, the people required the permission of the government to make a particular purchase or engage in an activity. Reagan believed this hindered the innately free human spirit (Skinner 11-12).
He also divulged his concerns over the struggle for militaristic superiority against the Soviet Union. Regan fervently believed that the individual freedoms espoused by men such as Locke, Smith and conservative stalwarts like Goldwater must be shielded from attacks. Furthermore, possessing an advance military apparatus can, arguably, prevent the outbreak of war. If the United States were to wield such military power as to intimidate the Soviet Union from inciting war, tranquility between both superpowers may be struck (Skinner, 64; 102).
In an alternative journal entry in April of 1979, Reagan, expectantly, discusses how free enterprise should be unfettered and allow individuals who “have the right to live like kings if they have the ability to earn that right.” He contends that capitalism is vastly superior to the flawed socialist system, using the invention of the telephone as an example. In the United States, the government did not take over the development of the telephone and its services, allowing the private market place to fill the vacuum created by an insatiable demand for the product. As a result, the telephone has become ubiquitous and has been adopted as a staple of American life. In stark contrast, the governments under such oppressive regimes as socialism have micromanaged the spread of the telephone. Not only is it not widespread, but they are usually not readily accessible. As a result, the government sponsored telephone system is deficient (Skinner 228-229).
Lastly, in a journal entry dated a month prior, Reagan drew comparisons to the United States from China and the Soviet Union through statistics. He illustrated glaring discrepancies among these countries in terms of product distribution. Regan states that the Chinese population is 1 billion, the Russian population is 262 million and the United States is at 220 million. Recalling the telephone example, despite these insurmountable differences in population, the United States had 155 million telephones, followed by 22 million in the Soviet Union and 5 million in China. In addition, he points out to the life expectancy, as the average life in the United States was 73 years old, followed by 69 years old in Russia and 65 years old in China (Skinner, 230). Reagan felt that, in order to have a thriving nation, it was imperative to have a sound and resilient economic system by which to navigate the country.
It becomes rapidly clear within these journal entries that Reagan felt that capitalism was the best economic model available. He zealously wrote about the inherent inefficiencies within socialism by highlighting salient points such as these. Although not an erudite economist, Reagan had read dozens of works by prominent economists and theorists in addition to the thousands of workers he met during his stint. Armed with this compendium of insight and knowledge, Reagan continued to politic about the issues he cared deeply about.
This philosophical analysis demonstrates how Reagan’s political beliefs were shaped. A stalwart patriot, he familiarized himself with the very same philosophies that were the foundation for this country. It nourished his underdeveloped political instincts, sharpening them into an identifiable platform upon which Reagan would stand on and make constant overtures to audiences across the country. The aforementioned policies, beliefs and opinions carried over well into his presidency in 1980. Facing the deadly economic cocktail of stagflation, Americans were paralyzed with apprehension. Reagan drew on his political philosophy as a source in order to understand the issues at hand and how to combat them effectively. However, his political undertakings did not always translate into what he claimed he wanted for the country.
RONALD REAGAN AND THE PRESIDENCY: HIS ORTHODOXY VERSUS POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY
When Governor Reagan of California was elected in 1980 to the presidency, the country was going through a massive transition of political tastes and preferences. It rejected liberalism and its propensity for big government, ballooning social programs and high taxes. For the first time since the 1950’s, an overwhelming proportion of Americans clamored for a return to conservatism, in particular the kind of fiscal conservatism which some believed would clamp down on the elusive problem of stagflation. During his eight years in office, Reagan became a transformative figure and the conservative answer to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was able to make conservatism mainstream again, utilizing his invaluable communications skills and persuasion to rally an entire nation behind his patriotic government. Reagan expounded for a small, non-intrusive government, reduced taxes, an expanded military and steep cuts in social programs deemed ineffective. This section will examine his policies with an emphasis on his economic and militaristic policies. References will be made back to his purported orthodoxy, as expected comparisons and sharp contrasts will surface from this detailed analysis.
When Reagan is brought up in discussion, “Reaganomics,” a short-hand moniker for his style of supply-side economics, is usually not far behind. In order to tease out this concept, supply-side economics must be briefly discussed. As discussed by Bruce Bartlett, an official under President Reagan, supply-side economics is not a covert phrase for tax cuts across the board. Instead, it asserts that under unique circumstances tax cuts can raise federal revenues. For instance, cuts in the capital gains tax can spur federal revenues, as it could cause more citizens to realize gains through additional selling of stocks and bonds, even if the tax rate is lower. However, most economists who subscribe to this notion readily concede that it is not the aim of a supply-side enthusiast to recuperate every tax dollar cut from the government, but rather to gain part of it while depressurizing tax burdens on citizens. This countered the popular Keynesian economics, which theorized that budget deficits stimulated economic growth, personal savings hurt the economy and monetary policy was virtually inept. From this, Reagan picked out certain themes that would resonate with people, such as placing emphasis on the value of incentives and opposing high taxes as a financial instrument that deterred growth (Bartlett,1-2).
In a 1981 speech, Regan stated that “Only by reducing the growth of government can we increase the growth of the economy” (Niskanen, 1). Not only does this quote encapsulate Regan’s conviction about how to realize economic prosperity, but it underscores a mindset steeped in the beliefs of Smith and Locke as well as other free marketers and individualists. Reagan wanted to decentralize the federal government and apportion more rights to states, reduce regulation and practice astringent fiscal discipline. But did he?
It is very difficult, as a politician, to exact the kind of change reasoned as necessary in any society. Reagan’s results on the economic front are mixed. In 1981, under the Economic Recovery Tax Act, there would be deep tax cuts for corporations among others (MSN Ronald Reagan). The top marginal tax rate on personal income decreased from 70% to 28%. Corporations received a much-welcomed break, too, as their tax rate was reduced from 48% to 34% (Niskanen,1). Paradoxically, Reagan raised the total income taxes paid by the top 1% wage earners from 18% to 28% (The Real Reagan Economic Record). It was his intent to give individual’s more control over their money, and encouraged consumerism. Nonetheless, in raising the total income taxes paid by the wealthy, Reagan seemed to contradict his convictions about taxes. Although it is a benign phrase today, “trickle-down” economics surfaced as a pejorative against this, meaning that Reagan believed wealth would simply “trickle-down” to the poor.
Nonetheless, Reagan’s measures to reduce the federal government were neither all implement nor resulted favorably for the president's image. First, federal spending was 22.9% of GDP in 1981, but would only drop down to 22.1% of GDP in 1989 after encountering an increase midway through the administration. Additionally, there were no steps taken to reduce the size of social programs like Social Security and Medicare. These were typical institutions which drew antipathy from Reagan, who opposed bloated, unbridled social programs. These were not the only spheres of government to remain unscathed from the phantom financial scythe of the Reagan administration (Niskanen, 1-2). Most notably, due to his efforts to bolster the United States military, he increased the federal debt from 22.3% to 33.8% of GDP. Shockingly, he even increased many trade barriers, as imports vulnerable to trade constraints rose from 12% to 23% (Niskenan, 2-3). These figures demonstrate a clear departure from Reagan’s alleged conservative philosophy. It becomes more remarkable when it is widely considered that Reagan is the modern face of the Republican Party and is credited with reviving the party.
The growth of the government under the Reagan administration can be further examined through an economic lens. Reagan increased federal spending by 36%, increasing from roughly $590 billion in 1980 to over $1 trillion by 1990 (The Real Reagan Economic Record). However, he did decrease the incremental inflation for federal spending from 4.0% to 2.5%, as part of a greater effort to diminish the rate of inflation (Niskenan, 1).
Despite an amplified federal debt, one of the hallmarks of the Reagan administration was its ability to successfully bring down inflation and unemployment during his administration. He reduced inflation from 13% to 4% and unemployment from 7% to roughly 5% (The New York Times, 1). Institutions such as the Departments of Energy and Education grew despite Reagan’s prognostications that in the future the country would see a significantly shrunk federal government (Reagan and the Size of the Federal Government Transcript).
Despite results that pointed to its success, Reaganomics and its deregulation of business would come under fire during the stock market crash in October of 1987. Initially sustained in Hong Kong, this spread throughout the international market, eventually hitting the Dow Jones and reducing it by 23% of its value. Leaving an indelible impression on many investors, the causes of the collapse were given just as much attention. Among other theories, one asserts that since Reagan requested the tightening monetary policy, interest rates and fears rose one year prior to October of 1987 (Wong, 1). For some, Reagan's tight monetary policy was an example of the very intrusiveness of the federal government that he championed reform against.
Consequently, this event would go down in the annals of American economic history as a minor affair, given the buoyancy of the economy and its ability to quickly gain its composure.
One of the greatest indicators of Reagan’s enlargement of the federal government was his interest in bolstering the United States military. Its budget swelled under the Reagan Administration, going from $134 billion in 1980 to $290 billion in 1988 (MSN Ronald Reagan). Reagan was in support of a controversial project which came to be known as “Star Wars,” which called for space systems to be developed to counter nuclear ballistic missiles that could be fired from foreign countries, or entities such as the Soviet Union, toward the United States. He was constantly criticized for this program that was seen by some as antagonistic towards a theory known as MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), which postulated that since the United States and Soviet Union could potentially wipe out each other, this deterred the use of nuclear weapons despite its existence in each country (RonaldReagan.com). With the gradual weakening of the Soviet Union in the late 1980‘s, this program and other strategic military schemes became inert. Still, Reagan continued his campaign to grow the military, asking Congress to pass a $315 billion military budget in January of 1989 (The Financial Post, 1). For many of his conservative constituents, Reagan’s military legacy, to a degree, is ensconced in unfailing patriotism and strong defense, characteristics which are widely enjoyed by most Americans regardless of political stripe.
ANALYSIS: WHAT IS REAGAN’S TRUE LEGACY?
Reagan’s philosophy is rooted in small-government, notable tax cuts and a propensity for a massive military apparatus. Thanks to nostalgia and an underappreciated value on statistical economic evidence, some talking heads in the media and indifferent historians have ignored pertinent proof that Reagan, in fact, contradicted much of what he had promised to the American people. An actor turned politician, his cozy rhetoric allowed him to inject a concentrated dose of conservatism into the country’s political bloodstream.
His economic policy was advanced under the guise of less-intrusive government and more individual control over personal finances. Reagan was able to make the framework of his economic plan palatable for the country using catchphrases such as “Reaganomics” and creating appeal for “Supply-Side Economics.” Much of this was rooted in the philosophies of Locke, Smith and Lemuel Boulware.
While Locke and Smith would have supported his initiatives to stimulate a greater sense of individualism in society, Locke may have taken umbrage to the corporate culture Reagan sought to help. Locke, perhaps naively, did not believe man would take more land than he felt was necessary in order to build a life for himself. It is most likely that, based on the philosophical evidence available on Locke, he would have staunchly opposed the wealthy class and may have supported them paying higher taxes. To a certain extent, this opposes Reagan’s tax theory, which postulated that if taxes were cut for the wealthy, they would invest even more into the economy, thereby stabilizing and cultivating it. It must be reasserted, however, that Reagan did increase the total income tax paid by the wealthy (cutting the marginal tax cuts instead). Being that he believed the legislature was the most powerful branch in the government, Locke would have diverged from Reagan’s expansion of the federal government, namely the executive branch. It is difficult to discern whether or not Locke would have been in support of Social Security or Medicare. On one hand, he may have argued that since the executive office constantly interceded in the affairs of these programs, that it is outside of its jurisdiction. However, Locke firmly believes that the “state” must take care of its people, which can be extrapolated to mean providing certain social programs.
Smith along with Boulware would have vastly supported many of Reagan’s endeavors. Smith believed that the economy is maintained and spurred by self-interest, which falls parallel to the thrust of Reagan’s policies. He believed in an open, unfettered market where price would be the sole arbiter of decision-making and resource apportionment. In this vein, Smith would applaud Reagan’s efforts to decrease taxes and deregulate business in a greater effort to liberate the market.
Lemuel Boulware would have lauded many of Reagan’s policies, he would have benefited greatly under them as a wealthy individual working as an executive at General Electric. More importantly, perhaps, was that at the core of “Boulwareism” was a desire to reach the middle and lower classes in order to educate them on the economic ramifications of the company. Clearly, Reagan was influenced by this, as he was known to have addressed the nation several times accompanied by graphs to demonstrate tax cuts or GDP. He also tried to convey his ideas through simple rhetoric, flowery prose and secutive metaphors which resonated with the heartstrings of many Americans.
President Ronald Reagan has left an unshakeable imprint upon the American consciousness unlike any other politician, actor or figure in the 20th century. He, at the very least, gave the impression that he was inculcated with a conservative philosophy rooted in experts such as Smith and Locke along with successful businessmen like Boulware. It is unknown whether or not he inadvertently expanded the government and its debt. Possibly, Reagan’s subconcious liberalism surfaced at inopportune times, embroiling him in an internal battle between past principles and new concepts of government and its objective. He remains enshrined in American history as the undisputed purveyor of modern conservatism. The 1994 recapture of the Congress by the Republican Party after nearly forty years of being the minority party is often credited to the foundation Reagan created. Today, Reagan beliefs are extremely pervasive, as Republicans usually point to his policies as proof of tax cuts, military defense and the brilliance behind downsizing the federal government. However, it becomes transparently clear that this is a gross misinterpretation of his policies and his intent. Reagan was known to be an astounding communicator, convincing Democrats and Republicans as the sole mediator on a number of crucial issues. Despite his best intentions, the philosophical conflicts within his policies recast Reagan as more of a moderate, gravitating towards the middle section of the political spectrum. It remains to be seen if any scholar will ever be able to definitively unearth indisputable evidence of Reagan's vision for the country.
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