Are Clinton, W Bush and Obama Extensions of Reagan's "Age of Cruelty?"

  1. Ralph Deeds profile image67
    Ralph Deedsposted 5 years ago … NadYJwo%3D

    ollowing heavy Democratic losses
    in the 2010 congressional elections,
    Barack Obama announced that he was
    reading a biography of Ronald Reagan
    to see how the great man had handled
    his party’s whopping 1982 midterm
    defeat. With the country mired in a
    deep recession, Republicans had lost
    twenty-seven seats in the House of
    Representatives. But Reagan main
    tained that recovery was around the
    corner. By the following year, the econ
    omy had bounced back and the unem
    ployment rate, which in 1982 averaged
    nearly 10 percent, had begun falling
    sharply. Reagan easily won reelection
    in 1984. Having experienced even
    greater losses in the House, Obama
    hoped that Reagan’s story would pro
    vide a blueprint for his own political
    recovery—and perhaps it did, since he
    won reelection more comfortably than
    many pundits had predicted.
    The center-left historian Sean Wi
    lentz has called the period from 1974
    to 2008 the Age of Reagan. In his
    book of that title, Wilentz expresses
    his grudging admiration for how our
    fortieth president transformed the
    nation. “Reagan,” writes Wilentz,
    “embodied a new fusion of deeply
    conservative politics with some of the
    rhetoric and even a bit of the spirit of
    Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and
    of John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier.”
    But this embrace of progressive rheto
    ric and spirit did not actually reect
    Reagan’s damaging policies, a fact
    Wilentz can’t help but document. A
    more accurate name for Wilentz’s
    book—and for the era—might be the
    Age of Cruelty.
    The reverence in which Americans
    of all political persuasion seem to hold
    Reagan today is absurd. As president,
    he created a phony—if romantic—
    picture of America’s past, a schoolboy’s
    ction of a country forged by indi
    vidualism. From this ction came the
    dream that we could return to an ear
    lier moral order in which citizens were
    supposedly freer. Of course, America
    in part built by bold individualists,
    but it was also built by government
    investment in canals and railroads, in
    public water and urban sanitation sys
    tems, in highways, scientic research,
    free K–12 education, college subsidies,
    and a legal system that encouraged
    competition while protecting private
    property. If Reagan brought Ameri
    cans optimism, it was optimism based
    on false hopes and misleading facts.
    Wilentz’s Age of Reagan doesn’t end
    with Reagan himself or even his suc
    cessor, George H. W. Bush, because
    the revived centrist outlook of the
    Democratic Party carried Reagan’s
    legacy through the Clinton years. The
    party’s movement toward the center
    brought with it concessions not only
    to Reagan but also to Milton Fried
    man, the right-wing economist whose
    ideas served as the intellectual buttress
    to Reagan’s
    Reader’s Digest
    “In many ways Milton Friedman was a
    devil gure in my youth, [in a] Keynes
    ian household of economists,” Clinton
    treasury secretary Lawrence Summers
    said in a 2001 interview with PBS.
    I grew to see the issue as more nuanced
    as I was in school and ultimately have
    come to have enormous respect for
    Friedman’s views on a range of ques
    tions. That’s a respect that is born of
    the power of his arguments as one con
    siders them more and more deeply.
    Obama’s decision to place Summers
    and other Clintonites at the helm of his
    rst-term economic-policy team was an
    early indication that his election repre
    sented a continuation of Reagan’s inu
    ence. And this spring’s budget debates
    remind us yet again that the Age of
    Cruelty continues. As a result of cuts
    imposed by the sequester, discretionary
    domestic spending could soon sink to
    its lowest level as a share of the total
    economy since the early 1960s, and the
    burden of these cuts will fall squarely
    on the poor. While the sequester tar
    gets infrastructure, education, and
    housing expenditures, ongoing budget
    negotiations will likely cut entitlement
    programs such as Medicare and Social
    Security. Taken together, these cuts
    would reect an abdication by the gov
    ernment of its responsibility to main
    tain a decent society. This is Reagan’s
    true legacy, advanced in different ways
    by every occupant of the White
    House—Democrat and Republican
    alike—since his departure
    almost a quarter century ago.
    eaganite thinking has become
    so pervasive that it may be difcult to
    remember an earlier time. As gover
    nor of California, Reagan supported a
    1973 ballot initiative that would have
    amended the state constitution to
    cap income taxes permanently. The
    measure was voted down by almost
    ten points. A healthy majority of
    Californians didn’t want their taxes
    cut, choosing instead to give their
    government an adequate budget to do
    its job. Five years later, however,
    Proposition 13, a similar initiative
    cutting and capping property taxes,
    passed overwhelmingly. That same

    year, New York representative Jack
    Kemp and Delaware senator William
    Roth proposed cutting federal in
    come taxes by nearly 30 percent.
    Reagan was not the cause of growing
    tax attitudes throughout the
    1970s, but he distilled them potently.
    The Kemp–Roth bill became the
    model for what Reagan adopted and
    got passed as president.
    This change in sentiment came
    during a time of soaring ination. In
    his nal debate with Jimmy Carter
    before the 1980 election, Reagan said,
    “We don’t have ination because the
    people are living too well. We have
    ination because the government is
    living too well.” Americans appar
    ently found this thinking convincing.
    He had given them an easy scapegoat
    for their growing frustrations: Wash
    ington. In the process, he redened
    our relationship to our government,
    making Americans consumers rather
    than citizens. They paid taxes not to
    help others, it seemed, but to buy
    something for themselves. If the indi
    vidual benet wasn’t apparent, then
    the money should be withheld.
    In his mania for reducing the size
    of the federal government, Wilentz
    notes, Reagan proposed slashing
    spending on public assistance, food
    stamps, school lunches, and job train
    ing, among other programs. Senator
    Ted Kennedy gathered enough votes
    in Congress to block some of these
    proposals, but many got through, and
    the poor suffered as a result. Reagan
    fought aggressively against afrmative-
    action programs, and his Justice De
    partment failed to enforce multiple
    violations of the 1965 Voting Rights
    Act. Clarence Thomas, his choice to
    run the Equal Employment Opportu
    nity Commission, ignored thousands
    of complaints of job bias, including
    age discrimination. He sharply cut
    the budget of the Environmental Pro
    tection Agency, and he aggressively
    promoted oil and gas exploration on
    federal lands. His Pentagon was
    shockingly corrupt, as dozens of pro
    curement scandals proved. He avoid
    ed aggressive policies to address the
    increasingly urgent public-health cri
    sis presented by the AIDS epidemic.
    The vision of the rugged frontiersman
    riding bravely into the unknown led
    to the worst kind of nancial deregu
    lation, allowing savings-and-loan in
    stitutions to invest clients’ money,
    most of it federally insured, in almost
    anything they chose. The industry
    collapsed, requiring a taxpayer bail
    out of more than $150 billion. Even
    the economic expansion that re
    turned him to office in 1984 and
    made him a model for Obama was in
    many respects a failure. While jobs
    were created, average wages stag
    nated, and inequality began its steady
    climb to the levels of the 1920s.
    Though Reagan argued that reducing
    taxes was the key to business spend
    ing, investment remained weak
    throughout the decade.
    During his presidency, Reagan sup
    ported one useful social program that
    helped the working class: the earned-
    income tax credit. (Note that this was
    in the form of a tax rebate, not a gov
    ernment expenditure.) But his pri
    mary legacy was an enormous federal
    budget deficit, which has affected
    policy decisions ever since. The great
    er Reagan lie, known as supply-side
    economics, was that tax revenues
    would rise sharply enough to reduce
    the budget decit Jimmy Carter left us.
    When Reagan left ofce, the decit
    was about three times Carter’s. Few
    new social programs have been pro
    posed since then, because deficit
    hawks claim there isn’t
    money to nance them.
    f you doubt the harshness of Rea
    gan’s policies, remember that George
    H. W. Bush felt obliged to promise a
    “kinder, gentler” government than
    Reagan’s in order to get elected. The
    elder Bush signed into law the Amer
    icans with Disabilities Act, and he
    eventually supported a tax increase
    to close the decit. Though this tax
    hike hurt Bush badly in his failed
    election campaign and helped
    bring Bill Clinton to ofce, the major
    achievement of Clinton’s own rst
    term was raising income-tax rates on
    the well-off. This was a solid attack
    on the Reagan legacy.
    But to win reelection in 1996, Clin
    ton made a welfare-reform proposal so
    severe that even Bob Rubin, his Wall
    Street–groomed Treasury secretary,
    opposed it. Reagan had begun preach
    ing about the evils of welfare while
    running for governor, and he coined

    the phrase “welfare queen” in his 1976
    presidential bid. Now Clinton hoped
    to “end welfare as we know it,” in large
    part through the creation of work re
    quirements. His plan, Temporary
    Assistance to Needy Families, seemed a
    success in the strong economy of the
    late 1990s and even during the moder
    ate recession of 2001. But in the reces
    sion of 2008, the oor fell out. Work
    requirements were okay if there were
    jobs, but now there were none. Ac
    cording to the Center on Budget and
    Policy Priorities, sixty-eight families
    received TANF for every one hundred
    families in poverty in 1996. By 2011,
    the proportion had fallen to twenty-
    seven families for every hundred. The
    inability of parents to meet the work
    requirements mandated under Clinton
    meant far more children than before
    were living in poverty.
    One fact encapsulates Reagan’s im
    pact on Clinton. As a candidate for
    president in 1992, Clinton had been
    enthusiastic about investing more in
    transportation infrastructure; so when
    the economic boom of the 1990s cre
    ated a budget surplus, public works
    seemed an obvious recipient of in
    creased funding. But under Rubin’s
    inuence, Clinton promised instead
    to pay down the debt Reagan had built
    up. By Clinton’s last year in ofce, the
    federal government was spending less
    on infrastructure as a percentage of
    GDP than it had under Reagan.
    Of course, Clinton’s debt trimming
    was utterly undone by George W.
    Bush, who proved more dedicated to
    Reagan’s vision than to his father’s
    kinder, gentler America. “I think he’s
    the most Reagan-like politician we
    have seen, certainly in the White
    House,” said Michael Deaver, a former
    Reagan aide. “I mean, his father was
    supposed to be the third term of the
    Reagan presidency—but then he
    wasn’t. This guy is.” The younger Bush
    cut taxes sharply, as we know, and
    then started two wars without funding
    them. In large part as a result of Bush’s
    policies, the economic recovery that
    followed the collapse of the dot-com
    bubble was the slowest in the post–
    World WarII period. By Bush’s nal
    year in ofce, the decit had risen to
    about $1 trillion—demonstrating yet
    again that Reagan’s party isn’t op
    posed to irresponsible government
    spending, so long as the money doesn’t
    go to Americans in need. This decit
    left America unprepared for the col
    lapse in tax revenues that came with
    the nancial crisis.
    Having inherited this crisis, the
    Obama Administration ought to have
    made creating jobs its priority from
    day one. Instead, it joined the battle
    against the federal decit even before
    Inauguration Day. In 2010, Obama
    appointed two decit hawks, Erskine
    Bowles and Alan Simpson, to come
    up with a budget-balancing plan,
    which they did—an extremely stulti
    fying one, holding government
    spending to its average level since
    1970 despite an aging population and
    rising health-care costs. Fortunately,
    the president did not accept the
    Bowles–Simpson commission’s rec
    ommendations, but deficit cutting
    rather than job creation remained
    Obama’s priority until 2011, and it
    seems now to have returned to the
    top of his list.
    Obama has always been afraid of
    calling too much attention to gov
    ernment. The stimulus program es
    tablished early in his rst term may
    have kept the nation from an out
    right depression, but Obama didn’t
    boast about its benets during his re
    election campaign. And he certainly
    didn’t come back to Con-
    gress for more.
    n his second inaugural speech,
    Obama listed a parade of goals that
    would make Americans proud of their
    citizenship again. At such times, he
    seems ready to ght for the social pro
    grams and public investments the na
    tion needs for a strong recovery. But
    since then he’s continued to show
    himself to be a member of the
    austerity-economics brigade. His fu
    ture budgets will be riddled with com
    promises. He’s likely to reduce Social
    Security benefits, and maybe even
    raise the Medicare eligibility age to
    sixty-seven. In a time of severe long-
    term unemployment and entrenched
    poverty, vital programs for the poor
    like Medicaid may be cut back. All of
    these cuts would be mistakes.
    If Obama must use Reagan as a
    guide it should be as a guide to what
    not to do. It is time to bring the Age of Cruelty to an end.

    1. Shyron E Shenko profile image81
      Shyron E Shenkoposted 5 years agoin reply to this

      Ronald Regan proposed raising the minimum wage, Bush I, raised and President Clinton lowered it down to sixty five and ten month.  But eventually the Greedy Old Politicians will privatize SS, MC, and MCA.


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