Archive for Sunday, November 18, 2007

Age of Reagan receding into mists of time

November 18, 2007


As we move into a new era in American political life - maybe symbolized by the first female president, maybe the first black one, maybe the first Republican president in a generation to support abortion rights - it is useful to pause and reflect on the era we're leaving. And it may surprise you (but I doubt it will surprise historians) to consider that the era we're ending is what we might call the Age of Reagan.

For a quarter century or more, we have lived in a world ruled by the nostrums of Ronald Wilson Reagan. It seems, even now, a simpler, almost nostalgic era, for how quickly have we forgotten the battles over taxes, the uproar over ketchup as a vegetable, the befuddlement of the president in his debate with Walter F. Mondale, the accusations and inquiries over the Iran Contra affair. And the sense of nostalgia is even deeper because one of the important forces of morning-in-America Reaganism was nostalgia itself.

But some of the vital elements of the Reagan era have already passed into the mists of history:

¢ The iron bond between religious conservatives and Republicans. For a half-century, religious conservatives hewed to the Democratic line, wooed into the party by Franklin D. Roosevelt and transfixed by the notion that in Jimmy Carter, who spoke openly about being born again and who taught Sunday school, one of their own was in the White House.

But it was their revulsion toward Carter and the magnetic pull of Reagan that prompted one of the most significant migrations in American history, the movement of religious conservatives from the Democrats to the Republicans. It didn't matter that Reagan hardly went to church and was estranged from some of his children. What mattered was that every GOP platform carried a strong anti-abortion message. And then, with the election of a true religious conservative, George W. Bush, the bond seemed stronger than ever.

Now the leading Republican presidential candidate supports abortion rights, has been married three times and doesn't possess the sort of family-values personal life religious conservatives demand in their leaders. Do not doubt that the political earth has shifted.

¢ The conviction that a smaller government is a better government. Reagan spoke of this precept in his inaugural address. The extent of the conversion of the American people to the smaller-government ethos can be measured by the fact that Bill Clinton himself declared the era of big government to be over.

The era of big government being over is now over, and if you doubt it for a moment consider all those people at the security checkpoint at the local airport. Before George W. Bush was president, air-security personnel worked for private companies. That was the ultimate in privatization. Now those people work for a new agency (Transportation Security Administration) in a new Cabinet department (Homeland Security).

That is but a symbol of the way the nation now works and thinks. Hurricane Katrina prompted another huge burst in federal spending and federal infrastructure. There is pent-up demand among the public for new safety and business regulation. Nobody makes fun of government employees anymore, especially since so many of them are risking their lives in Iraq right now.

¢ The long, twilight struggle against communism is over. One of the vital elements of the Reagan Revolution was that Americans should shuck their innocence about the dangers of communism and the threat that Soviet Russia posed to world peace. One of the triumphs of Reaganism is that it presided over the Cold War and at least hastened the end of communism. (Historians are still fighting over whether it actually caused the demise of communism, and we'll await their verdict.)

But the United States' greatest threat now is not another nation-state, and the notion of vigorous, muscular engagement in foreign affairs now has been replaced by a neo-isolationism.

Like all important political revolutions, not all is lost from Reagan's.

There remains a deep skepticism of tax increases; you might get away with raising taxes today, but you have to explain yourself very clearly and be Ivory-soap pure about your motivations. There remains the sort of job insecurity that was so much a part of the Reagan era, though the new economic challenges now come less from Japan and more from China, India and South Korea.

There is also a sense - and this was an important part of the Reagan era - that new constituencies are emerging in the power structure. In the Reagan years, these were not only religious conservatives but operators of small businesses as well. In the new age, the new constituencies may be the various Internet political groups.

And the most enduring part of Reaganism? Surely it is the patriotism that Americans were too self-conscious to express before Reagan but remains an important part of America today. That, and respect for the military, are singular Reagan elements. No one who was alive in the Vietnam years, when veterans returned stateside only to be ignored by their hometowns and sometimes spat upon, can fail to remark upon the respect that American fighting men and women in Iraq receive from their countrymen and women.

In the Vietnam years, congressional war opponents sought simply to cut off funds for the conflict. In the Iraq years, no one introduces such a measure without adding a codicil that reads something like "except to support American troops still in the field."

We have left one era and are entering another. Such passages are always difficult, sometimes ironic. Here is the difficult, ironic part of this passage: President Bush set out in 2001 to complete the Reagan Revolution. Instead he must worry whether historians will argue that he finished it off.

David Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


Steve Jacob 10 years, 7 months ago

The republicans are hurting this from the official McCain website....

"The nomination of Rudy G. would likely lead to the formation of a third party made up of social conservatives. He would also get "swift boated" by fireman, police officers, and even victims of 9-11."

Ragingbear 10 years, 7 months ago

Rudy pulls the 9-11 card every time he talks. Heck yeah he will be swiftboated. Most likely he will be worse. And he took remains of the 9-11 victims and stirred them into his lunch too.

Weezy_Jefferson 10 years, 7 months ago

It's "Bedtime for Bonzo" for the Reagan era.

Good riddance!

MCwzMC 10 years, 7 months ago

Thanks for your thoughts right_thinker. As always, we appreciate your daily dose of stereotype-based hyperbole. Thanks to your comments, we can all view the world through the eyes of a simple-minded partisan.

Rationalanimal 10 years, 7 months ago

"But the United States' greatest threat now is not another nation-state, and the notion of vigorous, muscular engagement in foreign affairs now has been replaced by a neo-isolationism."

The two greatest threats facing America are first socialism--a tamer, less violent form of communism, but equally oppressive to individual liberties--currently being pushed by the Hillary Rodham Clinton Moveon Socialist Party dba the Democratic National Committee. The second great threat is progressive secularism also being pushed by the Moveon Socialist Party dba the Democratic National Committee. The MSP in concert with the socialist America media is sexualizing our nation to the point that the majority of Americans care less about basic individual liberties than hey do about their sex fix. Sex to socialist America is the vodka to communist Russia. God and religious freedom are the common enemy to American socialists and the Russian communists. The reason is the origin of freedom, God vs. the almighty state.

Reagan is among the top two or three of the greatest American Presidents ever. It is no wonder the American socialists want his shadow over this country to be gone. They hated him when he destroyed communism. The author's article should be read as what the socialist Americans like Hillary Rodham Clinton, George Soros, Barrack Hussien Obama, etc, hope and have labored for, not what necessarily is.

Rationalanimal 10 years, 7 months ago

Incidentally, if you got poorer during the Reagan years it was because you were welfare recipient, not because you were working. Reagan cut marginal tax rates in half and the resulting economic prosperity has not been surpassed in any other time. What Bill Clinton takes claim for he owes to Ronald Reagan. Clinton came along, had sex in the oval office and took credit for the momentum Reagan created. Clinton just about screwed it up (no pun intended) with his recording setting tax increases. The benefits of the Bush tax cuts righted the ship and put the country back on track to unprecedented prosperity. Again, if you got poorer during the Reagan or even Bush years it is because you are on welfare. Try working, you'll feel a lot better about yourself.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years, 7 months ago

"now they are driving a brand new Land Rover."

They used to see how many of them could get into a VW bug. This is clear evidence that the middle class is not disappearing.

toefungus 10 years, 7 months ago

The disparity of rich to poor must be narrowed if our democracy is to continue without revolution.

yourworstnightmare 10 years, 7 months ago

Rudy Guiliani is the true heir of Reagan. A tough-talking law-and-order man who panders to religious conservatives while at the same time having lived a playboy's life. A man willing to change stances as they served his purposes of getting elected.

Reagan was a democrat before he was a republican.

Reagan's zeal for tax cuts, smaller government, and religious conservatism played well with his two biggest constitutencies: religious populists and corporate barons.

His political genius was in bringing these two together, which for most of the 20th century had been at odds. The corporate republicans versus the populist democrats.

Reagan was able to convince religious populists that tax cuts, corporate power, and command capitalism were principles taught by Jesus.

Trouble is, Reagan borrowed and spent like a drunken sailor. He just changed what tax money was spent on, and borrowed the money instead of collecting it through taxes.

Now the religious populists are beginning to realize they have been used. Also, corporate barons tire of the nagging, silliness, and anti-intellectualism of religious populists.

The coalition is disintegrating. R.I.P.

Cait McKnelly 10 years, 7 months ago

"All Reagan's spending didn't bankrupt the country...." No, but GWB's did.

RiverCityConservative 10 years, 7 months ago

I agree with the content and spirit of Reality_Check's comment. I voted for Anderson in 1980, the first time I was old enough to vote, and I can still remember no one took Reagan seriously at first. Getting shot helped his career and legend just as 9-11 pumped new life into Gulianni in New York years later. The anti-war movement in the Vietnam era made people really feel that we lived in a democracy; Reagan picked that era apart, piece by piece, and led a social movement which ushered in an era in which simple views are valued over critical thought. One of the worst things his administration did was dismantling the fairness doctrine which used to require media providers to give equal time to alternate viewpoints. I hasten to add that soft-hearted liberals made it easier for Reagan and his protege, the younger Bush, to keep scaling back democratic safeguards over the past 25 years. The comments on this list about a dwindling middle class are on target as well. Wealth has become entrenched among a small group at the top, and what used to be the middle class is pretty much indistinguishable from working class, all barely making it and unable to focus much attention on political strategy. For someone who went through junior high and high school during the democratic renaissance of 20th century America, 1969-1976, the current situation is not pleasant to contemplate. I believe, however, that those like me who have perhaps been self-centered and not taken our democratic obligations seriously enough share the blame with the Reaganites, Bush-leaguers, neo-cons, etc.... I think that Paolo Freire said there is no such thing as a neutral position in response to an unacceptable social condition; not doing anything is supporting the oppressor. There is a veneer of cynicism and materialism today which makes breaking through and communicating clearly about what needs to be changed a very tough endeavor. I know some are reading who feel this same frustration, and I am thankful for the encouraging, challenging voices that arise on this list from time to time. Lawrence was once a political center in Kansas and U.S. history and I look forward to the day when we once again rise to the occasion and help save America.

camper 10 years, 7 months ago

I think Reagan was admirable in many ways. Though I disagree with many of his policies (in hind-sight), he had integrity.

beatrice 10 years, 7 months ago

"The benefits of the Bush tax cuts righted the ship and put the country back on track to unprecedented prosperity."

Well, you know, if you forget about the fact that the national debt has almost doubled during Bush's time in office, from a little over 5 trillion to more than 9 trillion and counting today. Besides that minor detail, those tax cuts that have truly helped the wealthiest of the wealthy -- during a time of war, no less! -- have really been terrific. Heck of a job, Mr. President, heck of a job!

Talk about selective memory. The economy during the Clinton years was booming! Of course, neocons never gave him any credit (and us liberals surely gave him too much). But to pretend that times were hard during the Clinton years is just silly.

I just hope whoever gets elected, be it the centrist who leans a little to the left Clinton or the centrist who leans a little to the right Guiliani, she or he can and will do something about the deficit. I'd hate to see what happens if China calls for payment.

Rationalanimal 10 years, 7 months ago

"Talk about selective memory. The economy during the Clinton years was booming! Of course, neocons never gave him any credit (and us liberals surely gave him too much)."

Look beatrice, you can lecture me on memory when you learn how to read. I did mention the booming economy during the Clinton years (please read before sounding foolish). It is the cause of prosperity during the Clinton years that Clinton should not get credit for. Where did all the capital come from for businesses to develop, test, and generate technology that Clinton took credit for? It certainly wasn't the Clinton tax increases. Are you honestly arguing that Microsoft, Micron, Cisco, Pentium, and the anchor companies that gave us the dot com boom were created during the Clinton years? The foundation was laid by Reagan's tax policies. Clinton's record tax increases popped the bubble. You may recall the recession that began the last year of Clinton's time in office. While he was busy with interns, the country sank into a major recession. Again came Reagan's tax policies under the Bush tax cuts that pulled the country out of Clinton's recession. The one thing the Clinton's are good at is coming along at the right time and taking credit.

gccs14r 10 years, 7 months ago

Reagan was a disaster the enormity of which hasn't even begun to be realized.

Cait McKnelly 10 years, 7 months ago

Class envy... I look at pictures of some celebrity in Jimmy Choo shoes who wears the equivalent of a month of my paychecks on her pedicured feet while I struggle to put food on the table for five people, stay ahead of the electric and gas bill and pray that our uninsured bodies stay healthy.

Class envy... Lindsay Lohan spends 83 hours in jail for a DUI. And doesn't lose her driver's license. My neighbor is jailed for the same amount of time for driving without insurance. Her license is suspended and now she has no way to get back and forth to a job that didn't pay enough to let her get insurance to begin with. Oh and she's a single mom with two kids.

Class envy.... Listening to someone b**ch that they couldn't get the Hummer in the garage while I struggle to keep my 15 year old junker on the road. And faint at the gas pump when it costs me 5% of my paycheck to fill the gas tank just once.

You know it's funny how "class envy" only goes one way. You never catch "them" being envious of "us".

Cait McKnelly 10 years, 7 months ago

So you think conspicuous, over the top consumption of resources by one person while others do completely without is perfectly ok. I see. You know in the past it was that kind of attitude on the part of the aristocracy that led to revolutions. And I'm not just pointing to the one in Russia less that a hundred years ago. Your attitude is reminiscent of Marie Antoinette's "Let them eat cake" philosophy (which she never really said but is neither here nor there, it's still indicative of the total disregard of and non-understanding of the "upper classes" for the "lower" ones). There was a time in this country when we had a very large, healthy middle class. Employers were invested in taking care of their employees and seeing an employee work for the same company for over 30 years was the norm, not the unusual. Now, you will see employers actively looking for ways to get rid of long term employees simply so they won't have to pay the benefits. Benefits have been cut and cut and cut to where there are now employers who don't even give paid holidays. I know. I worked for one. You may be doing 20% better but you can't seem to lift up your head and really look at what's going on to the rest of us. This country is polarizing into the "haves" and "have nots" and as the gap gets wider and the people who do without suffer more and more just trying to get by in this world of "service based industries" (who's goal ultimately is to service the "haves") then yeah you are going to see more than just "class envy". Yes it's jealousy. Because they have taken something away from us. They have taken away our ability to live a productive life and provide for our families and keep them healthy, happy, safe and warm. And believe me, make too many people jealous and they will take it back from you, even if it's by force.

beatrice 10 years, 7 months ago

Dots, my comments about the tax cuts that help the wealthiest of the wealthy has nothing to do with envy. Honest. Thanks to hard work and taking advantage of excellent educational opportunities offered in this great nation of ours, I'm doing fine financially and have no great want to be a billionare -- and this is who I am referring, multi-billionares. I also don't begrudge them their wealth, be it earned or inherited. I'm just shocked that anyone would ever support the idea of going into debt to wage war (whether or not you agree with the war), while at the same time supporting the massive tax cuts that benefit the top 1%.

The debts caused by this war and these tax cuts for the top 1% will be a massive burden on future generations, and this is what bothers me. So when you say you believe that I speak out of envy, and "that somehow them making more is taking something away from us," I say you are missing the big picture.

It is a simple economics, or an example of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. I'll bet you have the good sense to not finance everything you own to live a lifestyle you have not earned and can't afford, right? I'll further bet that you don't feel overly sorry for those who have to file bankruptcy because they tried to live beyond their means. Guess what -- neither do I. I'm a fan of the old-scholl concept of if you want something, save for it, and if you can't afford it, then do without.

So if you want to spend trillions on a war, shouldn't you have to bring in those trillions? In past wars, people were asked to sacrifice, and they did. Now, we are told to go shopping.

My comments about the tax cuts stem from what I truly believe, which is the GOP strategy of "cut taxes and spend" is not in the nation's long-term best interest. We need to be able to afford the things that we do, including waging war.

Now, instead of just attempting an insult or claiming that my comments are out of greed, which they are not, please address the issue of the deficit, tax cuts and the diminishing power of the dollar on the world market as a result. I really would like to see how you explain this while still supporting tax cuts for the wealthiest of the wealthy.

beatrice 10 years, 7 months ago

Dots, thanks for responding, but what you say simply isn't true.

"But what you neglect to take into account is that without the tax cuts, we'd be taking in even less, not more, and the deficit would be larger, not smaller, which means the debt would go up, not down."

If this were true, that taking in more would bring in less, then why is the deficit higher now than 7 years ago? And why is the increase in the deficit more than double the amount spent on the obviously unplanned for war? What you are saying is like the old joke of the guy who loses money on every widget he sells, but claims he makes it up in volume.

It is a figment of someone's imagination rolled out as a GOP talking point. Kind of like the "death tax," or the more appropriately named, "Paris Hilton Relief Act." I'll admit to not being an accountant, but very simply, if what you said was true then shouldn't the deficit be lower today than it was 7 years ago?

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