Much is being made of an old — seventeen years old to be precise — appearance by Donald Trump on Meet the Press with Tim Russert. In which the Trump of 1999 is seen saying among other things that “I grew up in New York, and worked and everything else, in New York City.” He goes on to say that he is “pro-choice.” The clip has been seized on by Senator Ted Cruz’s campaign to illustrate what Cruz is calling Trump’s “New York values.” As if someone can’t have a different world view seventeen years later in life, which Trump decidedly does.
But if Trump is not being allowed to have changed his mind on abortion and other issues over the years, why did Ronald Reagan get a pass? As it happens, out there in the world of YouTube there is an audio tape of Reagan seventeen years before he launched his campaign for the Republican nomination for governor of California. And just as with Trump, Reagan was an out and out liberal, the kind of liberal that made him sound like the Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, or Hillary Clinton of the day. Here’s a transcript of the election broadcast (actual audio here) Reagan made for two of the leading lights of 1948 liberalism — President Harry Truman, who was seeking re-election over New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey, and then-Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey, who was running (successfully, as history records) for the U.S. Senate from Minnesota:
This is Ronald Reagan speaking to you from Hollywood.
You know me as a motion picture actor but tonight I’m just a citizen concerned about the national election next month and more than a little impatient with those promises the Republicans made before they got control of Congress a couple years ago. I remember listening to the radio on election night. Joseph Martin, the Republican Speaker of the House, said very solemnly and I quote, “We Republicans intend to work for a real increase in income for everybody by encouraging more production and lower prices without impairing wages or working conditions,” unquote. Remember that promise: a real increase in income for everybody. But what actually happened? The profits of corporations have doubled, while workers wages have increased by only one-quarter. In other words, profits have gone up four times as much as wages, and the small increase workers did receive was was more than eaten up by rising prices, which have also bored into their savings….the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, which reported a net profit of $210 million after taxes for the first half of 1948; an increase of 70% in one year.
In other words, higher prices have not been caused by higher wages, but by bigger and bigger profits. The Republican promises sounded pretty good in 1946, but what has happened since then, since the 80th Congress took over? Prices have climbed to the highest level in history, although the death of the OPA was supposed to bring prices down “through the natural process of free competition”, unquote. Labor has been handcuffed with the vicious Taft-Hartley law. Social Security benefits have been snatched away from almost a million workers by the Gearhart bill. Fair employment practices, which had worked so well during war time, have been abandoned. Veterans’ pleas for low cost homes have been ignored, and many people are still living in made-over chicken coops and garages. Tax reduction bills have been passed to benefit the higher-income brackets alone. The average worker saved only $1.73 a week. In the false name of economy, millions of children have been deprived of milk once provided through the federal school lunch program. This was the payoff of the Republican promises. And this is why we must have new faces in the Congress of the United States: Democratic faces. This is why we must elect not only President Truman, but also men like Mayor Hubert Humphrey of Minneapolis, the Democratic candidate for Senator from Minnesota. Mayor Humphrey, 37, is one of the ablest men in public life…. Mayor Humphrey is fighting for all the principles advocated by President Truman. For adequate low-cost housing, for civil rights, for prices people can afford to pay, and for a labor movement freed of the Taft-Hartley law.
Catch that Reagan line about supporting Humphrey because Humphrey “is fighting for all the principles advocated by President Truman”? While Reagan doesn’t mention it there in that clip, one of those principle that Harry Truman was supporting was — yes indeed — a single payer national health insurance. Here’s Truman himself addressing Congress on the idea in November of 1945:
Our new Economic Bill of Rights should mean health security for all, regardless of residence, station, or race — everywhere in the United States.
Or in other words, Truman was to the left of even President Obama on health care — and there was Ronald Reagan quite vigorously agreeing in 1948, with the same distance in years separating Reagan’s run for the California governorship as now separates Donald Trump in that 1999 Meet the Press clip from his run for the White House.
There is a famous quote attributed to the liberal British economist John Maynard Keynes — and beware I’ve discovered there are those out there who question the Keynes attribution — which sums up the point nicely, whether Keynes actually said it or not. It goes this way:
“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”
Reagan, famously, changed his mind. In the course of those seventeen years between that radio address for Truman and Humphrey in 1948 and the beginning of his own campaign for governor in 1965, Reagan went from being a Hollywood liberal to a conservative — the Ronald Reagan conservatives love to love. Donald Trump — no two human souls being the same — has also undergone his own evolution. From being a New York liberal he is now the frontrunner in the fight against the GOP Establishment that Reagan himself battled furiously and finally defeated.
Whatever else goes on in the now increasingly titanic struggle between Trump and Cruz, it is clear that the video depicting Trump at an earlier stage of his life has — or should have — as much relevance as that 1948 clip of the very liberal Ronald Reagan.
Which is to say… none.