As we approach the 40th president’s 100th birthday, there are many reasons Americans — and conservatives in particular — have fond memories of Ronald Reagan. Here’s one: the great shrinking Republican budget cuts. We were promised $100 billion. Ah, but now a lot of the year has passed, so let’s knock it down to $74 billion. Ah, but we don’t have to count just authorized spending, so we can pare it back further to a little over $30 billion. And these are some of the more serious voices in the GOP.
Now, controlling federal spending wasn’t Reagan’s strong suit either. His substantial cuts in non-defense discretionary spending — which would have been even larger were it not for the congressional Democrats — proved short-lived, because few programs were abolished and they later grew like weeds. More importantly, these cuts were outstripped by galloping entitlements programs and a (necessary) defense build-up.
But Reagan left office with the two crises that brought him to power — stagflation and the Cold War — definitively solved. By the mid-1990s, these once all-consuming problems were barely even thought about. Inflation subsided, growth returned, the largest peacetime expansion up until that point commenced, the number of tax rates fell from 14 to two, the top tax rate declined from 70 percent to 28 percent, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. Since then, the U.S. economy has grown about 90 percent of the time and communism has been confined to such creaky museum-states as Cuba and North Korea.
No modern conservative politician before or after can boast of a comparable record. When it comes to meeting today’s challenges applying conservative principles, the early signs from our current Republican leaders are not terribly encouraging. That’s why we miss Reagan. And even though the conservative movement’s Reagan nostalgia can be kitschy at times, the tributes are richly deserved. Though successful conservative governance would be the best Reagan tribute of all.
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