You may be surprised to read someone who blogs under the name “Baja Democrats” freely admit that he once was an enthusiastic supporter of Ronald Reagan and voted for him twice, but it is true. You see, I haven’t changed my moderate, middle of the road views much over the past 32 years – it is the Republican Party that has veered off the middle of the road far right, right into a ditch.
I began life as a moderate Independent, the son of a moderate Pennsylvanian Republican father and a West Virginian Roosevelt Democrat mother. The first time I was old enough to vote I voted for Jimmy Carter over Gerald Ford. I still believe Jimmy Carter was one of the most honest and well intentioned men to occupy the White House. He was just terribly inept. The miserable failure of the Iranian hostage rescue attempt just seemed to highlight the many failures of the Carter Administration, and by June 1980 I’d changed my voter registration to Republican to vote for Reagan in the California Republican primary, and I celebrated well into the night when Reagan decisively defeated Carter. Reagan’s policies were a resounding success – inflation declined from 12.2% to 4.4%, unemployment declined from a post-Depression high of 10.8% to under 6%, with over 16 million new jobs created and GDP growth reaching 3.85%. In 1984 I was living and working overseas but went to the trouble of going to a U.S. Embassy to request an absentee ballot so I could vote for Reagan again. I remember writing my sister, a diehard Democrat, that I was disappointed in the election outcome – I really thought Reagan would carry Minnesota and win all 50 states, she was mad at me for years! In 1988 I happily voted for George H.W. Bush over that idiot Dukakis. 1992 is the only election in which I didn’t vote, I was living & working on the island of Bonaire in the Dutch Caribbean and there was no embassy from which to request an absentee ballot. But I would have voted for Bush in a heartbeat. When the first allegations of womanizing came up in the primary campaign and Slick Willy did his smarmy denials I decided he was one lying, dishonest sonnabitch, and I wasn’t impressed with Hillary’s ‘stand by her man’ routine. I’ve since changed my opinion of Hillary and have a great deal of respect for her. Bill Clinton married very well, Hillary not so well.
But as much as I disliked Slick Willy 1994 brought someone to national prominence that I still loath to this day – Newt Gingrich. What a pompous, self serving, dishonest asshole. His orchestrated federal government shutdown in 1995 finally drove me out of the Republican Party and back to being an Independent. In 1996 I voted for Ralph Nader for President, as my own little way of saying ‘None of the Above’ to Slick Willy and Bob Dull. (misspelling intentional). Finally, the one thing I truly am embarrassed to admit: I voted for George W. Bush in 2000. I literally made up my mind in the voting booth, and as I recall I held my nose when I filled in the oval next to Bush’s name. I didn’t trust Bush’s swagger, but I really disliked Al Bore (another intentional misspelling) and still do. It’s the one vote in my life I would love to go back in time and vote the other way. It took the worst Presidency since Herbert Hoover to finally push me into the arms of the Democrats – I registered as a Democrat for the first time in my life when I moved to Arizona in 2005, and have never looked back.
All we heard from Republicans during the Clinton Administration was “cut spending, reduce the deficit, Balanced Budget Amendment!” Sound familiar? Republicans seem to be concerned about spending and deficits only when a Democrat occupies the White House. Well, back in the 90s it actually made sense – the economy was enjoying one of the strongest and longest peacetime expansions. When times are good you don’t spend like a drunken sailor, you pay down debt and put some cash away for a rainy day. Back then Republicans and Democrats could meet each other halfway and bipartisan majorities in Congress passed spending reduction bills, and G.W. Bush inherited a federal government that was paying down its debt. But it didn’t take long for drunken sailors to come back into vogue. With a Republican in the White House and in charge of Congress they passed and signed the biggest giveaway in U.S. History, the ‘Bush’ Tax Cuts. Senator John McCain, back in the days when he really was a Maverick’ said that the tax cuts “devotes too much of it to the wealthiest Americans“, and that we should be “focused on paying down our debt“. In looking back on the Bush Presidency in a 2007 interview, John McCain noted “I saw no restraint in spending. We presided over the greatest increase in the size of government since the Great Society. Spending went completely out of control“. Indeed, tax cuts nobody needed and few were asking for, coupled with massive spending increases, hundreds of billions of dollars for “regime change” halfway around the world all led to a doubling of the national debt under Bush. And is was completely unnecessary. Except for the minor 2001-2002 recession the economy was growing and didn’t need the massive stimulus from the military and domestic spending. In fact, that much stimulus arguably led to the housing bubble and the near collapse of the financial markets.
Is it short term memory loss that leads today’s Republican Party to scream “Out of control spending!” and “They’re mortgaging our grand-children’s future” and lay it at the feet of President Obama and Democrats, like they’re the ones who invented it? Or is it a double standard? It’s one thing to inject the economy with massive spending when you’re trying to bring the economy back from the brink of the worst recession since the Great Depression, and it’s another thing to do it when the economy is doing just fine. Let’s revisit the policies of that conservative icon, Ronald Reagan. President Reagan, fondly remembered as an anti-tax hero actually raised taxes eleven times over the course of his presidency, all in the name of fiscal responsibility. He muscled through Congress the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 which lowered the top marginal tax bracket from 70% to 50% and the lowest bracket from 14% to 11%. However, as the economy began to emerge from recession he signed the 1982 Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which was the largest peacetime tax increase in American history, a much larger tax increase than Clinton’s 1993 tax increase. During the Reagan Administration, federal receipts grew at an average rate of 8.2%. And it all produced a strong, growing economy that put people back to work. Today’s Republican party not only considers letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire – as it was written into law when they were passed – a “tax increase”, they even consider closing tax loopholes to be a “tax increase”. Reagan also signed into law the requirement that even privately owned, for profit hospitals cannot refuse to treat emergency room patients because of their inability to pay. And he also signed into law a bill that granted unconditional amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. Today’s Republican Party would denounce someone with Ronald Reagan policies as a “tax & spend librul”, a “socialist” determined to take over free enterprise and Healthcare, and an “open borders” anti-American. Oh wait, they already have.
I highly recommend reading the article in today’s Washington Post by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein: Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem. I also highly recommend sending Richard Carmona to the U.S. Senate and Ron Barber to the House, to bring some common sense back to Congress.