Recently-although not that recently, since I can’t work and keep totally on top of everything that happens in the world-Senator Rand Paul criticized the record of President Ronald Reagan on spending, comparing him unfavorably to Carter. I’m obviously saddened to hear this, as I’m actually a fan of Paul, and more obviously, and fan of Reagan. But I’m not afraid to criticize people I generally like when I think they’re wrong, even if their going astray really is a rare miss. Rand Paul cites statistics that are, as a matter of literal fact, accurate. However, Paul has fallen victim to a dangerous political myth: that of the All Powerful President. It is wrong to give all of the credit, or all of the blame, to the President of the United States for everything that happens during their term(s) in office. It is especially wrong to do so when the Congress is controlled by the opposition party. Although Republicans controlled the Senate from January 1981 to January 1987, at no point during Reagan’s Presidency-and indeed at no point from 1953 to 1995 did Republicans control the House of Representatives at all. You should consider that last point for a bit, also: the House of Representatives was at one point controlled by Democrats for forty two years. It is Congress, not the President, which ultimately possesses the power of the purse. And the House in particular is important in this regard. Measures for raising revenue-which in practice generally means the entire budget-must originate in the House of Representatives. So under the Reagan administration, a significant degree of the blame for increased spending should fall on Congress, with only a relatively small portion of the blame falling on Reagan for not fighting hard to restrain spending. Cynically, it is likely that doing so would have insured a Mondale Presidency-who would have basically run the country into the ground, to be perfectly frank. Similarly, Bill Clinton does not deserve the credit he is given for the restrained of Government growth in the 1990’s-the fact that Republicans regained control of the House for the first time in two generations-that’s 21 elections!-and fought impressively for an agenda today’s GOP wouldn’t dream of achieving, actually succeeding in achieving most of their ambitious goals. Clinton fought this every step of the way, but not quite to the bitter end the way Obama has proven frighteningly willing to. It is remarkable enough that Reagan managed to achieve as much as he did, in fact it’s likely that much of his agenda had to be achieved by giving spending to the House Democrats. But there is much, in retrospect, that we have learned from the Reagan years. Certainly not the lessons many people think we ought to have learned. But perhaps Paul has mostly learned the right lessons. For example, we have learned that deals to cut spending, traded for higher taxes, lead to higher taxes and higher spending-hence the familiar left wing talking point about how many times “Reagan raised taxes” (which, again, and even more strongly, is the responsibility of Congress and in particular the Democrats running the part of it from which revenue measures must originate. We have learned that “comprehensive immigration reform” meaning deals cut to secure the border traded for amnesty for illegal aliens, results in more illegal aliens and no actual border security-and leads, gradually, and unfortunately inevitably, to the demographic suicide of the United States of America. In short, we’ve learned what we should have known all along. The other side is evil and not to be trusted. You don’t compromise with the devil (speaking metaphorically here, butthurt atheists).
If you fault Reagan for anything, as a Conservative, or a True Liberal (rather than these Pre-Liberals who call themselves “Progressives” who would advance society by advancing an agenda to reconstruct Medieval society) it is being too compromising. Too willing to reach across the aisle and work with the other side. The struggle between individualism and collectivism is a fight between right and wrong, a moral battle. So I’d be quite pleased if, say, a President Paul would be unwilling to compromise in this fight. But be fair. Intellectually, I believe Reagan understood that. But unfortunately it is difficult to act like this in practice. The Leftists are our friends, our neighbors, our countrymen. As much victims of their own hateful, repugnant ideology as they are perpetrators. And Reagan was sentimental, and friendly to a fault. A man who could write, privately, of JFK being, underneath the boyish haircut, still old Karl Marx, but who never the less considered his adversary in Majority leader Tip O’Neill a friend. Hate the sin love the sinner, better Christians would say. These days it is easy to criticize that sort of sentimentality. The stakes are too high these days, to be that way anymore. Still, I really do think that Paul has erred, and done a disservice to Reagan and to history, with a criticism that is not really fair.