Sunday, June 06, 2004

Ronald Reagan. Sean Meade encouraged me to post a view of President Reagan.

The senior partner of the law firm in which I grew up was George Smathers. Smathers was a US Senator from Florida from 1952 to 1968. He was in not only the law firm in Miami where I worked, Smathers & Thompson, but also had a separate firm in Washington DC, from which he did his lobbying work. He spent most of his week in Washington DC during the 1970s and early 80s, but came to Miami for the weekend and was in the office on Friday. We often went to lunch together on Friday. Senator Smathers, who is a Democrat, told great stories and seemed to know every one in Washington. And he knew Reagan.

When Reagan was running for the Republican Presidential nomination, I asked senator Smathers what kind of man Reagan was. Smathers without hesitation said that he "had great instincts". He compared him to Eisenhower in that respect. I think he meant that both men had the gift of knowing the right thing to do when it needed to be done. I think that proved to be the case.

Sean mentions that Reagan and Bush are alike in that both espouse limited government, but both turned out to be big spenders while in office. That observation may be true, but I would suggest that the men are quite different.

Reagan's administration spent a lot of money on defense in pursuit of a particular strategy that was immensely successful. That strategy assumed that the Soviet Union would attempt to keep up with the US in its own defense spending and, in doing so, the Soviet Union would spend itself into bankruptcy, which it did. The Evil Empire fell as a result.

Reagan began his administration with a very large tax cut. He believed that the only way to limit government was to cut down on what it fed upon, the people's money. He believed that government needed to be limited because it was a grossly inefficient in determining what its citizens needed and in delivering those services. I suppose that if you believe that government can be reformed to become more efficient than the market-place in delivering services, then you would have to say that Reagan was a bad president. But I think the verdict of the 20th Century is that he was right on that point.

When he came into office, the US was coming off of its worst inflationary period of the century and the economy suffered from something called "stagflation". His predecessor, President Carter, told us essentially that we would simply have to live with scarcity. Reagan would have none of that. The tax cut commenced a recovery that lasted through the Clinton years, even though there were some ups and downs during that period - although nothing particularly serious.

The tax cuts and the defense spending did, however, increase the deficit. But that deficit did not hurt us, and it vanquished an adversary.

Sean mentions that the first President George HW Bush labeled President Reagan's economic approach as "voo-doo economics", thus giving the Democrats a pejorative that they could not come up with on their own. George HW Bush delivered that judgment while he was unsuccessfully running against Reagan for the Republican Presidential nomination.

But George HW Bush did not let his views of Reagan's economics stop him from serving as Reagan's running mate.

Furthermore, George HW Bush was not nearly the man that Reagan was. He did not keep his promise to the American people when he raised taxes. He did not keep his promise to the Shi'ite's in southern Iran, when he invited them to revolt against Saddam and then allowed the US to stand by when Saddam massacred so many of them and caused them terrible hardship. We would not be in Iraq today had George HW Bush the character of Ronald Reagan.

My view is that the present President is somewhere between his father and President Reagan, but more like his father. It is very hard for me to understand GW's Medicare Drug Bill, his Education Bill, and the other big spending bills that he has championed or permitted. I think that he and Cheney are big spending Republicans in the same wing that George HW Bush led. I think President Clinton was much more astute in his spending (and cutting) than George HW has been. (When President Clinton served, the Republicans served as an effective check and balance. With GW as President, he is aided and abetted by big spending Republicans in Congress.) Reagan's view of government was entirely different from the view the two Bush Presidents hold.

So I think Senator Smathers was right. Reagan had good instincts. President Reagan served our country well. I thank God that he was our President.

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