Tax Cuts: Reagan vs Bush

I’ve been thinking about Republican presidents recently. I had a particular thought comparing Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Reagan is remembered as great by conservatives and remembered as less than perfect by liberals. Either way, the best liberal argument is simply that Reagan would be considered a RINO by today’s Repbulicans. Bush jr is the closest these far right purists have come to their ideal of a ‘real’ Republican. That is a sad state of affairs.

I only want to point out one detail: tax cuts. Both Reagan and Bush campaigned on fiscal responsibility and both implemented tax cuts once in office. The comparison, on this point, ends there. Both Reagan and Bush faced economic problems after having implemented tax cuts, but they responded differently. As everyone knows, Bush kept the tax cuts to the bitter end. Neither 9/11 nor the wars following could stop Bush from implementing and maintaining his tax cuts. It is hardly fiscally responsible to massively increase spending while cutting taxes. I realize Starve the Beast seems like a wonderful policy to wealthy Republicans, but it can’t honestly be called fiscal responsibility.

So, what did Reagan do when it became obvious that tax cuts were failing and the economy was in trouble? He increased taxes. I was just reading that Reagan raised taxes 16 times. These tax increases also included the largest, at least at that time, tax increase during peacetime. Reagan was imperfect in his fiscal responsibility. He made the same mistake of increasing defense spending just because a big military gives rightwingers a hard-on.

Both Reagan and Bush followed the policy of Starve the Beast. The difference is that the latter did so with more enthusiasm. For Bush, reality was less important than ideology. That is what the American public gets when they elect a born-again fundamentalist. Reagan must be given blame for creating the deficit we now have, but his relative moderation kept him from having created an even greater deficit had he refused to increase taxes.

This is centrally important. Republican politicians haven’t shown they’ve learned any lesson from Bush’s failure and Reagan’s willingness to compromise. I was just listening to Boehner speak and he basically said that Republicans don’t plan to change which seemingly implies that there perfectly fine with the Republican policies during the Bush administration. Like Bush and unlike Reagan, they would want to keep all tax cuts (especially tax cuts for the rich) no matter what is going on with the economy and no matter how many wars are going on. They want to push Starve the Beast to its inevitable conclusion of economic crisis and broken budget. The Tea Party’s platform seems to fit perfectly into the vision of Starve the Beast. The Tea Party turned out just to be a maneuver for the GOP to reign back in former Republicans who strayed away because of Bush’s unpopularity.

Sadly, most of the American people and most of the American media won’t see past the GOP rhetoric. The resignation and cynicism right now is overwhelming. Even Obama doesn’t seem to genuinely believe in the hope he campaigned on.

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