What Would Reagan Do?
RightWatch: Faced with a debt ceiling, the Gipper would do the right thing: raise taxes.
It's their intransigence -- combined with President Barack Obama's willingness to infuriate his liberal base by contemplating cuts in Social Security and Medicare -- that underlies the obnoxious compromise that appears to be taking shape in negotiations to avert a default on the national debt.
So in these circumstances, WWGD? The answer -- and it may be surprising coming from me -- is that he would reject the ideological stupidity that has transfixed his acolytes. He would demand big spending cuts, all right, and fulminate about how government is the enemy, not the solution.
But he would also recognize that reductions in spending will only go part of the way toward closing the gap, and increases in revenues are needed. As the Washington Post reported earlier this year, that's what he did in 1982, only a year after presiding over a huge cut in income taxes.
Amid a recession considerably milder than the one we're still suffering through and an explosion in the government deficit, he presided over what was at the time the largest peacetime increase in history. In six of his eight years in office, Reagan acquiesced in measures that raised federal taxes. Instead of shrinking, the federal government actually grew under his presidency.
That's the part of Reagan's legacy that his devotees want to forget: that beneath his rhetoric, Reagan retained a pragmatic streak that allowed him to seek real solutions to problems. He didn't let rigid ideological commitments stand in the way. In other words, he wanted to govern, not simply to prance and posture as so many contemporary right-wingers do.
Compared to his followers, he was a giant and they are pygmies. I'll never be a member of his fan club, but on this score, at least, he has my respect. WWGD? He'd do the right thing, and we'd all be better off for it.
Jack White is a regular contributor to The Root.