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A Long Buried Reagan Nugget

Posted by Assemblyman Don Wagner on February 4, 2014

Ronald ReaganI had the opportunity recently to read some of Ronald Reagan’s personal diary from his White House days. I was struck by one very short sentence from April 20, 1982. It remains relevant today, and explains a lot about the differences between Republicans and Democrats.

In this particular passage, Reagan recounted a meeting earlier in the day with Tip O’Neill. At the time, O’Neill was the very liberal Speaker of the House. From Massachusetts and a committed man of the left, Reagan accurately described O’Neill as a “New Deal Democrat.” He and Reagan sparred constantly over policy but apparently got along famously well. And then Reagan said this of the Speaker:

“He honestly believes that we’re promoting welfare for the rich.”

I find the line instructive both about O’Neill and his mindset, but equally about Reagan and his.

In this seemingly offhand observation, Ronald Reagan gives Tip O’Neill credit for acting in good faith in their policy disputes. O’Neill and the Democrats really do believe that Republican policies are intended to help the rich get richer. Forget for a moment that they’re wrong about that (as I’ll demonstrate below) and set aside the evidence from Reagan’s time and ours that shows unmistakably that our policies actually help the poor get richer. Just consider that Reagan recognizes O’Neill, however wrong, actually believed that Republican policies were explicitly designed to help the rich.

The same remains true today. Democrats actually believe this stuff; they truly think that Republican policies are intended to help the rich become richer. And, of course, if you believe this of us, like O’Neill did and today’s Democrats still do, you would vigorously oppose and denounce our selfish, mean spirited “welfare for the rich” policies.

But I note the passage from Reagan’s diary for another reason than just to explain Democrats. It really says eloquently that O’Neill and today’s fellow travelers with him are just plain wrong. That is actually the most telling point of the diary entry. Quite simply, Ronald Reagan knew that this absurd Democratic belief was not true. The diary entry is inexplicable otherwise.

Note that Reagan did not say “O’Neill is on to me about our policies . . . .” He did not say, “Well, Old Tip finally figured us out . . . .” Instead, one can almost hear the incredulity in Reagan’s voice.

There can be no other explanation of this diary comment. It only makes sense if Reagan saw it as saying something important about O’Neill: He actually does believe that nonsense. How silly of him.

A simple sentence in a personal diary from a generation ago gives lie to the Democratic canard and still prevalent notion that the GOP is all about making the rich richer.

Tip O’Neill might have believed that. But Ronald Reagan knew better.

3 Responses to “A Long Buried Reagan Nugget”

  1. Dan Chmielewski said

    The Assemblyman is sadly mistaken. O’Neill believed Republican policies are intended the help the rich and the policies enacted by Reagan proved just that.

    Republicans also believe Reagan restored the nation’s economy, but the economic growth that occurred during the Reagan administration mostly benefitted the 1 percent and the income gap between the very rich and everyone else in America widened dramatically. The average middle class worker saw wages decline and with it a decline in the country’s homeownership rate. The minimum wage was $3.35 an hour for most of Reagan’s two terms in office, the cost of living rose and wage stagnation lowered the standard of living for millions of the working poor. Under Reagan, those living below the poverty line increased from 26.1 million in 1979 to 32.7 million in 1988, while the rich got richer, with the 1% holding 39 percent of the nation’s wealth.

    So much is made of big cities run by Democratic mayors, but urban decline began during the Reagan years because his administration cut general revenue sharing by as much as 60 percent which slashed funding for public service jobs and job training, nearly killed legal services for the poor, and reduced federal aid for public transportation. These cuts were very hard on cities with high poverty rates. Basic services funded by the federal government in 1980 was about 22 percent of these city’s budgets and Reagan cut them to 6 percent — cities still haven’t recovered.

    An increase in homeless can also be attributed to Reagan’s dramatic cuts for low-income housing, which he cut in half. While Tip O’Neill and Congress saved some funding for housing assistance for the poor, Reagan got most of his way. Homelessness doubled during his two terms in office.

    You might not believe “this nonsense,” but Reagan’s record as president demonstrates quite clearly the rich got richer and the poor got poorer; corporate welfare thrived while social welfare fell.

    • Don Wagner said

      As Reagan said, liberals know a lot that just isn’t so. Your efforts at re-writing history and the Reagan legacy have been thoroughly debunked elsewhere. I haven’t the time or energy to go through it all again. But for readers with an interest in actual facts, check out the CATO Institute’s study “Supply-Side Economics and the Truth about the Reagan Record.” (http://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/supplyside-tax-cuts-truth-about-reagan-economic-record)

      Specifically, though, on the subject of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, the truth is that “every income quintile–from the richest to the poorest–gained income according to the Census Bureau economic data.” In other words, the poor got richer, just as I said in my article.

      Finally, from the conclusion of that thoroughly documented study:

      “The 1980s were years of economic progress, not decline. Real GDP grew by about one-third in the 1980s. The economic gains were widely distributed among income groups, with every income quintile, from the richest fifth to the poorest fifth, gaining ground in the Reagan years.

      “The Reagan tax cuts were not a primary cause of the eruption of the deficit in the 1980s. The main two causes were an unexpectedly sharp reduction in inflation in the early 1980s that led to large real increases in federal spending, and a nearly $1 trillion military build-up during the last phase of the cold war. [For which the country got a lot more than the stagnation we've seen from the Bush/Obama profligacy. - Don] Most significantly, the economy of the 1980s outperformed that of the 1990s in virtually every measurable category.

      “Economic growth was higher, job creation was faster, incomes rose much faster, and productivity climbed at a healthier pace.”

      Don Wagner
      Assembly Member, 68th District

  2. Dan Chmielewski said

    “every income quintile–from the richest to the poorest–gained income according to the Census Bureau economic data.” In other words, the poor got richer, just as I said in my article.

    Actually the poor saw income rise by an average of less than $300 per year from 1981 to 1988 while the richest wage earners saw incomes increase by more than $17,000 annually during the same time period. The modest increases in earnings for the poor were offset by cuts to needed social services and increases prices dramatically lowering the standard of living for these people during the Reagan years.

    Paul Harvey used to have a featured segment called “the rest of the story.” You are factually accurate that the poor got richer in terms of income they made, but you failed to account for how much more living cost them via cut services and higher prices.

    O’Neill was right; Reagan Republicans had a policy of welfare for the rich.

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