New York Times op-ed writer Timothy Egan today runs “Ronald Reagan, Heretic,” in which he attempts the same risible liberal revisionism that I dismantled in Commentary four years ago. See “The Liberal Misappropriation of a Conservative President,” October 2011, for the complete case.
But let’s just review a few of Egan’s unoriginal revisions:
As president, Reagan signed a bill that granted amnesty to nearly three million people who were in this country illegally. And then he went a step further, acting on his own after signing the first bill, to extend amnesty to another 100,000 people.
Reagan is not here to comment on this, but his Attorney General, Ed Meese, who did work on the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli Bill, has told me several times the bill was a mistake and that they would never make that deal again, because the promised border and employment enforcement never happened, or quickly went by the boards. One of the things the current conservative stance on immigration proves is that we can learn from past mistakes, including Reagan’s.
Ditto for taxes. Egan:
Reagan raised taxes at least four times during his two terms in office, and 11 times by some readings of the record.
He had to do this because the federal deficit and the size of government ballooned all out of proportion while he was president. Yep, with Reagan the government-hater in charge, the size of the federal government grew to 5.3 million employees, and the federal debt nearly tripled, to $2.9 trillion.
Egan leaves out that Reagan refused to increase the taxes that liberals most wanted raised—income and capital gains—and that throughout the 1980s liberals were in a fury about this. And Reagan later said his biggest mistake was agreeing to the large 1982 tax increase, because, as with immigration reform, Congress didn’t live up to its end of the deal and reduce spending $3 for every $1 of new taxes. Again—Egan thinks we can’t or shouldn’t learn from Reagan’s experience.
Likewise, “the size of government ballooned all out of proportion while he was president.” Curious that Egan leaves out a crucial fact: when Reagan left office, federal spending was 21.4 percent of GDP—a full percentage point lower than when he took office and almost 4 percent lower than Jimmy Carter’s last long-range budget projections forecast. In other words, the size of government relative to the size of the overall economy shrank under Reagan. Government grew under Reagan largely because the economy grew even more. Unlike Obama’s economy, one might add, which is somewhere around 24 percent of GDP, and likely to rise to 30 percent over the next 15 years.
Egan on Reagan and social issues:
Yes, he mouthed the pro-life line, while doing next to nothing for the cause as president. But if you want to see an act of real consequence, turn to the abortion liberalization bill that Reagan signed as governor of California in 1967. Legal abortions in his state went from 518 a year to nearly a million over the next decade.
Did next to nothing for the pro-life cause? Has Egan forgotten about the Bork nomination, which, had it succeeded, would likely have reversed Roe? Why did the Left go to DefCon1 about Bork if Reagan was unserious about social issues? How about Reagan’s ban on using fetal tissue from abortions for federally-funded medical research? Forgot that one, eh Timmy? How about his controversial book, published before the 1984 election, Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation? Just what, Tiny Tim, can a president do about abortion other than these steps? Oh, by the way, it was the results of the California abortion bill, which he signed reluctantly, that caused him to change his mind and become pro-life, expressing publicly his regret for that bill.
Having said that Reagan gave only “lip service” to social issues, Egan then goes on to hand his hat on this:
He also supported an assault weapons ban, as most Americans still do.
Never mind the mindlessness of “assault” weapons. Reagan opposed all gun control measures while president, and didn’t support the Brady Bill until well after he’d left office. Funny how Egan doesn’t call that “lip service.”
Of course, I’m sure Egan is personally unfamiliar with changing one’s mind, since no one at the Times ever seems to do so. To be sure, you have to have a mind first in order to be able to change it. Heck, I’d even settle for a slow-learner at the Times editorial page, because today’s conservatives aren’t.