As Conservatives play games with the former President's legacy, what would Ronald Reagan do in today's California?
I probably wouldn't have known it was "Reagan Day" but for the helpful tweets of @GeorgeRunner. The former legislator and current member of the Board of Equalization isn't really much of a tweeter, but on occasion he gives us such helpful words as "Happy Reagan Day!" after a few weeks of silence other than an announcement of his "e-newsletter." (By the way, if you call it an "e-newsletter," you are doing it wrong.)
Anyway, I thought I would take a moment to remind Mr. Runner and his #tcot friends about a few facts of the Gipper's tenure here in California. In a blog post, Bruce Bartlett, a Reagan domestic policy adviser, points out some of the false tax mythology:
Reagan's record on raising taxes began almost the moment he entered politics. Elected governor of California in 1966, he inherited a large budget deficit from his predecessor, Pat Brown. Although a conservative, dedicated to shrinking government, Reagan nevertheless found the magnitude of spending cuts that would have been necessary in 1967 to be beyond reach. This led him to endorse a $1 billion per year tax increase, equivalent to a $17 billion tax increase today - an enormous sum equal to a third of state revenues at that time. Journalist Lou Cannon recounts the circumstances:
"No amount of budget reductions, even if they had been politically palatable, could have balanced California's budget in 1967. The cornerstone of Governor Reagan's economic program was not the ballyhooed budget reductions but a sweeping tax package four times larger than the previous record California tax increase obtained by Governor Brown in 1959. Reagan's proposal had the distinction of being the largest tax hike ever proposed by any governor in the history of the United States."1] ([CG&G Feb 2011)
Let's stop with all the beatification and think about what really happened 45 years ago, and what is happening now. Like Reagan, Gov. Brown inherited a big deficit from his predecessor. Schwarzenegger's mish-mash of policies left the state without direction and with a huge deficit to show for it. Brown the Younger in his third time has a similarly daunting challenge as he did in 1978 after Prop 13 and as Reagan did in 1978. And like Reagan, he understands the impracticality of a cuts-only budget solution. And the tax increases that Brown is proposing today is less than half of the Reagan 1967 tax increases.
Runner and his fellow Republicans need to really take a deep look about their presidential saint and how he was able to objectively look at a situation and be more than ideologically dogmatic. Perhaps then we could really govern the state, and the GOP could return to relevance.
Ronald Reagan was certainly a memorable person in California history. Not memorable in the Cesar Chavez, Harvey Milk kind of way, but more in a distinctively heartless way. That being said, it looks increasingly likely he will join Milk and Chavez with recognition.
California moved one step closer today to establishing an annual day honoring Ronald Reagan, the former president, governor and actor.
The state Senate unanimously passed a bill designating Feb. 6 as Ronald Reagan Day. The measure encourages schools to spend the day commemorating Reagan's life and accomplishments. (AP)
I'm actually not all that opposed to such a day. Reagan, despite my political differences with him, is a major historical figure. And, on occasion, such as when he signed a letter opposing the Briggs initiative, he went out of his way to do the right thing. But if we are going to teach about Reagan's legacy, Allen White's words must be heeded:
Reagan could have chosen to end the homophobic rhetoric that flowed from so many in his administration. Dr. C. Everett Koop, Reagan's surgeon general, has said that because of "intradepartmental politics" he was cut out of all AIDS discussions for the first five years of the Reagan administration. The reason, he explained, was "because transmission of AIDS was understood to be primarily in the homosexual population and in those who abused intravenous drugs." The president's advisers, Koop said, "took the stand, 'They are only getting what they justly deserve.' "
How profoundly different might have been the outcome if his leadership had generated compassion rather than hostility. "In the history of the AIDS epidemic, President Reagan's legacy is one of silence," Michael Cover, former associate executive director for public affairs at Whitman-Walker Clinic, the groundbreaking AIDS health-care organization in Washington. in 2003. "It is the silence of tens of thousands who died alone and unacknowledged, stigmatized by our government under his administration."
Revisionist history about Reagan must be rejected. Researchers, historians and AIDS experts who know the truth must not remain silent. Too many have died for that. (SF Chronicle Op-Ed)
So, sure, let's teach Reagan's legacy. But front and center of that legacy is the AIDS crisis. He stood by as millions died, including some of his supposed friends from his movie days. Reagan's inaction directly led to many needless deaths. Teach about Ronald Reagan, if for no other reason that our students will never forget an American tragedy. A tragedy whose scope could have been dramatically changed by a rapid response, but was instead ignored because the victims weren't favored classes.
And when our students ask about Reagan, sure, by all means, you can talk about how he spent the Russians into bankruptcy, or how he blatantly and illegally defied Congress, but what I'll remember most about Ronald Reagan will be the action that he didn't take. And his inaction speaks as much about the man Ronald Reagan as any action, or any myth the Right is trying to build up about him.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's right-wing Director of Finance, Mike Genest, is resigning from his post, after being the governor's point man on the budget since 2005. And after being the governor's point man on gutting the state these last few years, he is leaving with a few parting shots. Not at the current governor, but at one of the hopefuls looking to replace him: Steve Poizner. As Genest tells it to George Skelton, Poizner's 10-10-10 tax cut plan is a political non-starter as well as economically and financially ruinous:
"Tax cuts do tend to improve the economy," Genest says, "but it's very hard historically to find where they result in a revenue increase. You could argue that the best thing for the economy is to have no taxes at all, but people depend on some government services. Without them, we don't have any economy. If you don't believe me, look at Somalia."
Genest continues: "There's no basis to believe that a tax cut now would be affordable given the budget situation the state faces. I know Rush Limbaugh is going to hate me."
As for deeper spending cuts, Genest says: "You can always cut spending by 10%. The question is do you want to. We just tried to close parks, and that didn't work out. We tried to take money away from women's shelters and had to relent on that."
I like Genest's honesty here - he says they wanted to close parks and cause further harm to battered women, but that public outcry prevented this. One wonders if Democratic leaders will get the message: Arnold can be forced to back down if the Dems refuse to go along with his hurtful cuts by mobilizing public outrage. Skelton, for once, helpfully connected the dots and showed that the attack on government itself actually hurts instead of helps businesses and jobs:
There's also a dispute about whether businesses and wealthy Californians really are fleeing the state to escape high taxation. Many think any fleeing has more to do with high property costs, traffic congestion and subpar public schools.
"If high income taxes were chasing away rich Californians, high-income households would be more likely than low-income households to move to states without income taxes, but they aren't," the Public Policy Institute of California reported in July. And two years ago, the institute found that "when California businesses relocate, most stay within -- rather than moving out of -- the state."
This gets to a fundamental truth that most Californians understand, but that Poizner is determined to ignore: without strong public services, California is an undesirable place to live, work, create, and innovate. The best way to chase away businesses and jobs is to destroy our schools, wipe out our health care system, and let our transportation system become paralyzed through gridlock and dependence on oil.
In fact, a coalition of business groups have come together to fight for one of the big government spending programs designed to help California's crisis - high speed rail. I fully expect Poizner to oppose the high speed rail project, so I would like to see him explain that opposition to the corporations that comprise the SF Chamber of Commerce, the Bay Area Council, and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, who together founded the new HSR coalition.
Skelton also quoted from Lou Cannon, noted biographer of Ronald Reagan, who pointed out that the Republican hero himself supported several tax increases in California, including the largest ever (as a proportion of the budget) to close a budget gap in 1967. At least while he was governor, Reagan understood the role of government in providing for the California Dream.
It's a role Poizner refuses to understand, even when a fellow right-winger like Mike Genest tries to explain it to him. Although I'm sure it will play well with the teabagger base.
Our governor was on This Week this morning and as Arnold has a largely undeserved reputation for being an environmentalist George Stephanopoulos decided to ask him some questions on that topic. The answers were quite revealing, and should give Obama a major opening to attack McCain should he be interested in doing so.
Arnold: I have no interest in off-shore drilling off California. People can do it wherever they want...[McCain] can give us the rights to drill offshore but we will say "No thanks, we will not drill because we want to protect our coasts.
Stephanopoulos: That's more important than bringing down the price of gas, bringing down the price of oil?
Arnold: First of all, let me tell you, anyone who tells you drilling, nuclear power, alternative fuel, fuel cells will bring down the price right now is pulling wool over your eyes because we know that will all take at least 10 years.
Which is of course the point I made when this drilling nonsense first emerged. Offshore drilling will line oil company pockets and contribute absolutely nothing to the easing of gas prices. The "wool over your eyes" comment is priceless - let's hope the Obama campaign replays that quote often in the days and weeks to come.
Arnold took the opportunity to go further in explaining the need for a sustainable energy policy, praising Jimmy Carter's approach:
Arnold: But it doesn't mean we shouldn't do those things. The problem in America is not that we don't have ideas. It's that we aren't consistent. Jimmy Carter in the late '70s came in with a great energy policy. He talked about (couldn't make this out), tax credits for people investing in windmills, and all those things. And then President Reagan came in and scrapped the whole thing because oil prices came down and said it didn't make sense financially. Well, many countries all over the world stayed with the program even though oil prices came down. In Germany, with solar, they've been working on it for 30 years and they are number one in solar. I think that is what we need to do. We need to stay the course. We got to go and stay, "Here's the plan: here's how we get energy independent. We need renewables, we need nuclear power, we need alternative fuels. All of those kind of things. Let's do research. Let's never go off course, no matter who the administration is or no matter what the oil prices. Let's stay on course. That's the big problem in America.
It's a great set of points he makes - Carter's energy policy was smart, but Reagan came to power and promised America a painless return to the cheap oil days of the 1950s and led a conservative attack on sustainable energy and transportation alternatives. America certainly would have been better off had we continued with the late 1970s energy policy instead of abandoning it for cheap political gain.
Stephanopoulos went on to ask Arnold if he'd serve in an Obama cabinet, Arnold said he won't rule it out. That may be the main media takeaway from the interview, but the more important statements were those quoted above. Arnold does recognize the need for a more sensible energy policy and also admits that McCain isn't on board with it - instead McCain prefers to continue the failed policies of Reagan and Bush, policies that have caused gas prices to soar and thrown our economy into recession.
Of course we need to not go too far here. Arnold's own record on energy and the environment is not good. His water bond proposal would ruin the Delta and spend $9 billion on wasteful and damaging dams. He greenwashed himself with AB 32, but continues to target public transportation for crippling cuts. He has endorsed Proposition 1 on high speed rail but hasn't taken a leading role in campaigning for it. He could help implement a wind and solar strategy in California, along the lines of what Proposition 7 proposes, but prefers to remain silent on the matter.
So ultimately his appearance on This Week is more of the usual environmental grandstanding we've come to know and love from our governor. But this time it has political value for Democrats and Obama in particular, who would be smart to exploit these comments for all they're worth. It would be a good way for Obama in particular to start flipping the script and generating his own news for a change.
Today's LA Times has an interesting series of op-eds by historians and authors examining how past governors dealt with budget crises. It's an interesting look not only at how those governors all helped build the prosperous state that we're living off of today, but also how the real problem with the budget isn't a lack of pragmatism or deal-making, but ideology. And since the articles were commissioned by California Backward they are particularly important in shaping how we will respond to this crisis.
The profile of Pete Wilson by Greg Lucas and Ronald Reagan by Lou Cannon both argue that pragmatism and a willingness to deal is the key to budget success. Lucas' portrait of the contentious 1991 budget negotiations is designed to make us wistful even for Pete Wilson's leadership (if you forget 1994, that is). Wilson understood that tax increases were going to be necessary to balance the budget AND to get Democratic support, so he outflanked them by proposing his own increases and then spending the summer cutting the deals necessary to get Dems to agree and to turn enough Republicans, one by one, to his view.
Cannon's portrait of Reagan emphasizes similar qualities - that despite their "novice amateur" abilities, Reagan and his advisors knew that a tax increase was necessary to balance the 1967 budget and avoid crippling cuts. Reagan did so, and therefore helped continue California's remarkable 20th century economic expansion by supporting the government services that growth depended on.
What both these portraits miss - alongside Jim Newton's profile of Earl Warren, an unconvincing effort to see Arnold as a latter-day Warren, is the role of ideology in the budget. Warren, Reagan and Wilson were able to negotiate budget solutions because they did not define their Republicanism by a virulent anti-tax conservatism - even in Reagan's case, and Reagan had spent the 1960s leading the right-wing takeover of the California Republican Party.
They also governed at times when Democrats had spines. This was particularly true in 1991, where Democratic intransigence and demands for a better deal were all that forced Pete Wilson to propose and stick to his tax plans. Most of those taxes survived until the late 1990s, when led by Tom McClintock, the state legislature - including Democrats - voted to spend that tax money on foolish and short-sighted tax cuts rather than putting it in a rainy day fund or investing in infrastructure. During Arnold's term Democrats have caved in to his demands so often that Arnold no longer sees Democratic demands as worth taking seriously.
The ascension of Tom McClintockism within the Republican Party goes to the heart of the budget matter, showing that it is about ideology, not deal-making. How can today's Republican cut deals on taxes when the Howard Jarvis Association, CRA, and other right-wing groups are ready to destroy a Republican legislator's career for doing so? The only Republican not in thrall to those folks, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is instead in thrall to Milton Friedman's shock doctrine theories.
More important than procedural changes, however, are ideological ones.
In Brown's day, the country remained in the grip of the so-called New Deal consensus, a mood far more receptive to the idea that government played a constructive role in our society and had to be amply funded. Brown used to say of himself, "I'm a big-government man," a phrase that would nowadays be uttered by no politician, left, right or center.
It's true that Republicans tended to be more skeptical of government than Democrats, but they were neither unanimous nor intransigent on the point....
So I'm quite sure I know what Pat Brown would do if he were governor today, or at least what he would want to do and try to do. He would trumpet government's positive role, insist that those who benefit the most from our society should pay the most, and set about enacting policies to create a public sector that was funded both fully and fairly. In short, he would raise taxes, especially on the rich.
But the real question is not what Pat Brown would do. Given the differences in ideological climate between his day and ours, the real question is: Would we let him?
It's an excellent set of points he makes. I wonder though if California Backward will even listen to him. A group composed of centrist high Broderists is much more likely to prefer a call for more deal-making that will nevertheless produce conservative solutions to a rousing defense of the policies that made California great, and an attack on the conservative policies that have produced this budget crisis.
In 1983, 50 corporations controlled the vast majority of all news media in the U.S.
in 2000, the number had fallen to six. Since then, there have been more mergers and the scope has expanded to include new media like the Internet market. More than 1 in 4 Internet users in the U.S. now log in with AOL Time-Warner, the world's largest media corporation.
In 2004, Bagdikian's revised and expanded book, The New Media Monopoly, shows that only 5 huge corporations -- Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch's News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany, and Viacom (formerly CBS) -- now control most of the media industry in the U.S. General Electric's NBC is a close sixth.
Oh, boy, today's a cool news cycle. I mean, how can you not love the fact that every newspaper in the state is running some article about how the GOP is tearing itself apart. So, let's get right to it. On Sunday, Tom McClintock, thrice a statewide loser, argues that in fact his vision (you know, the one that lost three times) is the way the GOP needs to go. Well, I'm sure the state is just lining up to ditch the minimum wage and all those pesky consumer protections in exchange for vague promises of the market making everybody's life utopian. That's worked really well in the past, right? So, from the state's conservative leader:
"Today, I hear some say that we need to redefine who we are as Republicans," McClintock told roughly 200 people who hung around Sunday to listen to the final speeches of the California Republican Party's three-day convention. "I've got news for them. We don't need to re-define our principles, we need to return to them." (Oak Trib 9/10/07)
Well, first, I love that the GOP convention ditches the resolutions too, and that nobody stuck around to listen to ol' Tom. But, what are those values that Tom wants to return too exactly? Wait, I know! Ronald Reagan:
Bono agreed. "President (Ronald) Reagan renewed the hope of our nation shared his vision of America," she said during her address. (Desert Sun 9/10/07)
That would be Mary Bono, not the incredible lead singer of U2. Ronald Reagan was a person, flesh and blood, not a principle. During his tenure, the defecit balloned and we got involved in wars of choice. Is that the principle McClintock wants? Or is that Arnold's principle? I get confused, because everybody claims Reagan, because, "Me First" is a great principle to live by. Flip it...
OH. MY. GAWD. Mike Lawson just sold The Liberal OC to Red County/OC Blog! Yes, you heard me right... The Liberal OC sold out to the GOP Machine! Say goodbye to whatever bit of progressive action that we had in Orange County, as it has been co-opted by the vast right-wing conspiracy.
Follow me after the flip for more on this heart-wrenching tragedy...
Today, Markos Moulitsas, is the doctrinaire leftist publisher of the DailyKos "progressive" anti-war blog, railing against the moderation of candidates like Hillary Rodham Clinton and Harold Ford. But in the 1980's, by his own admission, Mr. Moulitsas was an unabashed Reagan Democrat, even working as a campaign aid to George H.W. Bush in the 1992 Presidential election. http://www.washingto...http://francislholla...