Every Republican wants to be Ronald Reagan reincarnated. At least that’s what GOP candidates say. But the 40th president probably wouldn’t feel comfortable running today.
First, he’d have a good laugh at the fear-mongering. For instance, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declared: “I don’t believe that I have ever lived in a time in my life when the world was a more dangerous and scary place.”
Reagan lived through World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War. He likely would explain that never in its history has America been as secure from serious threats.
Peter Hannaford, a longtime aide to Ronald Reagan, has died at 82. As the Washington Post puts it, after Reagan's term as governor ended in 1975, Hannaford "teamed with ex-Reagan aide Michael K. Deaver to handle radio broadcasts, newspaper columns and appearances that kept the presidential aspirant in the public eye" until his election as president in 1980. The Post obituary notes the last time Hannaford recalled sending Reagan an idea, in 1988 near the end of his presidency:
He had come across a saying attributed to a Chinese philosopher: “Govern a great country as you would cook a small fish.” Mr. Hannaford said he knew it would appeal to Reagan’s belief in applying only a light touch to free-market enterprise.
“I knew he would like it,” Mr. Hannaford said. “And sure enough, it was in the State of the Union speech.”
The first known libertarian may have been the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, who lived around the sixth century B.C. and is best known as the author of the Tao Te Ching. Lao-tzu advised, “Without law or compulsion, men would dwell in harmony.”
And in The Libertarian Reader I include selections from the Tao. Not chapter 60, which Reagan quoted, but other sections with similar ideas:
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Exterminate the sage [the ruler] and discard the wisdom [of rule],
And the people will benefit a hundredfold.
Without law or compulsion, men would dwell in harmony.
All things carry the yin and embrace the yang.
They achieve harmony through their interaction.
The more prohibitions there are,
The poorer the people will be.
The more laws are promulgated,
The more thieves and bandits there will be.
Therefore a sage has said:
So long as I “do nothing” the people will of themselves be
So long as I love quietude, the people will of themselves go
So long as I act only by inactivity the people will of themselves
The people starve because those above them eat too much tax-grain.
That is the only reason why they starve. The people are difficult to
keep in order because those above them interfere. That is the only
reason why they are so difficult to keep in order.
As health concerns for former President Carter mount, it’s nice to be able to look back on his time in the White House and see something remarkably positive. Carter’s deregulation of air travel, commercial trucking, rail shipping and oil have delivered substantial and ongoing dividends to Americans. In today’s Cato Daily Podcast (Subscribe: iTunes/RSS/CatoAudio for iOS), Peter Van Doren discusses how those policy changes occurred.
An e‑mailer reminds me that Carter’s pen also sealed the deal ending the longstanding prohibition on home brewing of beer for personal consumption. Anyone who appreciates craft beer today owes a small thanks to Carter for getting the feds out of the way of the small‐scale tinkerers who eventually became today’s craft beer entrepreneurs.
Fifty years ago today, the actor Ronald Reagan gave a nationally televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential nominee, Senator Barry Goldwater. It came to be known to Reagan fans as “The Speech” and launched his own, more successful political career.
And a very libertarian speech it was:
This idea that government was beholden to the people, that it had no other source of power is still the newest, most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man. This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self‐government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far‐distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.
You and I are told we must choose between a left or right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man’s age‐old dream – the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order – or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. Regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would sacrifice freedom for security have embarked on this downward path. Plutarch warned, “The real destroyer of the liberties of the people is he who spreads among them bounties, donations and benefits.”
The Founding Fathers knew a government can’t control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose.
Video versions of the speech here.
For libertarians, Reagan had his faults. But he was an eloquent spokesman for a traditional American philosophy of individualism, self‐reliance, and free enterprise at home and abroad, and words matter. They change the climate of opinion, and they inspire people trapped in illiberal societies. And these days, when people claiming the Reagan mantle push for wars or military involvement in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and other danger spots, we remember that Reagan challenged the Soviet Union mostly in the realm of ideas; he used military force only sparingly. George W. Bush, whom some call “Reagan’s true political heir,” increased federal spending by more than a trillion dollars even before the financial crisis. We watch the antigay crusading of today’s conservative Republicans and remember that Reagan publicly opposed the early antigay Briggs Initiative of 1978 (featured in the movie Milk).
And in those moments libertarians are tempted to paraphrase the theme song of All in the Family and say, “Mister, we could use a man like Ronald Reagan again.”
Would that the current assault on economic freedom would turn up another presidential candidate with Reagan’s values and talents. More on Reagan here and here.
One of the great libertarian victories of the past few decades was the tax revolt of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The inflation of the 1970s caused higher property taxes and income tax bracket creep, which led to California’s Proposition 13, the Kemp‐Roth tax cut bill, the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the 1981 tax cut, the deceleration of government spending, the further lowering of marginal rates in 1986 — and a long period during which economic growth exceeded government growth.
This story isn’t told often in history books and popular media. Even with the boom in histories of modern conservatism, which in many instances focuses on the reaction to socialism and the welfare state, there is rarely a sense of the important arguments that free‐market advocates were making. That’s why it’s important to have historians who understand economics and appreciate the value of limited government. One such historian is Brian Domitrovic, author of Econoclasts: The Rebels Who Sparked the Supply‐Side Revolution and Restored American Prosperity.
In the latest issue of Cato Policy Report, the Cato Institute’s newsletter for Sponsors and friends, Domitrovic has a lead article titled “Tax Revolt! It’s Time to Learn from Past Success,” where he tells the story outlined above. If you get discouraged about the possibility of positive change, you should read it. Or read it if you just want to know more about the history of movements for limited government.
Also in the January‐February Cato Policy Report: my editorial on Pope Francis, Nelson Mandela, and the longing for Utopia; leading scholars and policymakers on a century of central banking; and reports on NSA surveillance, jury nullification, and Cato’s recent policy studies.
Note that if you were a Cato Sponsor, you would get articles like this in your mailbox every month, along with the satisfaction of supporting the work of the Cato Institute. Become a Sponsor now!
Would you buy a foreign policy from this man?[/caption]
Imagine a world in which the Iraq War had gone exactly as marketed. The United States invaded in March 2003. The Iraqis, with the help of Ahmed Chalabi, rapidly transitioned to become a stable, liberal democracy allied with the United States against Iran. The marvelous and smooth transformation had ripple effects throughout the region: a handful of Arab states followed suit, and the United States had drawn down to under 30,000 troops in country by September 2003, setting up a basing agreement with the new Iraqi government to stay indefinitely. Few American lives were lost, the swamp of terrorism was drained, and an oil pipeline has just been completed running from Iraq to the Israeli port city of Haifa.
Imagine, at the same time, that opponents of the war, despite having gotten every major judgment about the prudence and consequences of the war comically wrong, had been vaulted to positions of power and prestige in foreign affairs commentary. Meanwhile, the war’s proponents, despite their support for a strategy that yielded huge strategic dividends for the United States at a low cost, were banished to the wilderness, heard from sporadically on a few blogs and at a think tank or two.
It would be strange, wouldn’t it?
And yet that situation is roughly analogous to the one in which we find ourselves today, except in real life the war was an enormous disaster, just as its opponents predicted, and the proponents of the war are the ones in denial about its implications. Foremost among the salespeople for war who have yet to come to grips with the facts are the members of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board.
But hey, let’s let bygones be bygones: they’ve got some advice for Mitt Romney in his upcoming foreign policy debate.
First, the good news: Even the editorial board of the Journal seems to understand that speaking openly about their plans for more wars would be bad politics. Accordingly, the Journal doesn’t “expect Mr. Romney to offer an explicit defense of the Bush Doctrine” and they worry about the implications of Obama charging Romney with wanting to get the United States into a third (and fourth) Middle East war. This is in keeping with the previous assurance of Bret Stephens (pictured above) that Romney wouldn’t start any new wars. Romney should deny wanting any more wars while doing a number of things that make them inevitable.
Second, the bad news: Instead of suggesting that Romney actually trim the neocon sail a bit, the article suggests Romney continue his strategy of wheeling out a fog machine and saying “leadership” and “strength” instead of discussing details. The American people who tune in Monday night deserve to hear some specifics. Not the level of specifics that would satisfy the people who think about international politics for a living, sure, but some specifics. Instead, while suggesting that Romney “offer a serious critique of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy that doesn’t descend to clichés,” the article suggests clichés but not seriousness.
Today POLITICO Arena asks:
Is Jeb Bush right that his father and President Reagan would find themselves out of step with today’s Republican Party because of its strict adherence to ideology and the intensity of modern partisan warfare?
Jeb Bush’s remarks about the Republican Party represent the views of some members of a party that, like the Democratic Party, has become more sharply defined than it was under his father’s or brother’s presidencies. Looking at the longer and deeper view, however, that’s not surprising, because the Bush presidencies were more anomalous than indicative of the party.
For much of the post‐War period the Republican Party, especially under the eastern establishment, was little but “Democrat‐lite.” That began to change with Barry Goldwater in 1964, suffered a setback under Nixon and Ford, but nonetheless continued under Governor and then President Reagan, who brought a fair measure of ideological discipline to the Party — affecting the Democratic Party in the process. (Compare the ideological opposition to Reagan to that of Ford, for example.) Despite the two Bushes thereafter, the intellectual and activist institutions that had underpinned the Reagan revolution continued to grow, especially as the Democratic Party itself became more polarized, and those forces increasingly influenced the Republican Party, encouraging it to stand for something, unlike the earlier “always‐in‐the‐minority” party — the party Democrats remembered fondly as the “reasonable” Republicans.
There were plenty of counterexamples to those developments, of course — the collapse of the Gingrich bubble late in 1995, the rise of the Tom DeLay opportunists, and the spending of Bush II. And there were issues that continued, and continue even now, to deeply divide members, like immigration and the drug war. But increasingly the two parties have become more sharply defined — “polarized,” if you prefer — as the 2010 mid‐term elections made especially clear. And contrary to the Washington establishment, that’s not a bad thing, because voters now have a real choice, not just a choice between two parties, both of which stand for essentially the same things, their respective candidates seeking simply to stay in power. Today, in the main, Republicans stand for the private sector and limited government, Democrats for the public sector and government services. We’ll soon see which course the American people want to take.