- - Monday, May 23, 2016

Should Republicans discard Ronald Reagan as a relevant political figure for today? Columnist Jonah Goldberg speaks for many conservative strategists when he writes: “Ronald Reagan is dead and he’s not coming back.” He was fine for his time, a great president, says Mr. Goldberg, but we have different problems today and shouldn’t keep invoking the Gipper when searching for presidents.

Really? My own view is that Republicans don’t celebrate Reagan nearly enough, largely because they have forgotten the totality of what he accomplished and have, unfortunately, ceded the prosperous 1990s to Bill Clinton, when, in fact, Bill became successful by plagiarizing Reaganomics.

President Reagan’s first two terms produced substantially lower tax rates for individuals and corporations, domestic (non-defense) spending restraint and deregulation, which resulted in the end of Jimmy Carter’s gas lines, a dramatic reduction in inflation, a jobs growth explosion and a major boom period that went 92 months without a recession — from November 1982 to July 1990. At the time, this proved to be the longest peacetime period of sustained economic growth in U.S. history.

The late, great economics writer Warren Brookes noted that under the Gipper, the percentage of low-income families was declining, since these folks were moving upward on the wage scale and securing major tax relief through higher deductibles and a tripling of the earned income tax credit. Six million of the poorest working Americans were dropped from the income tax rolls entirely, prompting the praise of even anti-Republican liberals. Black families, according to Brookes, made the most impressive gains.

And Reagan achieved something even more remarkable, which also had a profound economic and budgetary impact. He brought down the Soviet Empire without dragging this country into war. He gained this astonishing victory through rejuvenating our economy, rebuilding our military and engaging in cunning diplomacy. He squeezed Russia economically, placed deadly missiles into Europe that threatened Moscow itself and armed the Afghans with Stinger missiles, which forced the Russians out of the country they had brutally invaded. When Reagan refused to surrender the Strategic Defense Initiative at Rejkavik, Mikhail Gorbachev decided to end the Cold War, realizing his country couldn’t compete with the United States either economically or militarily.

Surely this is a record to be noisily celebrated, to remind voters about the gold standard of Republican rule. But Reagan’s achievements, shaped by a principled conservative philosophy, went beyond his eight years in office. The Democrats love to boast of the years of prosperity when Bill Clinton was in the White House, and few do more bragging than Hillary Clinton, who vows to put her husband “in charge of revitalizing the economy.” But Bill’s success, voters need to be constantly reminded, materialized because he capitulated to Reagan Republicans, who had politically pressured Mr. Clinton into accepting Reaganite policies. This is not partisan propaganda, but fact.

Mr. Clinton’s first two years in office ended in an electoral disaster for the Democrats. Determined to go on a high-tax, big-spending binge after winning the presidency in 1992, Mr. Clinton narrowly won a major income tax increase, but the Republicans blocked his other important initiatives, including a big-spending “stimulus” program, a major energy tax and Hillary’s nationalized health care plan. When 1994 rolled around and with Newt Gingrich leading the Republican charge with his Reaganite “Contract With America,” the GOP swept both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years.

The consequence: Mr. Clinton executed a policy somersault worthy of the Flying Wallendas. He became, well, Reaganized. He permanently ditched his wife’s health care plan, informing us that “the era of big government is over.” He now favored balanced budgets and apologized for having “raised [taxes] too much.” With the Republicans calling the shots, he enacted significant tax breaks for business and the middle class, including a 30 percent cut in the capital gains tax, and he signed a welfare reform law based on the highly effective plan enacted in California by then-Gov. Reagan. The measure proved stunningly successful, reducing caseloads nationwide by 50 percent and cutting child poverty in half.

Overall, the nation was clearly enjoying itself. Median family income was soaring. The unemployment rate had dropped to 4 percent by the end of Mr. Clinton’s presidency, the lowest level in more than 30 years. Joblessness for blacks and Hispanics had been sliced in half, down to 7 percent and 5 percent, respectively. The stock market more than doubled and between 1998 and 2000, a miracle occurred: We began to pay off the national debt in colossal chunks, in no small part due to the nearly $1 trillion “peace dividend” Reagan had brought the country with his victory in the Cold War.

Question: Isn’t it about time for truth tellers in the media — and there are some left — to puncture another Clintonian myth?

Allan H. Ryskind is a former a longtime editor and co-owner of Human Events, President Reagan’s favorite publication.

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