Sunday, February 6, 2011

What would Reagan tell Obama?

Does Reagan's ghost linger in the White House?
Barack Obama and I have at least one thing in common.  We both came of age in the era of Ronald Reagan and the Pax Americana.  While Obama was attending Columbia University and becoming a community organizer, I was growing up in a small town in northeast Georgia.  What we learned from President Reagan was vastly different, however.  Obama grew to oppose all that Reagan stood for, while admiring his charisma and political prowess.  I grew to appreciate the truth of Reagan’s words and beliefs.  If Obama really admires President Reagan, he should look past his personality and the mere fact of his political success to see effectiveness and truth of the ideas behind Reagan’s actions. 

The first and most obvious thing that President Obama should learn from President Reagan is that economic freedom works.  That President Obama’s push for more centralized economic planning, more government spending, and more taxes has not worked should be obvious to anyone by this point.  President Obama has spent (and printed and borrowed) trillions of dollars to little effect.  Unemployment has stabilized at a higher rate than when he took office and the economy as a whole has become mired in the doldrums in spite of Obama’s assurances that the recession is over.  (Georgia’s unemployment rate has consistently been even higher than the national average during Obama’s tenure.)  A plethora of government programs designed to spur growth and create jobs have all failed.

President Reagan would tell Barack Obama that “Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.”  President Reagan’s economic policies were almost diametrically opposed to those of President Obama.  Years of policies resembling Obama’s had fueled inflation in the 1970s.  To fight inflation, Reagan and Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker attacked inflation by cutting the money supply, cutting federal spending, and cutting taxes.  These actions caused the economy to contract sharply in the first two years of Reagan’s presidency.  His approval ratings plummeted but he stayed the course.  Ultimately, President Reagan’s “voodoo economics” (which became “Reaganomics” when they started working) beat back inflation and ushered in a long period of dynamic economic growth.

If President Obama continues on his course of spending, borrowing and printing, the effects will be similar to what the nation experienced in the 1970s.  Inflation is already a concern as Ben Bernanke’s “quantitative easing” strategy floods the market with new dollars.  Dick Morris recently pointed out that most GDP growth is accounted for by the rising prices in the Consumer Price Index. In other words, the economy is not really growing.  It just looks that way because things are getting more expensive.

History has repeatedly shown that low tax rates and low government spending are an effective means of creating economic growth.  Four times in the past hundred years, US presidents (Harding, Coolidge, Kennedy, Reagan, and Bush) have cut taxes and each time the effect has been positive.  In contrast, Obama’s policies reflect those of Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt that turned a recession into the Great Depression.

If so, Obama should listen for his advice. (Elizabeth Cromwell)
President Reagan would also probably tell President Obama that “History teaches that wars begin when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap.”  The United States has the strongest and best equipped military in the world, but it is worthless without the will to use it.  If tyrants feel that they will be unchallenged, then they are more likely to attack both their neighbors and their own countrymen.  This is in evidence throughout history as well as in our own time.  Dictators like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez flout the UN while cracking down on dissent at home and exporting violence abroad.  Hosni Mubarak clings to power while sending out his police and party thugs to attack peaceful demonstrators.  It is up to the US to lead the way in challenging these men.  Otherwise, as the Gipper put it, “To sit back hoping that someday, someway, someone will make things right is to go on feeding the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last--but eat you he will.”  War is more likely when we don’t stop dictators early. 

Events in the Middle East directly affect us here in Georgia.  There have been many Georgians killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan).  The best way to ensure that our children do not have to fight is to face down evil ourselves.  As President Reagan put it, “There is no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there is only one guaranteed way you can have peace–and you can have it in the next second–surrender…. Admittedly there is a risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson in history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement….”

The best hope for peace is through freedom.    President Reagan also believed that “A people free to choose will always choose peace.”  President Obama should adopt the freedom agenda of Presidents Reagan and Bush.  In 2009, President Obama missed a golden opportunity to support groups opposed to the Iranian government when they took to the streets to protest fraudulent presidential elections.  By failing to push for Mubarak’s immediate resignation and cutting off aid to Egypt in reprisal for government violence, President Obama may actually push the Egyptian people toward the radical Muslim Brotherhood.  The US has backed Dictator Mubarak for far too long.  It is time to back the democracy groups.

Finally, President Reagan would tell President Obama that there is more to being a great communicator than smoothly delivering speeches.  President Reagan would say that a truly great communicator communicates great ideas.  Reagan did not try to bamboozle the country into becoming something different.  His messagecame from the heart of a great nation--from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries.”  To Reagan, the Reagan Revolution was not something new and untested; it was a “great rediscovery, a rediscovery of our values and our common sense.”

President Obama can save his presidency if he takes President Reagan’s advice and follows his example.  If not, unemployment is likely to remain high, the economy will continue to be stagnant, and the federal debt will continue to rise.  If that is the case, it will be up to conservatives and the American people to take one last bit of advice from President Reagan:  “…  sometime when the team is up against it and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all they've got and win just one for the Gipper.”

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