Monday, October 26, 2009

Reagan was right, but he did not get elected in 1932

Ronald Reagan won the 1980 Presidential Election by campaigning against government. After almost 50 years of uninterrupted government growth had created a bloated beauracracy, his argument that "government is not the solution to the problem, it is the problem" had traction. In 2008 Barack Obama was swept into office by a sudden populist desire for more government. When about 30 years of deregulation and hands-off federal policy culminated in a financial crisis that came very close to destroying the world economy, the American public wanted the government to remedy the situation. I generalize here because in both cases there were a significant number of the electorate who dissented from the majority opinion, but in a democracy the voice of the majority of the people does mean something. I suggest that in the United States, this is how our system works. It is ugly and imperfect, leaving many dissatisfied and angry, but we first veer to one extreme and then to the other, with no attempt to correct our course until things get bad enough to force action.

These lurching shifts are due to the way the parties in our two party system have chosen to define themselves, namely Republicans wish to limit government and Democrats wish to increase it. There is no thought in either party of tempering or altering these philosophies as the situation demands. While office holders may govern in a sensible way, they are not allowed to campaign honestly, their constituents demand strict adherence to the party doctrine. So for instance, President George W. Bush bailed out Bear Stearns and AIG, in total violation of party ideology, because it was necessary given the situation. However, a Republican could not run for office promising to do something like this.

I have startling news for you: the people on the other side are not idiots. They have good reasons for believing as they do; their beliefs hold a part of the truth. It's too bad they can't use the other part too. I say this about both Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals.

So Reagan's 1980 policy was right for the time and situation, but it would not have worked in 1932, and he certainly could not have gotten elected then had he run the same campaign. There were problems created by Reagan's policies, as there were problem's created by New Deal policies, and no doubt will be by Obama's actions. But as I said, our system is ugly. It is necessary from time to time to change course, and this is how we do it. While you might not agree with these specific examples, I don't see how you can deny that the continual practice of either party's pure doctrine will eventually lead to catastrophe.

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