Steven Hayward, a noted writer, political analyst, policy scholar and fellow at the Claremont Institute, is posting over at Powerline and has a brilliant takedown of Eugene Robinson’s sophomoric op-ed about Ronald Reagan in the Washington Post.
All right, it is beyond time to sort out the liberal claim, which Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson advances once again this week, that because Reagan raised taxes he couldn’t be counted among today’s conservatives:
“On the planet that today’s GOP leaders call home, Reagan would qualify as one of those big-government, tax-and-spend liberals who are trying so hard to destroy the American way of life. Some Republicans, I suppose, might be so enraptured by the Reagan legend that they are unaware of his actual record. I hate to break it to Sarah Palin, but Reagan raised taxes. Often. Sometimes by a lot.”
Unlike most of the liberals making this claim, Robinson at least points to two specific examples. First, he points to Reagan’s large tax increase his first year as governor of California, where, to close the $1 billion deficit he inherited from Gov. Pat Brown (out of a total budget of about $5 billion–equivalent to about a $16 billion deficit today), Reagan raised income and business taxes–the largest tax increase in state history at the time. Robinson conveniently forgets several facts. First, the total tax burden in California at that time was less than 6 percent of personal income, and the economy was booming. Today the total tax burden in California is close to 12 percent of personal income (a reflection of the runaway growth of government), and the economy is in the tank. Query for Robinson: does he think California’s deficit today is due to the state being undertaxed? I have no doubt how Reagan would answer that question today. From Robinson we can expect only equivocation.
There’s two important footnotes to the 1967 story: Reagan refused to agree to the legislature’s desire to institute income tax withholding, on the theory that “taxes should hurt.” Reagan understood the insidious nature of withholding (another “temporary” World War II measure that, like rent control took on a permanent life), which intercepts your money before you ever see it. (Reagan relented on this in his second term, when, because of inflation, short term borrowing costs for the state soared).
Second, many conservatives were not happy with Reagan for this in 1967. In fact he was booed at an opening day major league baseball game in the spring. But the hit Reagan took proved evanescent for several reasons, but the main one is that over the long run everyone could see whose side Reagan was on, and whose side his opponents were on. When the state budget accumulated a large surplus in Reagan’s second term, he wanted to give the whole surplus back to the taxpayers, which liberals revealingly called “an unwarranted expenditure of public funds,” since they truly believe all your money belongs to them. As Reagan said in a speech at the time, “I want you to know that I am just as frightened of government, even though I am now a part of it, as I have been these many years, and I believe being frightened and concerned with the growth of government is legitimate.” The tax bill he was forced to adopt, he underscored, “does not represent my philosophy of government. I still think the government of California costs the people of California too much.” Query for Robinson: can he find me one Democrat–just one, anywhere–Buehler, Buehler??–who talks like that about government.
Read it all.