Tag Archives: Ronald Reagan

‘Welcome back,’ ballooning budget deficits

Ronald Reagan and his fellow Republicans made lots of hay in 1980 about the “spiraling” budget deficit during that presidential election year. It totaled a whopping $40 billion.

The GOP presidential nominee’s campaign ridiculed those big-spending Democrats en route to a smashing landslide election victory over President Jimmy Carter.

Ah, yes. Republicans were the party of “fiscal responsibility.”

Hah! Not any longer. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the current fiscal year will end with an $800 billion budget deficit and will surpass $1 trillion by the next fiscal year.

Hey, what happened? Oh, it’s that tax cut that the Republicans wrote into law — at the insistence of Donald J. Trump, and the $1.3 trillion spending bill approved by Congress.

What happened to fiscal restraint? Where are the controls on runaway government spending? Aren’t congressional Republicans — who control the House and the Senate — supposed to rein in free-spending tendencies usually associated with liberal Democrats?

A Democratic president, Bill Clinton, managed to craft a balanced budget in the late 1990s with help from congressional Republicans. Then came Republican George W. Bush, who succeeded Clinton in 2001. We went to war at the end of that year, but didn’t increase taxes to pay for it. The deficit soared out of control.

Democrat Barack Obama came aboard in 2009 with the economy in free fall. He pushed a tax hike and a spending boost through Congress. The economy recovered. The deficit was pared by roughly two-thirds annually by the time he left office in 2017.

Now we’re hurtling back to Square One. The deficit is exploding.

And no one in power seems to care about things that used to matter a lot.

Trump reverses growth quotient

Paul Begala is an acknowledged Democratic partisan. He once worked for President Bill Clinton. He is no fan of Donald Trump.

Now that we’ve established that, I have to concur with something he has said about the president.

Whereas presidents — particularly those who come to the White House with a primarily outside-the-Beltway experience — usually grow in the office, Donald Trump is shrinking the office to fit his own shortcomings.

Begala mentioned how Presidents Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama all learned about the office, how they filled the White House with their presence. Trump has reversed that momentum.

I will add that of the examples Begala cited, all of them had prior government experience. Reagan served two terms as governor of California, Bush served a term and a half as governor of Texas, Clinton served multiple terms as Arkansas governor and Obama served in the Illinois state senate before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006.

Trump’s experience is totally unique. He never sought a public before running for president. He ran a large business. Trump answered to no one. He has demonstrated zero curiosity, zero humility, not a lick of introspection. He has said he’s never sought forgiveness. He won’t admit to making a mistake.

As some observers have noted, Trump’s political skill — which he exhibited while campaigning successfully for the presidency — hasn’t transferred to governing. He doesn’t know how to govern.

Donald Trump isn’t growing into the office he won. He is shrinking it to fit his own diminished profile.

Trump is shaking up the Cabinet. His closest advisers are bailing, or are being pushed out. His Health and Human Services secretary had to quit; his first national security adviser was canned; Trump has just fired the secretary of state; the veterans secretary is about to go; the current national security adviser may be canned; Trump has burned through four communications directors.

This all happened in the first 15 months of his presidency.

And the president would have us believe he is doing the best job in the history of the exalted office of the presidency?

Nope. Paul Begala is right. Donald Trump is shrinking the office.

Trump stokes the demagoguery machine at CPAC

Donald J. “Demagogue in Chief” Trump has fired ’em up at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

He has bellowed that if Democrats take control of Congress this year they are going to “take away your Second Amendment” rights to “keep and bear arms.”

Guns are on the top of people’s minds these days. A shooter went berserk in Parkland, Fla., killing 14 students and three educators in a killing spree that has thrown the nation into grief yet again.

So what does the president do? He goes to CPAC and sows terror in the hearts of the faithful. Democrats are going after the Second Amendment, he said.

I do not think that’s going to happen. History is an important guide here. Think about this for just a moment.

Democrats controlled the White House and Congress in 1964, a year after President Kennedy was murdered with a high-powered rifle in Dallas. Did they yank the Second Amendment away then? No.

Nor did they do so after President Reagan was shot and seriously wounded in 1981.

Democrats controlled Congress and the White House in 2009 and 2010. Congressional Democrats failed to reinstate the assault weapons ban.

Thus, Donald Trump is blowing it out his backside when he implies a repeal of the Second Amendment if Democrats take control of Congress. However, he had an audience that gave him lusty cheers when he tossed out that fiery rhetoric.

Are there ways to legislate some solutions to gun violence without taking away the Second Amendment? Yes. It just requires a concerted search for common ground to solve a quintessentially American crisis.

Demagoguery doesn’t cut it.

Trump needed reminder to show compassion?

Check out the picture. It shows you Donald Trump’s hands clutching some notes he held while he listened to the pleas of those who survived the Parkland, Fla., high school massacre.

I was truly ready to give the president unvarnished props for his listening to those who survived the shooting along with the loved ones of those who perished in the carnage.

Then this picture showed up.

I am struck by the last notation: “I hear you.” Yep. It seems the president needed crib notes to remind him to offer a word of compassion to the grieving survivors and family members.

I almost don’t know how to respond to this.

OK, I won’t beat up the president too savagely over this. I have a reason. He is far from the only politician to rely on notes.

Do you remember how President Reagan would carry 3-by-5 note cards into Cabinet meetings? How he would glance at them to remind him of the talking points he wanted to address?

Get this, too: A man who represented me in Congress used the same technique when he came to visit our editorial board at the Beaumont Enterprise in Southeast Texas.

The late Rep. Jack Brooks was a ferocious Democrat who pretty much detested almost any Republican he encountered. Brooks was not the least bit bashful about denigrating Ronald Reagan’s intelligence. He actually would chide the president over the way he depended on those note cards.

Brooks, though, did precisely the same thing when he sat down with us to talk about the issues of the day. Actually, Brooks often would launch lengthy soliloquies using the notes he held in front of him.

That all said, I get that Donald Trump is employing a tactic that others have done.

I’ll just add a final thought. The only reason I mention this at all is because the president has insisted many times since running for office that he is “like, a really smart person” who knows “the best words” and who attended “the best schools.”

Does an intelligent, well-spoken, well-educated man really need note cards to remind himself to say “I hear you”?

I guess this one does.

Deficit hawks have turned chicken

What has happened to the deficit hawks who used to dominate the Republican Party?

They have become chicken hawks, or just plain chicken.

Congressional Republicans used to rant, rail and express rage over budget deficits. Ronald Reagan derived a lot political advantage in 1980 by ridiculing the $40 billion budget deficit run up annually during the Carter administration.

Fast-forward to the present day.

Republicans are going to enact a tax cut that will blow up the deficit. It will add $1 trillion — or so — to the deficit over the next decade. That’s $100 billion annually.

But here’s the ironic aspect of this deficit business.

A Democratic president, Bill Clinton, managed to craft a budget that produced a surplus by the end of his presidency. He had help from Republicans in Congress, but the point is that the president and the GOP congressional leadership managed to cooperate and work together for a common good.

Another Democrat, Barack Obama, also managed to take huge bites out of a trillion-dollar-plus annual budget deficit. By the time President Obama left office, the budget deficit had been slashed by about two-thirds annually.

There were tax increases along with targeted budget cuts.

Did the GOP members of Congress give the president any credit? Nope. Didn’t happen. They instead changed the subject by targeting the Affordable Care Act, concocting reports of “dismal failure.”

But here we are today. A new president has taken over. He has sought desperately to achieve some kind of legislative “victory.” Republicans in both congressional chambers are poised to give it to him.

At what cost? Oh, yes. The deficit is set to grow once again. The one-time Party of Fiscal Responsibility has changed it stripes.

A serious political maverick has passed from the scene

John McCain likes wearing the “maverick” label.

In truth, U.S. Sen. McCain is a novice in the league of mavericks compared to one who has just died.

I refer to former U.S. Rep. John B. Anderson, the one-time Illinois arch-conservative Republican-turned civil rights activist. Anderson died Monday at the age of 95.

He is best known as an independent presidential candidate who, after losing the GOP nomination to Ronald Reagan, ran for president on his own. He didn’t win any electoral votes in 1980. He did, however, post the seventh-best independent candidate’s finish in the history of presidential elections.

I became smitten by the thought of this candidate actually winning the presidency. President Carter was under heavy criticism for (a) his handling of the Iranian hostage crisis and (b) the national economy. I couldn’t vote for Ronald Reagan. So I began to look at Anderson’s candidacy.

I knew about his beginning as a staunch conservative Republican congressman and his early opposition to the Civil Rights Act. I also witnessed his transformation from his former self to what he became.

He was a maverick’s maverick.

I was editor of the Oregon City (Ore.) Enterprise-Courier during the 1980 campaign. I consulted with the No. 2 man in the newsroom and we concluded that Anderson was the best of the three men running for president. With that, I drafted an editorial endorsement of Rep. Anderson. I turned it in to the publisher.

It took my boss no time at all to kick it back to me. “No can do,” he said. “We’re going with Reagan,” he informed me. So … we did.

But I gave it my best shot.

During that campaign, Anderson delivered a speech in which he said, in part: “The credit belongs to the man (who knows) the great enthusiasm, the great devotion and spends himself in a worthy cause, who if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place will never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

John Anderson the maverick was neither “cold” or “timid.” He delivered his policy statements in a booming voice.

And to this day, I still believe he was the best choice in 1980.

Ronald Reagan would be aghast at GOP’s internal strife

I wasn’t a fan of President Ronald Reagan. I voted against him twice, in 1980 and 1984.

As the years have gone on and as I look back at the late president’s legacy, I am struck by one element of the manner in which he governed. He governed with a measure of good will toward his foes.

Yes, he could blister liberal Democrats with the best of ’em. He did so with a touch of humor. You’ve heard as well about his personal friendship with the late Democratic U.S. House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill.

President Reagan also crafted what he called the “11th Commandment,” which was that “Republicans shall not speak ill of other Republicans.”

That “commandment” has been tossed into the crapper, onto the scrap heap, burned, torn to shreds. You name it, today’s Republican Party has abandoned the 11th Commandment with a vengeance.

Don’t misunderstand: I don’t have a particular interest in seeing Republicans lock arms, hug each other’s necks, sing from the same hymnal page. I’m just amazed as I watch GOP officials lambaste each other how irrelevant their idol’s admonition has become in today’s climate.

The most glaring and daring example of Republican cannibalism involves Roy Moore, the Alabama candidate for the U.S. Senate. He is accused of making improper advances on underage girls. Congressional GOP leaders want nothing to do with this guy. Moore in return as all but declared political war on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; other senators are backing McConnell, with many — if not most — of them withdrawing their endorsement of Moore. They believe the accusers’ account of what Moore allegedly did.

What might the former president think of all this? What might President Reagan say to his fellow Republicans? Indeed, would the president stand with the Alabama candidate or would he choose to believe the man’s accusers?

This isn’t The Gipper’s Republican Party. Of that I am certain. Indeed, my strong hunch is that President Reagan’s affection for the likes of Speaker O’Neill might subject this once-beloved political figure to much of the intraparty condemnation he once banned.

Where does Trump acquire his political capital?

One of the many things that confound me about Donald Trump is how this man expects us to believe he has this huge cache of political capital stored up.

He keeps yapping and yammering about the “historic” nature of his presidential election victory in November 2016. When you think about it, Trump’s victory was “historic” in a certain context.

He lost the popular vote by record margins to Hillary Rodham Clinton but still managed to win the Electoral College by cobbling together precisely the right pluralities in three battleground states that voted twice for Barack H. Obama. So, there’s a certain bit of history that was made.

But then he took office and began boasting about the “landslide” victory he won. I consider landslides to be of the type that President Johnson rang up in 1964 and President Nixon scored in 1972. The political rule of thumb has been that a winning presidential candidate rolls up “landslide” with a 10-percentage point popular vote; LBJ and Nixon both rolled to victories that exceeded 20 percentage points. President Reagan’s re-election victory in 1984 came close to matching his predecessors’ victories.

The current president has nothing even remotely approaching that kind of political capital as he seeks to push his agenda forward. He doesn’t behave with a semblance of knowledge of just how flimsy his electoral mandate really is.

The 21st century’s first presidential election ended in 2000 with the winner, George W. Bush, garnering fewer popular votes than his opponent. President Bush, though, realized the truth of his election from Day One of his presidency and sought immediately to work with Democrats. He enlisted the late liberal lion, Sen. Ted Kennedy, to help him push some education reforms through Congress.

Has Donald Trump extended anything approaching an olive branch to those who oppose him? For that matter, have Democrats in both congressional chambers sought to reach out to the president?

No on both counts.

Still, it simply demonstrates graphically to me that the president has none of the political capital about which he boasts.

If only he would learn the harsh reality of the nature of his victory.

The Gipper would be a sad Republican today

Ronald Reagan once coined a well-known commandment for fellow Republicans to obey.

“Thou shalt not speak ill of fellow Republicans,” according to the former president’s 11th commandment.

Wherever he is, the late president would be mighty steamed at what is transpiring within his beloved Republican Party. Present-day GOP members have turned on each other. They are attacking each other with teeth bared, knives drawn, with bloody brass knuckles.

Who, do you suppose, is the lead attack dog? I believe I would hang that label on the president of the United States, Donald John Trump.

The president has thrived in this contentious intraparty environment. His so-called “base” sticks with him through thick and thin, even as he trashes the party leadership. This Republican vs. Republican mentality has seeped down through the political ranks.

The recent Alabama special GOP primary election provides a clear example of GOP cannibalism. Roy Moore, the winner of the primary runoff, took dead aim at congressional establishment Republicans; he aligned himself with Trump. So did the man he defeated, U.S. Sen. Luther Strange, who Trump backed in the primary; Strange held up Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as an example of what is wrong with the party.

All across the land, we’re seeing Republicans attacking Republicans. Right here in the Texas Panhandle, for instance, the Randall County GOP wants to oust Republican Texas House Speaker Joe Straus because Straus isn’t “conservative enough” to suit the zealots who comprise the Randall County party leadership.

Tennessee U.S. Sen. Bob Corker is savaging the president for lacking the “competence” to lead the nation; Arizona U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake has excoriated the GOP president for his lack of core conservative principles; former Trump political strategist Stephen K. Bannon vows to go to war with any Republican who challenges his former boss’s agenda.

What do you suppose President Reagan — who today’s conservatives hold up as their paragon of political purity — would think about all of this? My guess is that he would have none of it.

***

OK, I’ll answer a question that might be on the minds of some readers of this blog: Do I really want the Republican Party to make peace within itself?

To be totally candid, umm … no.

It’s the ‘optics’ that keep bedeviling the president

Donald J. Trump had to know about the damage done by his long-distance feud with San Juan, P.R., Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz.

The president surely knew it would be better for him to make nice with the mayor who he had criticized for her “poor leadership” after she criticized the federal response to Puerto Rico’s suffering in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s savage beating.

I fear he didn’t act on that when he went to Puerto Rico. He engaged in at least one peculiar public-relations stunt when he was video recorded tossing rolls of paper towels at a crowd of well-wishers. Someone will have to explain to me what that was supposed to tell us about the president’s concern for those U.S. citizens who are suffering from the hurricane’s devastation.

Then he sat in a meeting with local officials — which included Mayor Cruz — and said that Puerto Rico has cost the United States “billions of dollars, but that’s all right.” I heard that and thought, “Huh?”

The president keeps fluffing this part of his job description, the one that labels him “comforter in chief.”  He’s not making the grade.

President Reagan donned that mantle perfectly after the shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986; President Clinton did it as well in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995; and of course, President Bush stood in the Twin Tower rubble, bullhorn in hand after 9/11, and said “the world will hear all of us soon.”

And can anyone forget the sight of President Obama leading a church congregation in a rendition of “Amazing Grace” at the memorial for the victims of the Charleston, S.C., massacre?

Trump hasn’t yet been able to demonstrate the capacity he needs to show in these times of intense national grief.

Puerto Ricans are suffering. Yet the president treats his visit there like some sort of performance on his part.

He’ll get another chance on Wednesday when he flies to Las Vegas. He’ll get an opportunity to show Americans he cares about that community’s suffering after the madman opened fire at the hotel and casino, killing 59 people and injuring 500-plus more in a hail of automatic weapon fire.

Do you have faith that the president will become comforter in chief?

Me, neither.