Paul Revere by Cyrus Dallin, North End, Boston



Sunday, January 25, 2009


For all those conservatives who believe Ronald Reagan said government is the problem. Think again.

I'd like to hear from my conservative friends what they think of this.

Republicans love to invoke Reagan, but if he’s watching right now, the Gipper is probably “smacking himself on the forehead, rolling his eyes and wondering who in the world these clowns are,” speculates former GOP Congressman (and longtime Reagan backer) Mickey Edwards in the LA Times. Today’s would-be Reaganites believe all government “is the problem,” and that small government is inherently better than big. “This is all errant nonsense,” writes Edwards, “wrong in every conceivable way.”

“In America, government is us,” Edwards reasons. What matters isn’t the size of government, but the limits of its powers. Bush Republicans obviously don’t get this, but Reagan did. In his famous inaugural, he said that “in the present crisis…government is the problem.” But he went on to say, “Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it’s not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work.” A sentiment echoed by Obama in his address.

Reagan wouldn't recognize this GOP

The Gipper may be the patron saint of Limbaugh and Coulter, but he'd be amazed at what's been done in his name.

"The Republican Party that is in such disrepute today is not the party of Reagan. It is the party of Rush Limbaugh, of Ann Coulter, of Newt Gingrich, of George W. Bush, of Karl Rove. It is not a conservative party." - Mickey Edwards

January 24, 2009

In my mind's eye, I can see Ronald Reagan, wearing wings and a Stetson, perched on a cloud and watching all the goings-on down here in his old earthly home. Laughing, rolling his eyes and whacking his forehead over the absurdities he sees, he's watching his old political party as it twists itself into ever more complex knots, punctuated only by pauses to invoke the Gipper's name. It's been said that God would be amazed by what his followers ascribe to him; believe me, Reagan would be similarly amazed by what his most fervent admirers cite in their desire to be seen as true-blue Reaganites.On the premise that simple is best, many Republicans have reduced their operating philosophy to two essentials: First, government is bad (it's "the problem"); second, big government is the worst and small government is better (although because government itself is bad, it may be assumed that small government is only marginally preferable). This is all errant nonsense. It is wrong in every conceivable way and violative of the Constitution, American exceptionalism, freedom, conservatism, Reaganism and common sense.

In America, government is ... us. What is "exceptional" about America is the depth of its commitment to the principle of self-government; we elect the government, we replace it or its members when they displease us, and by our threats or support, we help steer what government does.A shocker: The Constitution, which we love for the limits it places on government power, not only constrains government, it empowers it. Limited government is not no government. And limited government is not "small" government. Simply building roads, maintaining a military, operating courts, delivering the mail and doing other things specifically mandated by the Constitution for America's 300 million people make it impossible to keep government "small." It is boundaries that protect freedom. Small governments can be oppressive, and large ones can diminish freedoms. It is the boundaries, not the numbers, that matter.What would Reagan think of this? Wasn't it he who warned that government is the problem? Well, permit me. I directed the joint House-Senate policy advisory committees for the Reagan presidential campaign. I was part of his congressional steering committee. I sat with him in his hotel room in Manchester, N.H., the night he won that state's all-important primary. I knew him before he was governor of California and before I was a member of Congress. Let me introduce you to Ronald Reagan.

Reagan, who spent 16 years in government, actually said this:"In the present crisis," referring specifically to the high taxes and high levels of federal spending that had marked the Carter administration, "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." He then went on to say: "Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it's not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work." Government, he said, "must provide opportunity." He was not rejecting government, he was calling -- as Barack Obama did Tuesday -- for better management of government, for wiser decisions.


Time said...

Ronald Reagan was not a neocon, neither was George Bush Sr.

People my confuse this point because so many neocons (Cheney, etc...) worked for both of them.

If Reagan had actually done what he said (cut taxes AND cut spending) he would not have had a 4-1/2 Trillion dollar debt.

If Reagan was so smart about the Soviets, he would have known that they were destroying themselves, and saved the money he put into our defense to try and break the USSR. Some would say that 4-1/2 Trillion dollars was well worth breaking up the USSR, but was it necessary?

Smaller government and lower taxes sounds fine, but I've never seen the Republicans do that. The only balanced budget in 40 years was under President Clinton.

Ruth said...

The criminal mind has been hard at work for eight years, disproving the wingers' ideology. Reagan was pretty awful, but he didn't put into high office the very people who most wanted to break the laws that make up the rule of law.

dmarks said...

Time: "Ronald Reagan was not a neocon, neither was George Bush Sr."

Nor were Bush "Jr" and Cheney. Cheney was a conservative at the time of Reagan. He was not a "neo".

"The only balanced budget in 40 years was under President Clinton."

No. Every single Clinton budget was out of whack. The national debt went up each one of Clinton's years. It increased about $1.6 trillion under Clinton, and it increased every single year. There were no balanced budgets under Clinton.

Sure, $1.6 trillion is a lot less than the amount it went up under George W. Bush. But it is still nothing to be proud of, and rather irresponsible.

Back to Reagan...

Gordon said...

And neither is Cheney a neocon. Shouldn't you actually learn what a descriptive term means before you start tossing it around as an epithet?

"Smaller government and lower taxes sounds fine, but I've never seen the Republicans do that. The only balanced budget in 40 years was under President Clinton."

True, although Clinton had a Republican congress nudging him along. He also benefited from the end of the Soviet Union, which let him cut defense spending by half.

I'd love to have that congress of the latter 90's. It was a different bunch from today.

Arthurstone said...

Clinton didn't cut defense spending in half. 17% is the generally accepted figure.

Happy to clear that up.

Arthurstone said...

For what it's worth the National Debt has increased under every administration since tv mid 1970s. The increase under Clinton was at a far slower rate than RR or, in particular GWB.

And I agree GWB isn't a 'neo-con' he is just an old fashioned crook dressed up in a bit of patriotism and Jesus.

Arthurstone said...

For what it's worth the National Debt has increased under every administration since tv mid 1970s. The increase under Clinton was at a far slower rate than RR or, in particular GWB.

And I agree GWB isn't a 'neo-con' he is just an old fashioned crook dressed up in a bit of patriotism and Jesus.

Shaw Kenawe said...

True, although Clinton had a Republican congress nudging him along. He also benefited from the end of the Soviet Union, which let him cut defense spending by half.

I'd love to have that congress of the latter 90's. It was a different bunch from today.

Do Democrats get credit for anything?

I have to chuckle. I've always read in the conservative blogsphere, and by conservative pundits, that the horrible 9/11 attacks were Clinton's fault.

Now Gordon suggests that Clinton's balanced budgets and reduced deficits were the result of being "nudged" along by a Reppublican Congress, oh and the Soviet Union.


dmarks said...

Arthur: That was pretty much correct, once you factor out the obligatory meaning-free insult in it.

TAO said...

All I want is SMART government, something that is efficient and effective. I really do not need the bureaucrats where ever they are building their little kingdoms and refusing to cooperate with each other.

Reality is government will continue to grow, as it always has, I have always given credit to Carter and Clinton for doing the most to slow down the growth...but reality is the departments need to see themselves as providing a service rather than as little fiefdoms of egos and budgets.

Then deal with the budget.

Put everything on the budget rather than hiding it in 'off budget' items or supplemental budget items. Then do not hide items in departments where the money will NOT be spent. Then sit down and add to the budget a percentage of the existing debt that must be paid and a percentage to fund our underfunded liabilities to make them fully funded when they need to be.

Then we can acknowledge exactly what our government costs, what wars cost, and make informed decisions rather than hurling meaningless slogans around.

The people who actually believe that we spend more on social services than we do on defense are in for a REAL eye opener....

Time said...


In 1999 the United States Treasury recorded a surplus of 99 billion dollars for the federal budget. You can go to the United States Treasury web site (that's where I got my figures) and check it out.

Other interesting facts: In 1980 the federal debt was just under 1 trillion dollars. Today the federal debt is at 10.6 trillion dollars.

During that same 28 year period the Executive branch (white house) has been controlled by Republicans for 20 years, by Democrats for 8 years, and only Clinton had a budget surplus - per United States Treasury facts. Check those facts by going to the United States Treasury web site, as I did.


I'm still looking at the official U.S. Treasury figures, which dispute what you say.


I will take Cheney's word for his description for his own political philosophy.

He stated, " I agree with the ideology of those who call themselves neoconservatives, but I do not call myself a neo-conservative."

It is a description without a difference as far as I'm concerned, from Mr. Cheney himself.

I might agree with you about President Bush, only because I have no clue what ideology he follows, and I wonder if he does. He claims to be "in sync" with his Vice President, politically.

Feel free to visit my blog at: for my opinions (feel free to tell me I'm full of it), but I take official U.S. government stats as a debate starting point, especially on the numbers.

TAO said...

Ah, Time...

The government likes to do funny things with the budget....

Like hide expenditures for defense in the budgets for other departments. It likes to put together the budget and then follow up with 'off budget' and 'supplemental budget' items.

They like to put urban programs (food stamps) into budget that benefit rural districts (agriculture) so that there is something for everybody in a bill...

Real creative bunch...then they put things in the budget but do not spend the money as budgeted and that becomes an 'unfunded' or 'underfunded' liability...which I guess translates into "maybe next time..."

Arthurston said...


Please don't go all sensitive on us. Sorry I left off the smiley-face emoticon.

US National Debt

1980. $1B

1988. $2.6B

1992. $4.4B

2000. $5.6B

2008. $10B

The Clinton era kind of jumps out.

Arthurstone said...

Typo. Typo. Typo.

Those figures are Trillions (T) not Billions (B).

My iphone sort of compresses things and I goof now and again.

Conservative said...

Unfortunately, it's a tactic that can't work for Democrats -- it worked for Reagan because a large portion of the country considers itself conservative, and there were/are a lot of conservative Democrats. But while you may have moderate Republicans, you don't have liberal Republicans... liberals go Democrat. So Obama and his liberal policies (withdraw and lose the war, raise taxes, bigger gov intrusion/regulation of environment/businesses/health care) will certainly win over liberal Democrats and perhaps liberal independents... but there are no liberal Republicans to win over.
The very idea that a Bill Clinton or a Barack Obama can be compared to Ronald Reagan is preposterous. Bill Clinton, little accomplishments, small goals. Barack Obama an empty suit with NO accomplishments... Compare that to his take down of the Soviet Union and pride he instilled in all Americans.

He is what he is....I distrust him, and that's what makes me sick..

dmarks said...

arthur: "Those figures are Trillions (T) not Billions (B)."

And after a while, we might start to be talking real money here!

dmarks said...

conservative: "So Obama and his liberal policies (withdraw and lose the war..."

From the information I have been seeing, Obama's planned troop withdrawals from Iraq are hardly any earlier than what McCain planned and what G.W.Bush supported. I've heard Obama use strong wording about beefing up the presence in Afghanistan and making a stronger effort there.

Am I missing something here? It just doesn't appear to be anything like an about-face.

Time said...


I understand that, but all administrations do the same thing, so I think it's fair to use the Treasury dept's numbers.

The whole war numbers have been off the budget. Part of the debate can be how the numbers are "fixed, or spun."

Bush is saying that he came in office with a recession and so he's leaving office in a recession, what's the big deal, I wasn't that bad.

Please, he grew the national debt by more than any President and has left us with a financial mess. But according to him it was no worse than the financial shape Clinton left us. Let's talk reality.


The national debt clock showed 10.8 Trillion at the end of 2008, just 800 billion more than you printed.

What sticks out is the debt run up by Republicans vs Democrat.

Obviously there is "spinning" of the numbers, but to have a 99 billion dollar surplus in 1999 and still show a growth in the national debt by 2001 (when Clinton left office) is not a mystery.

I'll stick with the officially recorded numbers, knowing there is more behind them. After all, the spinning and hiding of numbers goes on all sides.

Shaw Kenawe said...

Barack Obama an empty suit with NO accomplishments...--Conservative

Not to put too fine a point on it, Conservative, but Obama managed to go from being unheard of 4 years ago to being elected President of the United States of America.

If you were able to accomplish that same feat in 4 years, would you not feel a tad bit proud of yourself?

Only 43 men in the 220 years of presidential elections have accomplished that not so small feat. [Gover Clevland served 2 interrupted terms--so Obama is the 44th TERM of the presidency, but the 43 MAN to be president.]

I've read too many conservatives who write that Obama has accomplished nothing--as though managing to get elected the Leader of the Free World was "nothing."

Please stop the silly talk.

Compare that to his take down of the Soviet Union and pride he instilled in all Americans.--Conservative

Reagan didn't "take down" the Soviet Union. And I actually saw almost 2 million Americans brave the freezing cold on Tuesday to come to joyously welcome in their new president. Did you have cotton in your ears and blinders on to avoid seeing the truth of this nation's utter joy and happiness?

Over 70% of Americans approve of him, and they are FILLED with pride for their country.

This is another conservative talking point that is, well, pointless.

How you guys can look at the facts and pretend what you write is true, is fascinating.

But be careful. Your continual avoidance of reality will keep you and your party in the minority.

Start by facing facts, then working on a conservative philosophy that will appeal to ALL Americans.

dmarks said...

Time said: " but to have a 99 billion dollar surplus in 1999"

There was no surplus in 1999. The national debt went up every year Clinton was in office, including that year. There was a deficit in 1999: the government ended up more in red at the end of the budget year than when it began. Yes, if you end up owing more money, it's the opposite of a surplus.

Check the "officially recorded numbers" on the national debt.

Shaw: "Start by facing facts, then working on a conservative philosophy that will appeal to ALL Americans."

A holy grail, indeed. There's not even anything like a liberal/left philosophy that appeals to all Americans.

TAO said...

I think it is WAY TOO early to claim that Obama is nothing but a stuffed shirt!

He has been in office less than a week.

I also believe that liberalism, or Progressives, as they call themselves today have got themselves a fine organization, a bunch of young, idealist workers and are highly motivated.

While on the conservative side you have a bunch of old tired white people. After 30 years of conservative values, conservative revolution, contracts with America, and all of that a whole new generation of American voters has grown up and they believe that the last 30 years represents conservatism and they reject it.

Good for them! The torch has been passed and a new generation is moving forward leading this country.

Obama understood something none of the old guard of both the right and the left understood and that is why he is President and he has a mandate.

That is why he is instilling pride in America for a whole new generation of Americans....just like Reagan.

Now the old guard of the liberal democrats can fight him and hurt themselves and the old guard of the conservative republicans can fight him and hurt themselves but the reality is he is a game changer and he has left the old ways and the old guard in the past...for both parties.

I do not know what history will write about him but I cannot see how he will serve less than two terms but I know that Politics as usual will not defeat him and for proof you can ask Hillary Clinton and most of the establishment liberals and everyone of the establishment conservatives/Republicans.

Personally, I am glad to see a new generation with a new perspective taking over because I see it as a renewal for America...and the last 8 years of the same old same old from the old guard has been absolutely matter what political beliefs you hold.

Arthurstone said...


All this growth in the national debt. By far the largest on the RR, Bush 1 & Bush 2 watches and Clinton is 'irresponsible'. The only one it seems. Well done.

dmarks said...

Arthur: Actually, I was saying that Clinton was "irresponsible" in order to head off claims of his fiscal responsibility. I did not intend to say he was the only irresponsible one, but I can see how it looks like I implied that. You were right to call me on this.

Yes, they all were pretty bad with budgets. All irresponsible, from RR through GWB. The debt did not soar as much under Clinton, but it still soared and increased a lot. That is a better way to say it, I think.

Tao: "I think it is WAY TOO early to claim that Obama is nothing but a stuffed shirt!"

Right now, there is indeed some sort of gap between his promises and accomplishments. If things go well for him, he'll get some things accomplished and start to fill that shirt in short order.

Time said...
February 3, 2008
Updated: February 11, 2008

During the Clinton administration was the federal budget balanced? Was the federal deficit erased?

Yes to both questions, whether you count Social Security or not.
This chart, based on historical figures from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, shows the total deficit or surplus for each fiscal year from 1990 through 2006. Keep in mind that fiscal years begin Oct. 1, so the first year that can be counted as a Clinton year is fiscal 1994. The appropriations bills for fiscal years 1990 through 1993 were signed by Bill Clinton's predecessor, George H.W. Bush. Fiscal 2002 is the first for which President George W. Bush signed the appropriations bills, and the first to show the effect of his tax cuts.


The Clinton years showed the effects of a large tax increase that Clinton pushed through in his first year, and that Republicans incorrectly claim is the "largest tax increase in history." It fell almost exclusively on upper-income taxpayers. Clinton's fiscal 1994 budget also contained some spending restraints. An equally if not more powerful influence was the booming economy and huge gains in the stock markets, the so-called dot-com bubble, which brought in hundreds of millions in unanticipated tax revenue from taxes on capital gains and rising salaries.

Clinton's large budget surpluses also owe much to the Social Security tax on payrolls. Social Security taxes now bring in more than the cost of current benefits, and the "Social Security surplus" makes the total deficit or surplus figures look better than they would if Social Security wasn't counted. But even if we remove Social Security from the equation, there was a surplus of $1.9 billion in fiscal 1999 and $86.4 billion in fiscal 2000. So any way you count it, the federal budget was balanced and the deficit was erased, if only for a while.

Update, Feb. 11: Some readers wrote to us saying we should have made clear the difference between the federal deficit and the federal debt. A deficit occurs when the government takes in less money than it spends in a given year. The debt is the total amount the government owes at any given time. So the debt goes up in any given year by the amount of the deficit, or it decreases by the amount of any surplus. The debt the government owes to the public decreased for a while under Clinton, but the debt was by no means erased.

Other readers have noted a USA Today story stating that, under an alternative type of accounting, the final four years of the Clinton administration taken together would have shown a deficit. This is based on an annual document called the "Financial Report of the U.S. Government," which reports what the governments books would look like if kept on an accrual basis like those of most corporations, rather than the cash basis that the government has always used. The principal difference is that under accrual accounting the government would book immediately the costs of promises made to pay future benefits to government workers and Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries. But even under accrual accounting, the annual reports showed surpluses of $69.2 billion in fiscal 1998, $76.9 billion in fiscal 1999, and $46 billion for fiscal year 2000. So even if the government had been using that form of accounting the deficit would have been erased for those three years.

-Brooks Jackson
Congressional Budget Office, "Historical Budget Data," undated, accessed 28 Jan. 2008.

dmarks said...

Time: For every one of the 8 Clinton years, the national debt increased. So the answer is no to both questions.

I've seen some deceptive ways to cook the numbers so it looks like there was a surplus, including not counting interest on the national debt. How many of us would make our household budgets and claim that interest payments on our mortgages don't count at all?

This page has national debt charts. Note that the debt always increases during the Clinton years, even if it is increasing very slowly at one point toward the end. This is because there were no surpluses for any of the Clinton years.

The always-increasing trend is shown here also. This graph show it is as a hole always getting deeper.

dmarks said...

USA Today also lays it out:

"The federal government keeps two sets of books. ....
The set the government doesn't talk about is the audited financial statement produced by the government's accountants following standard accounting rules....The Clinton administration reported a surplus of $559 billion in its final four budget years. The audited numbers showed a deficit of $484 billion."

Looks like a difference between press-release fluff and cold-hard numbers.

Time said...

Statistics (and numbers) like beauty are in the eye of the beholder.
The same numbers can be seen in many different ways, and which numbers to include in the equation can differ.
That's why I choose to use the official U.S. Treasury numbers. They are consistent throughout many administrations.
The U.S. Treasury shows a budget surplus during the Clinton administration.
Also, the report I cited did look a different ways to look at the numbers and STILL showed a surplus in all the different ways they adjusted the numbers.
I would consider USA Today the press release fluff, not the United States Department of the Treasury.

dmarks said... is the source of the information in the last graph, "this graph". That is the US Treasury Department.

From "TreasuryDirect is brought to you by the U.S. Department of the Treasury Bureau of the Public Debt"