It’s behind the NYT privacy-wall, but it’s a good read. I’ve excerpted the most relevant parts.
Maybe Mr. Obama was, as his supporters insist, simply praising Reagan?s political skills. (I think he was trying to curry favor with a conservative editorial board, which did in fact endorse him.) But where in his remarks was the clear declaration that Reaganomics failed?
For it did fail. The Reagan economy was a one-hit wonder. Yes, there was a boom in the mid-1980s, as the economy recovered from a severe recession. But while the rich got much richer, there was little sustained economic improvement for most Americans. By the late 1980s, middle-class incomes were barely higher than they had been a decade before ? and the poverty rate had actually risen.
Given that reality, what was Mr. Obama talking about? Some good things did eventually happen to the U.S. economy ? but not on Reagan?s watch.
For example, I?m not sure what ?dynamism? means, but if it means productivity growth, there wasn?t any resurgence in the Reagan years. Eventually productivity did take off ? but even the Bush administration?s own Council of Economic Advisers dates the beginning of that takeoff to 1995.
Similarly, if a sense of entrepreneurship means having confidence in the talents of American business leaders, that didn?t happen in the 1980s, when all the business books seemed to have samurai warriors on their covers. Like productivity, American business prestige didn?t stage a comeback until the mid-1990s, when the U.S. began to reassert its technological and economic leadership.
I understand why conservatives want to rewrite history and pretend that these good things happened while a Republican was in office ? or claim, implausibly, that the 1981 Reagan tax cut somehow deserves credit for positive economic developments that didn?t happen until 14 or more years had passed. (Does Richard Nixon get credit for ?Morning in America??)
But why would a self-proclaimed progressive say anything that lends credibility to this rewriting of history ? particularly right now, when Reaganomics has just failed all over again?
Like Ronald Reagan, President Bush began his term in office with big tax cuts for the rich and promises that the benefits would trickle down to the middle class. Like Reagan, he also began his term with an economic slump, then claimed that the recovery from that slump proved the success of his policies.
And like Reaganomics ? but more quickly ? Bushonomics has ended in grief. The public mood today is as grim as it was in 1992. Wages are lagging behind inflation. Employment growth in the Bush years has been pathetic compared with job creation in the Clinton era. Even if we don?t have a formal recession ? and the odds now are that we will ? the optimism of the 1990s has evaporated.
This is, in short, a time when progressives ought to be driving home the idea that the right?s ideas don?t work, and never have.
Barack goofed. Reagan was, indeed, a talented politician, but as a government official he was dreadful. And not just economically. He fundamentally changed the direction of America, but it was in a bad direction, and unfortunately too many Americans haven’t gotten the memo.
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