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What Reagan Revolution?

With the election behind us and in the books and time being short because of the holidays, the Letters to the Editor section of the OC Register has been a great source of amusement of angst-filled conservatives bemoaning a bluer county and a bluer California and America for that matter. My favorite single factoid to share is that Democrats have won the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections, and as long as conservative Republicans want to keep doubling down on their candidates’ not being conservative enough for reason why they don’t win, my next favorite excuse is how today’s Republicans have abandoned “The Reagan Revolution” as a reason that proves conservative doctrine is the right direction for the nation.

I disagree of course. But I enjoyed KUCI Radio host Cameron Jackson’s letter to the editor in the Register from earlier this week.  Cameron writes:

IRVINE, Cameron Jackson: California Republicans, as well as those in Orange County, have declined in voter registration. Republican registration has dropped below 30 percent statewide and down to 41.5 percent from 55.6 percent in Orange County. In light of these numbers it should be no surprise that Republicans are losing voters given how the O.C. GOP leaders squandered the fortunes of the Reagan revolution.

The 1980s were a great time for America and for Republicans. We learned conservative ideals from a great leader, Ronald Reagan. His policies reduced regulation and taxation, while strengthening American foreign policy. We flourished in ways never imagined, given the 1970s morass.

Here in Orange County a new breed of Republicans was born. The likes of Michael Schroeder and Scott Baugh became king makers. They wrapped themselves in the American flag and spouted conservative talking points.

Solid majorities and unbeatable candidates willing to tow the party line at any costs validated Schroeder and Baugh’s power politics.

And from those king makers we received empty-suit candidates like, U.S. Reps. Dana Rohrabacher, Chris Cox, Ed Royce; O.C. District Attorney Tony Rackauckas; former Sheriff Mike Carona and Santa Ana Councilman Carlos Bustamante. These “Republican” politicians have produced nothing worthy.

Think about it. What signature piece of legislation or cause has occurred on the backs of anyone mentioned above? None have advanced conservatism, and, worse, some of them have been jailed, all while paying great lip service to conservatism with no moves to advance the cause. They rested on their laurels, squandered Reagan’s good work and lived the high life.

In the meantime, the Democrats did what they do best. They advanced ideas like abortion, powerful public-employee unions, increased taxation and regulation, government assistance, massive deficits and environmental causes. Former Gov. Gray Davis and former President Bill Clinton Democrats began to erode Reagan’s vision.

And where were our O.C. “conservative” leaders to counter this growing threat? They played Machiavellian politics at home and did nothing in Washington. They mostly moderated and joined sides with Democrats, fearing loss of Republican voters.

Democrats decimated the GOP because they fight for their ideas. Yet Reagan taught us that conservatism can win elections every time. Funny how our leaders who crave power so much would ignore a winning formula.

Reagan Revolution?  There’s a couple of terrific books out there on Ronald Reagan’s presidency that shed some light on his record.  “The Myth of Ronald Reagan, the Man who sold the World” by William Kleinknecht, and Will Bunch’s terrific tome


Allen Berra, a book reviewer for Truthdigg, did a nice job of summarizing Kleinknecht’s book very well:  “In a fiery and lucid introduction he writes, “This book is born of annoyance: a great bewilderment over the myth that continues to surround the presidency of Ronald Reagan. It gives voice to a vast swath of psychically disenfranchised Americans, millions of them, lumped most thickly in the urban areas on either coast, who never understood Reagan’s appeal.” Kleinknecht’s thesis is nothing less than that Reagan was the “obvious enemy of the common people he claimed to represent, this empty suit who believed in flying saucers and allowed an astrologer to guide his presidential scheduling. …” The great conundrum “is this: none of [the] unmistakable harbingers of American decline is being laid where it belongs-at the door of Ronald Reagan” [emphasis Kleinknecht’s].

In the tradition of most previous Reagan critics, Kleinknecht doesn’t try to draw a bead on Reagan from an ivory tower. He goes after Reagan from the blue collar on up: “He enacted policies that helped wipe out the high-paying jobs for the working class that were the real backbone of the country. … His legacy-mergers, deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, privatization, globalization-helped weaken the family and eradicate small-town life and sense of community.”

Reaganomics did create fortunes, but mostly for those at the top of the economic ladder; it also brought “a reversal in the slow gains that the working class and the poor had made in the previous two decades.”

During a month when Republicans dug in against Barack Obama’s stimulus plan, Kleinknecht’s words, written last year before the economic crash, ring clear. “Reaganism replaced Enlightenment thinking with the corrupted Romanticism that portrays free-market purism as an article of religious faith that is the real meaning of America. The answer to any of the economic challenges of the twenty-first century is to do nothing. Cut taxes, eviscerate all regulation of private enterprise, and trust the market to guide our fates.” If this sounds like hyperbole, then you weren’t listening to the Republican response to President Obama’s bailout proposal.”

Author Will Bunch’s book “Tear Down This Myth” exposes Reagan’s record further.  NPR reported this summary of Bunch’s book:

“It’s been very hard for the modern generation of Republicans to develop a leader … who has the kind of charisma that Ronald Reagan has had,” Bunch tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. In the absence of that charisma, Bunch says, the next generation decided to “borrow it” from the past.

The Reagan legacy credits America’s 40th president with winning the Cold War and turning the American economy around in the 1980s. But the truth, says Bunch, is that Reagan was a divisive president with only average approval ratings and “virtually zero support from African Americans.” Furthermore, he says, Reagan’s trickle-down theory of economics didn’t save the American economy, nor was the president responsible for “winning” the Cold War.

Here’s an excerpt from “Tear Down This Myth:”

The present was January 30, 2008, when four powerful men walked onto a freshly built debate stage in Simi Valley, California, seeking to control the past — most ironically, the American past that was at its peak in that very “Morning in America” year of 1984. They knew that whoever controlled the past on this night would have a real shot at controlling the future of the United States of America. Lest there be any doubt of that, the large block letters UNITED STATES OF AMERICA hovered for ninety minutes over the heads of these men — the last four Republican candidates for president in 2008 — who had made the pilgrimage to the cavernous main hall inside Simi Valley’s Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. This was the final debate of a primary campaign that had basically started in this very room nine months ago and now was about to essentially end here — in what was becoming a kind of National Cathedral to Ronald Reagan, even complete with his burial vault. The block letters were stenciled across the hulking blue and white frame of a modified Boeing 707 jetliner that officially carried the bland bureaucratic title of SAM (Special Air Mission) 27000, but bore the title of Air Force One from 1972 through 1990 — a remarkable era of highs and lows for the American presidency.

To many baby boomers, this jet’s place in history was burnished on August 9, 1974, when it carried the disgraced Richard Nixon home to California on his first day as a private citizen. But that was before SAM 27000 was passed down to Ronald Reagan and now to the Ronald Reagan legacy factory, which flew it back here to the Golden State, power-washed it clean, and reassembled it as the visual centerpiece of Reagan’s presidential library. It was now part American aviation icon and part political reliquary, suspended all deus ex machine from the roof in its new final resting place, with Reagan’s notepads and even his beloved jelly beans as its holy artifacts.

And for much of this winter night, the men seeking to become GOP nominee — and hopefully win the presidency, as the Republican candidate had done in seven out of the ten previous presidential elections — looked and felt like tiny profiles on a sprawling American tarmac under the shadow of the jetliner, and of Reagan himself. Fittingly, each chose his words carefully, as if he were running not to replace the hugely unpopular George W. Bush in the Oval Office — at an inauguration 356 days hence — but to become the spiritual heir to 1980s icon Reagan himself, as if the winner would be whisked up a boarding staircase and into the cabin of SAM 27000 at the end of the night and be flown from here to a conservative eternity.

As was so often the case, news people were equal co-conspirators with the politicians in creating a political allegory around Reagan. The debate producer was CNN’s David Bohrman, who’d once staged a TV show atop Mount Everest and now said the Air Force One backdrop was “my crazy idea” and that he had lobbied officials at the library to make it happen. He told the local Ventura County Star that the candidates were “here to get the keys to that plane.”

By picking Reagan’s Air Force One and the artifacts of his life as props for a Republican presidential debate that would be watched by an estimated 4 million Americans, CNN shunned what would have been a more obvious motif: the news of 2008. If you had been watching CNN or MSNBC or Fox or the other ever-throbbing arteries of America’s 24-hour news world, or sat tethered to the ever-bouncing electrons of political cyberspace in the hours leading up to the debate, you’d have seen a vivid snapshot of a world superpower seeking a new leader in the throes of overlapping crises — economic, military, and in overall U.S. confidence.

On this Wednesday in January, the drumbeat of bad news from America’s nearly five-year-old war in Iraq — fairly muted for a few weeks — resumed loudly as five American towns learned they had lost young men to a roadside bomb during heavy fighting two days earlier. Most citizens were by now so numb to such grim Iraq reports that the casualties barely made the national news. The same was true of a heated exchange at a Senate hearing involving new attorney general Michael Mukasey. He was trying to defend U.S. tactics for interrogation of terrorism suspects, tactics that most of the world had come to regard as torture — seriously harming America’s moral standing in the world. Meanwhile, it was a particularly bad day for the American mortgage industry, which had a major presence in Simi Valley through a large back office for troubled lender Countrywide Financial. That afternoon, the Wall Street rating agency Standard & Poor’s threatened to downgrade a whopping $500 billion of investments tied to bad home loans, while the largest bank in Europe, UBS AG, posted a quarterly loss of $14 billion because of its exposure to U.S. subprime mortgages. Such loans had fueled an exurban housing bubble in once-desolate places like the brown hillsides on the fringe of Ventura County around Simi Valley, and had been packaged and sold as high-risk securities.

That same day, nearly three thousand miles to the east, Jim Cramer — the popular, wild-eyed TV stock guru, and hardly a flaming liberal — was giving a speech at Bucknell University in which he traced the roots of the current mortgage crisis all the way back to the pro-business policies initiated nearly three decades earlier by America’s still popular — even beloved by some — fortieth president, the late Ronald Wilson Reagan.

“Ever since the Reagan era,” Cramer told the students, “our nation has been regressing and repealing years and years’ worth of safety net and equal economic justice in the name of discrediting and dismantling the federal government’s missions to help solve our nation’s collective domestic woes.”

But there would be no questions about economic justice or the shrinking safety net at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, the epicenter of America’s political universe, what with California’s presidential primary — the crown jewel of the delegate bonanza known as Super Tuesday — less than a week away. The GOP’s Final Four evoked the parable about the blind man. Each seemed to represent a different appendage of the Republican elephant — the slicked-back businessman-turned-pol Mitt Romney, the good-humored former Baptist minister Mike Huckabee, the fiery fringe libertarian Ron Paul, and Vietnam War hero and POW John McCain, a self-described “straight talker” on a meandering political odyssey.

Despite their unique and compelling stories and their considerable differences—both in background and in appeal to rival GOP voting blocs — each was apparently determined to stake out the same contrived identity. It was like an old black-and-white rerun of “To Tell the Truth” with four contestants all declaring: “My name is Ronald Reagan.”

Yes, Reagan cut taxes dramatically but in his time in office, he also raised taxes 11 times, he negotiated with terrorists, he traded arms for hostages, he cut and ran from Beruit after scores of servicemen were killed in a terrorist attack, he dramatically increased federal spending and the size of the federal government, he ignored the AIDS crisis, he granted amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants with no plan for reforming immigration, he created huge federal deficits, he created huge budget deficits, under his watch the United States transformed from a creditor nation to a debtor nation, Reaganomics was proven to be a complete failure, but he was very optimistic about the nation.

Today’s Tea Party would throw Reagan under the bus.

The takeaway from both books: Republican policies are bad for everyone but the 1 percent.

Am I leaving anything out?

From a county where the Nixon Library is a hop, skip and a jump to the Reagan Library in Simi Valley that is a little further away, if you really want a presidential library and a president to inspire you, go to the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.


  1. Noclib1 Noclib1 November 29, 2012

    Dan–we can only hope we see more articles like this throughout the media. I lived through the Reagan 80’s, the days of James Watts’ tenure at Interior when he said trees cause air pollution, the days of the rise of the Religious Right, and of Ed Meese. I think this was the era when Republicans began thinking it was their God-given right to run this country for their own purposes, using whatever means necessary to gain and stay in power. It was a long decline leading to George W. Bush and Michelle Bachmann. True conservatives in the mold of Robert Taft and Barry Goldwater are spinning in the graves!

  2. Jennifer Beall Jennifer Beall November 29, 2012


    If being a liberal in the O.C. Is such a popular thing why do so many of them run on conservative slates, basically deceiving the voters.
    I also have to ask are really happy with the way the state of California is being run?

    Just a few thoughts as you pound your chest 🙂

    Jennifer Beall
    Conservative activist

  3. Dan Chmielewski Dan Chmielewski Post author | November 30, 2012

    Jennifer — there are quite a few conservatives that show up on progressive slates too as you sort of have to in order to win in California. Yes, with the passage of Prop 30, looks like California might be poised to have a $1 billion surplus. Of course, if Prop 13 were to be reformed to focus on taxing commercial property, we can bring is between $6-$8 billion to state coffers without impacting the taxes grandma pays on her house.

  4. Jennifer Beall Jennifer Beall November 30, 2012

    Thank you for the response, to clarify you are happy with all of the spending and feel the state is run in a responsible fashion. As for the slates I find it completely hypocritical !

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