Opinion: It's Time to Move On From Reagan
And then I will exhort my fellow Republicans to move on.
This sentiment isn't fashionable right now, as the Great Communicator is more admired than ever. GOP leaders extol his bold tax and spending cuts, regulatory reform efforts, and success in staring down his Soviet adversaries. Democrats admire his PR skills and appreciate his ability to reach across the aisle to get things done.
But in truth, the Reagan revolution has been largely undone. Federal spending is higher as a percentage of GDP than at any time in the postwar era, and this year's record $1.5 trillion deficit will be nearly 50 percent higher than the entire budget was the last year Reagan was in office.
Top tax rates are way below the level prevailing in 1981, but the 40th president's landmark Tax Reform Act of 1986 has unraveled, and the Internal Revenue Code is longer, more confusing and more expensive to comply with than ever. There were nearly 75 percent more pages in the 2010 Federal Register than in 1986 -- with the crush of Obamacare regulations lying ahead. And passions on immigration -- addressed in a 1986 reform -- flame as never before.
Moreover, we are now as far away from the beginning of the Reagan era as it was from the Truman presidency, and face an equally different set of challenges. The Bush tax cuts extension has taken that signature GOP issue off the table. Simple swings of the budget ax won't help much with huge out-year entitlement obligations, and dealing with those now is harder than when the one-time union negotiator and then-Speaker Tip O'Neill shook hands on a Social Security deal they thought would stabilize the system for good. The cost of health care, now at the epicenter of earthshaking debates, was just beginning to bubble up as an issue during the tail end of Reagan's administration.
Huge defense outlays won't have the same effect in countering a Chinese economic and political juggernaut as they did in bringing down the craven but creaky Soviet Union. And, sorry to say, the Gipper's strategies in dealing with Islamic fundamentalists -- "cutting and running" (Lebanon) and dispatching emissaries with a cake and a Bible, then trading "arms for hostages" (Iran) -- don't entirely recommend themselves.
The social landscape also has shifted momentously since the days of the first Culture Warrior, with proportionately twice as many children born out of wedlock and, for the first time, more adults of prime marrying age single than wed -- both trends with enormous economic and sociological implications.
Ronald Reagan was decidedly the right man for his times. But in these very different days, the GOP needs a new messenger with a new message that finally, after a generation, takes his revolution to the next stage. Blunt instruments like budget, tax, and regulatory cuts must give way to re-imagining government's very nature. Mandates need to be set aside in favor of smarter and more collaborative approaches to regulation.
Our defense and national security structures need to be rethought and revamped to reflect new global realities and more complex threats. And the effects of government on family dissolution, and the resulting costs, need to be examined and addressed.
So, happy 100th birthday, Mr. President. We honor your memory, your historic accomplishments, your stands for freedom, your warnings about ever-expanding government.
And now, we heed your exhortation: "If you're afraid of the future, then get out of the way, stand aside. The people of this country are ready to move again."
Let's hope your party -- stuck for too long in the rut of Reagan-era nostalgia -- is as well.