Saturday, May 15, 2010

Where Reagan Took Us

In the minds of millions of Americans, primarily conservatives, President Ronald Reagan set the standard for limited government, less regulation and a free market system. At the same time, money was no object when it came to national defense and it could be argued he was a strong states' rights advocate promoting the literal sense of the 10th Amendment.

He was adored by the anti-unionists for crushing the air traffic controllers union and abolishing the Civil Aeronautics Board which regulated airline routes. He tried but failed to erase the U.S. Department of Education while at the same time named a drug czar to oversee the destruction of the drug lords, who, the last time I looked, were alive and well, except for the in-fighting between themselves. .

Enactment of the Reagan political principles have ebbed and flowed during various succeeding presidential administrations but none has a more pronounced impact on American life than the loose regulatory climate created by President George W. Bush.

My purpose here is not to trash Reagan and George W. but to put their legacy into perspective as compared to the sound bites we hear on political talk radio and television, from the Tea Party, to conservative Republican leaders such as Rep. John Boehner and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Reagan ended the Cold War and during his two terms 20 million new jobs were created, inflation decreased to under 3%, unemployment about 5%. But, at a cost of an accumulated debt from $90 million to $2.7 trillion during the decade of the 1980s.

 In the pursuit of fairness, it must be stated that other than government accounting gymnastics, federal budgets are based on spending and collection of taxes and investments. The Clinton administration, except for its last year in 2000, enjoyed a budget surplus because of a robust economy.

In some respects, it was a facade. Earnings for middle class wage earners dropped about 2% annually and the economy was surging from the artificial bubble. Corporate salaries ballooned by as much as 200%.

By the time Bush II took office, with the help of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and a compliant Congressional leadership from both political parties, the House of Cards Reagan engineered came tumbling down.

First was Enron, the Texas energy brokers who duped regulators and screwed the state of California energy customers, among many, that triggered rate hikes to 10 times higher than they had been paying. It cost the governor of California his job in a recall election.

Then it was the housing market collapse in 2007 triggered by subprime loans to people who had no business grasping the American Dream and followed in 2008 by the financial banking institutions failing because the federal regulators were either asleep, watching porn, or too dumb to track the intricate market manipulations by a few math geniuses from Ivy League schools.

If that wasn't enough, we are now learning the fed agency regulating oil companies drilling offshore issued permits based on the word from Big Oil that the operations were safe and the chances of a major spill was nearly impossible even though they had no contingency plans to clean up the unlikely prospects of a spill a mile deep on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico.

A reasonable person would conclude that, yes, we need aggressive government regulation to help avoid these calamities. I don't have the answer to how much is too much. But I do know that President Obama is smoking something other than Marlboros when he says legislation is required to prevent for all time.a market collapse, a cure for health insurance atrocities and enforcement of safety standards preventing oil spills.

Let's look at some of those folks who advocate smaller government, demand government stop infringing on their freedoms and insist the 10th amendment is the rule of law, i.e., states rights.

One of the frequent refrains during the 15-month long health reform debate was that the legislation was the spread of socialism and a government takeover. Who can forget the image of the elderly lady at one of those hot August town hall meetings castigating the proposed law but yelling "Don't you dare take away my Medicare benefits."

One liberal blogger I came across points out that some in the Tea Party and some conservative Republicans argue for government to get off their backs. Yet these same people want the government to ban same sex marriage and abortions because it fits into their values system. He asks:

On one hand government is evil to you and you want to be free from it.  On the other hand you want to use government to intrude into the lives of other people.  How can you hold two diametrically opposed ideas in your head at the same time?

When it comes to smaller government, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is the progressive's favorite whipping boy who they contend comically described President Obama's stimulus plan as nothing short of a boondoggle.

Yet, within hours of the April 20 oil spill a mile deep under the Deepwater Horizons drilling platform the Republican Jindal was first to contact the Obama administration for federal funds the state needed to contain the spill.

Conservative columnist David Yglesias writing for Think Progress commended a column written by liberal columnist Dana Milbank of the Washington Post. Milbank chastised Jindal, and then other small government advocates Republican Sens. Richard Shelby, Jeff Sessions and Reps. George Le Mieux and Jeff Miller for flying over the gulf oil slick in a military aircraft.

He (Milbank) follows up with an excellent quote from Sessions who says “We’re here to send the message that we’re going to do everything we can from a federal level to mitigate this” forgetting all about his once-beloved 10th Amendment principles. 
At any rate, this kind of hypocrisy barely even rises to the level of hypocrisy. It’s an interesting sociological fact about members of the conservative movement in America that they like to talk about “small government” and/or “freedom” or “liberty” but there’s no reason to believe that in an operational sense the conservative movement is aiming at any of these things.

Yglesias concludes:

But an oil spill threatens people irrespective of class, so countermeasures have conservative fans. 

In other words, limited government rests upon whose ox is not being gored. 

The new love child of the Tenthers is the Arizona Republican legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer for passing an anti-immigrant law as a result of the federal government not enforcing our borders.

While copycat laws are being introduced in at least six other states, several states have used the 10th Amendment to fill a void found lacking in the federal government by allowing medical marijuana usage, same-sex marriage and in Oregon a right to die law.

But most of their activity is non-binding sovereignty resolutions with no legal force introduced by 37 state legislatures in 2009 and adopted by seven  -- Alaska, Idaho, Louisiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee. In 2010, Alabama joined that group.

The amendment is part of the Bill of Rights:  "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Legal scholars are unanimous that the 10th Amendment does not support state sovereignty such as seceding from The Union as suggested by Texas Gov. Rick Perry but are not in lockstep on economic recovery, mandated insurance coverage, marijuana laws and same-sex marriage because the Article's wording is too vague.

"To say that the 10th Amendment somehow empowers states or gives them state sovereignty is just reading way too much into the text," said Steven Schwinn, law professor at John Marshall Law School.. "The 10th Amendment just can't bear that weight."

The anger behind the so-called 'Tenther' movement comes from what advocates see as the federal government's forcing policies on the states -- most notably on health care reform, economic recovery measures and social issues.

Some critics point out that if states want to send a clear message to Washington -- and not just pass resolutions -- they would refuse federal money or other services. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford tried that but was sued by his Legislature and a state court ordered Sanford to accept and disburse the stimulus funds.

As the primaries take place and the November midterm elections in November approach, politicians of all political stripes will try to tap into the voter anger and promise no new taxes, less spending, smaller government, states' rights -- the complete enchilada with all the garnishes. 

And when those who make it back to Washington confront the first natural or man-made disaster, the first people they will look upon to bail them out is the federal government.

That's when they realize the "Nanny" government is the court of last resort and maybe all those regulations serve a purpose if they were enforced.

Perhaps Ronald Reagan did not have this in mind. But, that's how it turned out.

No comments: