Is Bruce Bartlett an Impostor? Was Reagan?


At the Chronicle of Higher Education–well worth reading even if you izzn't a college gradjiate, much less a gradjiate student or perfesser–Alan Wolfe says Dubya "may be the most anti-intellectual president of modern times" in a commentary on Francis Fukuyama's latest and Bruce Bartlett's Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. Wolfe also accuses Bartlett of a bit of ideological dissembling along the way:

More a libertarian than a conservative, [Bartlett] still believes that radical tax cuts, even if they do not starve the beast of government, can stimulate economic growth in the long run, thus shrinking deficits by raising revenue. That idea used to be called "supply-side economics." Originally developed by the economist Arthur B. Laffer, supply-side economics is as unproven as the starve-the-beast hypothesis. If one believes that government can play a positive role in providing health care or protecting the natural environment, moreover, Bartlett's faith in laissez-faire is also dangerous, threatening, as it does, the sense of fairness that makes democratic government legitimate. Still, even if Bartlett's own ideas are debatable, he does such a good job demonstrating the pernicious consequences of Mr. Bush's bad ideas that he forces readers to think about better ones.

Whole thing here. (Hat tip: Arts & Letters Daily)

We're excerpting Bartlett's book in the June ish of Reason (subscribe already!). Bruce's affiliation with our mag goes back to 1977, when he wrote about the politics of Pearl Harbor (not online, alas). His most recent byline is from 1995–wasn't that a time!–when he participated in this roundtable on tax reform with Cato's Ed Crane, Americans for Tax Reform's Grover Norquist, and tax consultant Dan Pilla. (Bruce has also been known to haunt Hit & Run's comments section.)

Here's one question I've always had for Bruce (and other defenders of the "Reagan Legacy"): How do all the tax increases that Reagan signed into law fit with the guy's "legacy" as a shrinker of government, etc.? Leaving aside social issues (including the drug war, which Reagan cranked up like some PCP punk from TV's Quincy) and the consolidation of power in Washington even as he marched under the banner of the "New Federalism" (which turned out to be a lot like the Old Federalism, only different).

Bruce does a solid job of documenting all the various tax increases Reagan put into action in Impostor, and he notes in this column that RWR put his name on "the largest peacetime tax increase in American history" and that he jacked Social Security taxes, an "increase that lives with us still, since it initiated automatic increases in the taxable wage base." Thanks, Dutch! When it comes to spending, arguably the only measure that matters, Reagan wasn't as bad as Dubya or LBJ, but he also wasn't as good as Clinton or Nixon, either, when it comes to increases in overall discretionary spending or total outlays. Does Reagan get a pass on this sort of stuff because of his rhetoric? Because he cut top marginal rates and simplified (relatively speaking) the tax code? Because he had the indigo blue hair of a comic-book hero?

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  1. A couple of weeks ago, Bartlett was on the Colbert Report and terrified the audience by seriously suggesting that the departments of transportation and education along with medicare should be disbanded. Colber did the jokey “ultra-conservative” thing by suggesting to get rid of DoT and DoE, and when Bartlett responded yes and went further, there was a most amusing silence.

  2. In answer to the question at the bottom of the post, I would say yes. Reagan — whom I liked a great deal — gets a pass because of the tax cuts, his work in helping to stiff the Soviets, some deregulations, etc. But of course the record is very, very patchy by the standards of say, an ideal libertarian president (has there ever been one?)

    Someone once said that Republicans were born to break libertarian hearts.

  3. Reagan did not have a Republican majority in both houses to work with. If he had what Bush 2 has to work with I tend to think spending and taxes both would have been reduced.

    Reagan’s worse legacy is the war on drugs.

    Best legacy, punking the Soviet Union

  4. Don’t forget bitch-slapping Quadafi…

    I especially like the way the feckless Frenchies had their embassy jump in front of one of our bombs…what a shame.


  5. Reagan was an imposter. He talked a good game on the evils of government regulation, deficit spending, etc. but in the end, left office worse off. (Even so, he was a vast improvement on LBJ, Nixon, and Carter)

    Dubya started out as an imposter, running in 2000 on balanced budget and humble foreign policy. Prior to 9/11 Bush showed his colors with steel tariffs, no child left behind etc. After 9/11, Dub dropped the facade and openly lead as FDR II (bigger, badder, and this time it’s for Jesus). His open abuse of power in the name of the WOT overshadows his long list of egregious offences, including: Farm Bill, Prescription Drugs, Highway Bill.

    Only on Social Security reform and immigration is he libertarian friendly. Tellingly these are two issues he has no achievements in.

  6. Bruce’s affiliation with our mag goes back to 1977, when he wrote about the politics of Pearl Harbor (not online, alas).

    Get it up there! Are there embarassing things in those archives? Did you advocate martial law to stop race riots or something?

  7. “(not online, alas)”

    Is there any plan to go back and put the pre-1993 material on-line as PDF scans or anything like that?

  8. Americans value style over substance. Reagan talked conservative, but what did he actually do that was so conservative? Did he roll back abortion? No. Did he reintroduce prayer into schools? No. Even his “beat-down” of the Soviet Union was accomplished by Reagan quietly morphing into a quasi-liberal and beginning a dialogue with Gorbachev. At the time the movement Conservatives were appalled by Reagan’s behavior. For all the rhetoric, Reagan like Bush was basically a servant of big government and corporate interests. This is why the one area where both Presidents had some real effect was regulation of business. Under both Presidents the EPA was severely weakened, labor laws mostly unenforced and government oversight of private business is generally far laxer than under Clinton or Carter. But I think that’s about it as far as truly “conservative” or “libertarian” accomplishments are concerned.

  9. Randolph Carter-I saw that. A couple of times he tried to play along with Colbert, too, but instead of bing funny it just came off as creepy.

  10. Ronnie’s secret was that he knew what America wanted to hear and he knew what Americans wanted to get. He knew that when Americans said they were tired of big government, they meant they wanted government benefits to go to the middle class (farm subsidies, for example) rather than the poor (welfare, of course).* In foreign affairs, he knew that they liked tough talk and zero casualties.

    George Bush, Sr. and Bill Clinton spent 12 years cleaning up after Ronnie’s party, but since we won the Cold War and have the strongest economy in the world (well, for another year at least), who’s complaining?

    *In the 1980 primaries, Ronnie actually tried to tell farmers they ought to want a free market rather than “parity” (fixed prices). When that didn’t fly, he pretended he didn’t know what parity was. By the 1986 congressional campaign, he’d learned his lesson. He bragged that his administration had paid out more in agricultural subsidies than all previous administrations combined! (Funny that he never bragged about spending money on poor kids.)

  11. “Is there any plan to go back and put the pre-1993 material on-line as PDF scans or anything like that?”

    A Friend of Reason has been working for a long while now on a huge repository of many publications that includes, many other things, PDFs of Reason back to the first issue. But it’s been in beta since I joined the staff several years ago, and I have no idea when it’ll be ready for public launch.

  12. Those who talk of disbanding the Dept of Ed get pegged by the opposition as “anti-education”, “anti-child”, or whatever typcial FUD they are spewing at the moment.

    It’s not about abolishing education, for crissakes, it’s about local control. At least at the state level.

    What’s the justification for having an Education
    Bureacracy at the federal level anyways? What have they brought to the table? No Child Left Behind? (and the Civil Rights Act is not part of the DofE)

  13. Can I pile on Ronnie?

    Besides the indefensible war on drugs, let’s not forget that he vigorously supported terrorism in Nicaragua! Woo-hoo!

  14. I clearly remember hi saying on TV that he wasn’t planning to actually reduce spending, was only planing to reduce the rate of increase in spending.

  15. As a Ph.D. who gets to deal with “intellectuals” every hour of every day, why would we remotely want the President of the United States to be an intellectual? I cannot think of anything more frightening.

  16. …why would we remotely want the President of the United States to be an intellectual?

    Well, considering the record I don’t know considering that Wilson (the only official intellectual) was pretty much a disaster.

    And I would say two of the most intelligent presidents were Hoover and Carter. I leave anyone to draw their own conclusions.

    On the other hand it’s bad to have a blatantly anti-intellectual president like Harry Truman too.

  17. Good lord, I wouldn’t describe Carter as
    intellectual. Bill Clinton = Rhodes scholar.
    Jimmy Carter = Bible-thumpin’ do-gooder…

  18. Reagan was so goyish.

  19. Good lord, I wouldn’t describe Carter as

    That’s why he was in the second paragraph. Hoover wasn’t an “intellectual” either, just very intelligent.

    Whether it’s in business or government intellectuals rarely function well in command positions.

    The greatest American generals have rarely been drawn from the top of the academic class at West Point.

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