Social Question

ETpro's avatar

Is it time to rethink the anti-government meme the USA adopted in the Reagan Years?

Asked by ETpro (34552points) June 27th, 2010

Ronald Reagan was a master communicator. He often turned his smile and cracker-barrel quips toward creating an abiding distrust of government among the US people. “Government is not the solution to our problem;” he said, “government is the problem.” Of course, Reagan had a specific crisis in mind when he said that, but the idea has gained the strength of a meme— particularly on the right in the US.

There is certainly some truth in his statement, “The government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” But there are just as clearly limits to that truth. Consider the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and how Reagan’s logic of “Gubment Bad” would apply to it.

“If it moves, tax it.” Deepwater Horizon moved, so since taxing things that move is always wrong, oil companies should pay no taxes. Right?

“If it keeps moving, regulate it.” Drilling rigs do keep moving, so there should be no regulation of them. Same would go for automobiles, planes, ships, etc. All safety regulations and speed limits are evil and must be repealed. Right?

“And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” Deepwater Horizon doesn’t move anymore. So the government should do nothing about it because any expenditure would be potentially subsidizing it and it doesn’t move now so we shouldn’t subsidize it. Right?

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35 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

Obama was elected to do exactly that: to return the US to its normative form of taxation and government. That’s one of the reasons he is so viciously despised on the Right.

marinelife's avatar

I think there is nothing to rethink, because thinking people rejected Reagan’s hypothesis the first time.

thekoukoureport's avatar

Just watch “and the band played on” to see just a small example of reagan policies in action. Government may have been able to stop millions from dying from AIDS, but I guess Reagan thought the free market would take care of it.

janbb's avatar

As @marinelife says, many of us have never thought that, and those who do see no reason to stop, unfortunately.

ipso's avatar

It’s not anti-government, it’s less-government.

Many people feel that our government is not responsible for solving everyone’s problems, most particularly AIDS.

The idea was not adopted in the Reagan years; it was adopted by some of our country’s founding fathers:

“A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicity.” -Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address.

Ronald Reagan is one of the worst presidents this nation has ever seen – not because he was a conservative, but because he was not conservative enough. The national debt trend on his watch speaks for itself.

The Depository Institutions Act also passed with his unreserved help.

ETpro's avatar

@ipso I fully agree with your assessment of the Reagan presidency, but not your analysis of the problem. I think what pass for conservatives today are largely people committed to the fantasy they can get something for nothing. The infamous “Keep your government hands off my Medicare” poster is a poster child for the something-for-nothing crowd. Polls of Tea Party protesters show they are solidly in favor of sweeping tax cuts even though the USA already has the lowest individual income tax of any developed, industrial nation on Earth. But at the same time, Tea Partisans want no change to Social Security and Medicare and they want the deficit to go away overnight.

Hey, I, too, would like to get a gagillion dollars for nothing; but I am rooted enough in reality to realize that isn’t likely to happen. I think it is time for a national debate on just what government legitimately needs to do and what should be left to private initiative. A dog-eat-dog world may appeal to the leader of the pack, but to most of humanity, it amounts to a return to feudalism where they get to be the serfs.

I vigorously disagree on AIDS being a great candidate to leave to individual responsibility. Personal responsibility plays its part, but AIDS is incurable, deadly and contagious. It kills innocent children just as quickly as it does those who have unprotected sex with multiple partners. It poses a threat to future generations if not curbed. It seems to me that governments have a legitimate interest in stopping its spread through education, searching for a cure, and in helping those unfortunate enough to have contracted it stay alive till a cure is found.

ipso's avatar

@ETpro – You wrote: “conservatives today are largely people committed to the fantasy they can get something for nothing. – traditionally a gripe towards the Liberals, but OK, I’ll roll with it. However.. Liberals are committed to the fantasy of absolute egalitarianism, Federalism, a welfare state, and general angst and anger at the unfairness of extreme wealth, seemingly blind to the notion of the “creation of wealth”.

“USA already has the lowest individual income tax of any developed, industrial nation on Earth” – this does not justify raising it – on the contrary.

“I think it is time for a national debate on just what government legitimately needs to do and what should be left to private initiative” – I don’t think the gov. is responsible for everyone’s well being, or solving emerging problems, or redistribution of wealth, or healthcare, or 1000s of other things. They make sound and enforceable laws. They enforce those laws with an even hand. Adequate but not exorbitant defense. Period.

Yeah – that’s kind of overly idealistic, but that’s the default starting point for me. I need to do some research on this. You’re right. What are “valid” social services?

Re AIDS – I could think of hundreds of things that are more relevant for gov. spend – for me, my family, and every single person I know, or have ever known.

filmfann's avatar

Keep in mind Reagan preached downsizing government, but actually grew the size of ours more than any other President.

thekoukoureport's avatar

Hey ipso Why when you quote Thomas Jefferson you fail to look at the part that says “and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.” thats a big part don’t you think? Gosh we should get that nasty government out our face so we can go back to slave labor. The small government argument does not hold water. There was a great quote I heard recently. sorry I can’t attribute but it is very apt here “If men had honor there would be no need for government”

ipso's avatar

@thekoukoureport – your first sentence baffles me. How did I “fail to look at” that which I quoted directly?

After that you may be thinking of another of Jefferson’s quotes:

“That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves.” -Thomas Jefferson


“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” -John Adams, Oct.11, 1798, Address to the military

Other good ones:
“All government, of course, is against liberty.” -H. L. Mencken
“Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.” -H. L. Mencken
“Government does not solve problems; it subsidizes them.” -Ronald Reagan
”It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” -W. Churchill.
“A government with the policy to rob Peter to pay Paul can be assured of the support of Paul” -George Bernard Shaw

Ron_C's avatar

An excellent question. I have been thinking about this since the rise of the Tea Party Movement. They took up Reagen’s call to shrink government into total ineffectiveness. Subsequent presidents help fulfill that dream by either closing agencies or appointing incompetent leaders sure to destroy the agencies effectiveness. The Minerals Management Service is an excellent example. The leaders went through the revolving door between industry and government. The Fed, Treasury department, FDA, and all agencies infected with Reagen’s disease.

The Tea Party movement is just an extension of that disease. It finally descended to civilians. I wish that there was an afterlife because I can take comfort in idea that Reagan is burning in hell for the lives he ruined.

ipso's avatar

@Ron_C Who’s lives were ruined exactly, how was it Reagan’s fault, and why should he burn in hell for it?

The Tea Party movement is a great idea (question/challenge government spend). It gets people thinking if nothing else.

Iclamae's avatar

The concept of “small” government has merit. What no one can agree on is the line that distinguishes small from big government. In some areas, I think our current government restrictions and taxations make sense (EPA, FDA for regulations and a federal and local income tax to pay for things we all agree are necessary like police, public schools, and health care). In other areas, I think our government is too big but as I am generally uninformed on those topics and their costs, I don’t argue the problems too much because I can’t propose a better solution (how to fix a recession, how to handle immigration, etc.)

I know what you mean by the “Ronald Reagan meme” thing but I think people took his original views and distorted them out of control, as with the founding fathers. Glenn Beck alone….

On the whole, I think the current anti-government movement would be a healthy thing (make us double check ourselves and be sure we’re comfortable with the current setup. Ask questions about it) except that it’s so very angry. And it’s a movement that’s so angry at Obama. And I don’t understand either of those things. Yes, our current immigration setup needs to be fixed. Yes, the banker bailout seems terrible. etc. But in the end, 1 man is being charged with fixing all of the US’s problems that have built up over at least 8 years and have all just exploded. I don’t expect him to fix everything and I don’t expect all of his solutions to be perfect. None of our presidents have been perfect and none of them has managed to create this utopia everyone is looking for. Complete anarchy without the government certainly wouldn’t provide it either.

As I stated in another question, our government is a “work in progress” and I do think it’s progressing in a positive direction. The people who make up government are just human. And I think it’d be easier to do their jobs if we didn’t spew hatred at them all the time.

ETpro's avatar

@ipso You wrote: “Liberals are committed to the fantasy of absolute egalitarianism, Federalism, a welfare state, and general angst and anger at the unfairness of extreme wealth, seemingly blind to the notion of the ‘creation of wealth’ .” That would certainly apply to a few liberals, but not many. I would say that George Soros is liberal, wouldn’t you? Do you think he feels wealth is unfair, or is blind to the notion of the “creation of wealth”? How about Bill Gates and Warren Buffet? They are liberals too.

On many issues, I count myself liberal. But I own a small business. I lobby for a cut in the corporate tax rate. The US corporate tax rate is currently one of the highest in the developed world, and that helps push jobs and corporate tax base offshore. At the same time, I would push to close the loopholes that let lots of huge corporations make billions in profiuts but pay no US taxes whatsoever. Only huge corporations can take advantage of globalization and do that. This makes it nearly impossible for small and mid-sized businesses to compete in areas big corporations chose to enter.

Regarding raising individual tax rates, I would agree that having the lowest rate is good. I don’t think anyone seriously petitions the government to raise their taxes. But we are currently not raising enough tax revenues to cover the cost of what our government does. We could shot down the entire US government outside of Defense and Entitlements and we would STILL not be raising enough in tax revenues to make ends meet. When Reagan slashed the top rate from 70% to 28%, he went way too far. Till that moment, we had been slowly retiring the debt of WWII and the Great Depression. From that mo0ment on, we have hemorrhaged money, till now the debt is nearing 100% of our GDP. We have to turn that debt curve back down, and pulling the rug out from under the poor and seniors is NOT the right way to do it.

The right has used confusion about progressive taxes in its quest to transfer all wealth to a handful of wealthy families and create a banana republic that it’s leaders expect to benefit from. We were creating plenty of millionaires back in the 50s and 60s with top income tax rates far higher than they are today. I would make the top rate only apply to taxable, after deductions income beyond $500,000. But I’d set that top rate at 50% while leaving all other individual rates where they are right now. Progressive taxes are NOT unfair to the rich. Even Bill Gates pays the same rate as everyone else dollar for dollar. The top rate doesn’t apply to anything you earn before you hit the bracket. I’d be just pleased as punch to pay 50% on the next $5 million if I only had to pay 28% on my first $500,000. I’d be able to scrap by somehow—maybe only have fillet-mignon and 1995 Moët & Chandon, Cuvée Dom Pérignon Brut every other night, and restrict myself to just one Ferrari. It’d be tough, but I could do it.

Finally, regarding AIDS, your attitude would almost certainly do a 180 degree turn if you or a loved one suddenly contracted it. The problem is, it would probably then be too late to decide that, indeed, the government should try to find a cure.

We fundamentally agree on Jefferson’s quote about small government. I would just remind you that in Jefferson’s day, they didn’t have acid rain. Rivers didn’t have a nasty habit of catching on fire. The Gulf of Mexico wasn’t full of crude oil killing off one of the most productive fisheries on the planet. Wall Street hadn’t bet so much on ridiculously leveraged junk securities that the US taxpayers had to step in a bail them out to the tune of $1.5 trillion dollars to prevent a second Great Depression. If Jefferson had looked at all that, I suspect he might have seen a valid role for government in dealing with it.

I think @Iclamae got a good take on the small government issue. Government is rather like medicine. I don’t want to pay for any more than I need, but I sure don’t want to save money by not taking medicine I need to stay healthy.

ipso's avatar

@ETpro – GA. I agree with everything you said. Except maybe the AIDS part. And using Gates and Buffet as Liberal poster children doesn’t really change the tide as but two examples in how many registered Liberals? I think there quite a bit more than “not many”. And using George Soros as a reference for the creation of wealth is interesting, as he is a preeminent speculator. You should have slotted Warren in that spot. Otherwise all sound and well written.

I think we completely agree on Reagan and taxes – except you obviously know more about it than I do.

And your Jefferson perspective is solid. Good stuff!

ETpro's avatar

@ipso Thanks. I am a bit of a Jefferson buff. I grew up in the Norfolk.Virginia Beach area, so thought of him as a fellow Virginian and one of great intellect and patriotism.

As to Soros, I know how he made his fortune. I don’t think speculators contribute much to society, but given how much money one can make if they play the game well, I don’t fault those who play. It’s our fault for setting the rules of the game the way they are.

Ron_C's avatar

@ipso “Whose lives were ruined”. O.k. in which country should we start. He helped delay the release of the Iran hostages, supported the Contras, a right wing militia responsible for the deaths and disappearance of thousands, promoted moving jobs out of the U.S. with free trade agreements that favored international corporations, started the deregulation of the banking system that has lead to our current economic situation, started the “star wars program” which did nothing for national defense but put billions into the “defence industry”. Then we could go on to what he did to the FDA, and other agencies directly involved with the citizen’s health.

You could even blame him for setting conditions which lead to the present gulf disaster.

That should be enough for a few turns on his hellish rotisserie.

dpworkin's avatar

@Ron_C you left out his indifference to AIDS until Rock Hudson died. How many might we have saved if he had immediately begun the necessary programs, instead of blithely watching thousands die?

ipso's avatar

@Ron_C – I’m not a Reagan fan, as I mentioned before, primarily because of the national deficit, but I’m interested in people’s misconceptions (most particularly my own – hence why I asked for detail).

I think you may be giving him too much credit for the situations you mentioned. Perhaps I am even more pessimistic than you, but I see the problems mentioned as more systemic, political, than personal – and probably happening across the board no mater which [Republican] was elected.

But… you think free trade is a bad idea? People [not necessarily you] so often want their cake and to eat it too. In one sentence they want fairness and equality for workers worldwide – and in the very same breath will denounce free trade.

Carter was praised for opening up China to free trade, Bush vilified for NAFTA. Whatever is convenient for the immediate agenda I guess. Today Reagan is a bad man for it. There is only one problem – Reagan has no record of opening free trade. On the contrary, I remember him finally checking Japan’s electronics import dominance and the rabid destruction of the American electronics industry with tariffs looking for parity.

You have painted Reagan the boogeyman. I think you’re letting too many people off the hook with that. Your brush strokes seem too broad. Gives me the willies, even if I don’t like his record.

mattbrowne's avatar

Good ideas eventually win. Bad ideas don’t. Ronald Reagan removed the solar panels from the White House installed by Jimmy Carter. It’s hard to top this kind of stupidity.

Good memes do win eventually. This applies to the governments-are-important meme as well.

ETpro's avatar

@mattbrowne That’s quite true. The BIG OIL, small government crowd is tying itself in knots right now trying to explain how deregulation and laissez-faire capitalism had nothing whatsoever to do with the Great Recession of 2007 and the massive oil spill of the Deepwater Horizon.

ipso's avatar

And as usual the Liberal conspiracy theorist crowd takes all market success, and their own personal wealth, for granted as a given, because they are too busy driving their SUVs with “War is not the Answer” bumper stickers and tying themselves in knots worried about how government whoever’s been in government whom they don’t like, are personally responsible for everything bad they see in the news, vs. realizing the problems are much more complex than that.

ETpro's avatar

@ipso That is a sweeping generalization. You ought to know better than characterize all people in a group that numbers in the billions. Every single time you generalize so broadly, you are sure to be dead wrong. I would probably qualify as a liberal. So would Warren Buffet, Bill and Melinda Gates and George Soros. But none of us come anywhere close to fitting your definition of a liberal. In fact, very few liberals fit your fantasy world description. Shame on you.

I stand by my statement. If you need links, I can provide tons to prove my point. No, not all conservatives are doing this dance. But a large enough majority of them are to make it worthy of note.

Iclamae's avatar

@ipso It’s funny, I pictured quite a few conservatives in that group but without the “War is not the answer” sticker.

Ron_C's avatar

@ipso I didn’t mean to imply that all of the troubles we have now are because of the plans that the Master Politician Reagen put in place. What he did was give voice to the feelings of the ultra conservative base. He wasn’t very smart but he was a canny politician “acting” as president. His small turn to the right turned into the ultra-right, tea party, fundamentalist group that is trying to get its power back. I fear that Americans are just stupid and forgetful enough to vote them back in. Especially that the corporate elite can spend as much as they want to color the candidates in any light they want. The supreme court said so. All three branches of the government are now only a facade for the multinationals running the show.

ipso's avatar

@ETpro – Buffet, Gates, and Soros have already been covered. They still aren’t turning the tide for what you say is “billions” of Liberals. And your argument completely self implodes anyway as you yourself – again – use a few people to generalize about an entire group, then you try to scold me for generalizing back at you. Don’t dish out what you can’t handle.

However, I purposefully took precaution to quality my last (reactive blather) post with “Liberal conspiracy theorist” who I feel are their own unique breed. I know and love many. I don’t think there are too many here, but if the shoe fits…

@Iclamae – me too! Many Obama haters are case in point. Most of my family in fact, who try to come up with anything to justify their emotional agenda.

@Ron_C – I think many Liberals do not realize (many out of all ETpro’s “billions” of them) just how much most Americans (of any ilk) detest the notion of a welfare state. So much so that they would actually knowingly elect back into office a numbskull like Bush Jr., and they just might do it again, and again, and again – to avoid a welfare state. And your banging the drum of the “corporate elite” goes both ways too – as ETPro points out with Buffet, Gates, Soros.

I think it’s obvious the specific problems in the OP are more bipartisan, and throwing rocks at figureheads (in this case Reagan, but also more recent attacks on Obama, since he is now the most relevant) is simple minded.

ETpro's avatar

@ipso Fiar enough. If you restrict the statement to liberal conspiracy theorist, it’s largely accurate. We would be talking about those who insist the Bilderbergers control the world and George W. Bush was in on the plot to bring down the World Trade Center with missiles, not airplanes. But those people represent just a tiny, isolated wing of the Democratic party or are outside it altogether. In contrast, the Republican party, which once sidelined the conspiracy theorists such as the John Birchers and white supremacists, has been subsumed by such extremists. Once moderate Republicans like Senator McCain have had to lurch far to the right, and even then fact primary challenges from people even more extreme.

I don’t yearn for a welfare state like the Communists tried to establ8ish any more than you do. But I would much, much rather live in a modern European Social Charter state than in a fascist corporatocracy. And I am very alarmed about the growth of corporatocracy in the USA and around the world. It bodes horibly for all but a tiny ruling oligarchy, and I want no part of a future like that.

Iclamae's avatar

@ETpro There were also some people who thought Bush actually arranged the Al Queada bits too so that we’d be justified for that war. (Not me, but I remember hearing it at the time). It’s amazing what we will say when we’re scared.

Your comments about the far right and extremism reminded me of this video and I thought it might… lighten the mood a little.

ipso's avatar

@ETpro “European Social Charter”

So you want to mirror what France and the EU are doing? Dear god. That was a really bad example for what I’m sure is your well meaning hope for change. That’s like thinking outside the box by finding an even smaller box inside the box – and taxing it.

The first sentence of your second link states: “Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism” Sounds like shameless doublethink to me right off the bat, front and center. You’ll pardon me if I don’t read it further.

I have many of the same concerns as you. I just word them differently.

@Iclamae – hilarious vid!

ETpro's avatar

@ipso I said exactly what I meant. I would prefer to move colser to the European Social Charter and further from a Fascist Corporatocracy. You are free to agree or disagree, buit that is my position and I meant it exactly as stated.

The quote on Fascism came from the mouth of Mussolini. But yeah, what would he know about the impetus behind fascism and corporatism? Wording aside, I am glad we are both concerned about our country drifting toward Corporatism.

thekoukoureport's avatar

Drifting toward?, how about pushing away and this administration has been in the forfront. More than any president since teddy roosevelt Barack Obama has passed a law to prevent banks from stealing from you with bank fees, the Consumer protection industry, Guaranteed insurance for the uninsurable, middle class tax cuts, energy tax credits, 1st time homebuyer rebate, cash for clunkers and I’m sure I’ve missed some, but they all have one thing in common. They are all directed towards “We The People” and not corporate interests, US Corporations are the ones that during this period have amassed over 2 trillion dollars in cash despite the government providing 0% interest loans, Insuring money markets, Bailing out the banks, auto industry, etc. Thats why we still are in this recession. Because the ones that control the money i.e. corporations are hoping to stop the hope and Change that we voted for by prolonging this economy til the Minority regains power. Please don’t let them people, cause then we are really screwed

Iclamae's avatar

@thekoukoureport I’m a big fan of the stem cell law. The new cures and treatments coming out are amazing

ipso's avatar

@thekoukoureport – Blah blah blah.

You have nothing but emotion. You should stick to reading for a while first before puking up such unsupported emotional blather. How could you have missed BP?

Would Obama have let our banks fail? (instant depression) Or the US auto industry (with umpteen US workers)? Your black and white view and generalizing all US Corporations evil is simpleton buffoonery.

Ron_C's avatar

@ETpro “And I am very alarmed about the growth of corporatocracy in the USA and around the world. It bodes horibly for all but a tiny ruling oligarchy, and I want no part of a future like that.” We have that in the U.S. and Mexico, and probably half the countries in South America.
Europe has had that system (kingdoms and the Roman Catholic church) therefore they are resistant now. Russia bypasses democracy and went straight to oligarchy, they may never recover.

When all is said and done you will probably have to look to Europe or China to find any vestige of demorcracy and a middle class.

ETpro's avatar

@thekoukoureport My concern with corporatocracy is not about what is happening right now, but what has happened over the past 30 years or more, and how little most Americans seem to grasp its impact.

@ipso I think the personal attacks are unwaranted when none had been directed at you by @thekoukoureport. That level of vitriol over a disagreement on political policy is worrisome.

@Ron_C Wouldn’t it be an absurdity if the day came people escaped to China for liberty and freedom?

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