With the celebration of Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday now in full swing, I find myself reflecting on the despair that so many of us felt at the midpoint of his first term in office. By "us," I mean those who had worked in GOP campaigns in 1980, felt the euphoria of Reagan's nomination and then worked in the House or Senate in those early days of the Reagan Revolution. But after two years in office, Reagan's approval ratings were in the tank. It seemed they would never rebound.
Readers must remember that although conservatives were on the rise in the early '80s, there was no Fox News to balance out a generally liberal media establishment. Reagan was pummeled by the then-"Big Three" TV networks on a nightly basis; and also by The New York Times and The Washington Post. In many ways, his situation had gone from one of great promise to one that looked likely to end his presidency after four short years.
What saved him? Well -- as he might start his own answer to the question -- his 1981 legislation that dramatically lowered marginal tax rates started to reap economic benefits during the second half of his first term. (It would continue for a generation.) That likely was the biggest factor in his resurgence. It took time to see America's double-digit inflation and high unemployment start to ebb after both had gone sky-high in the Jimmy Carter years.
No, I don't believe the fire hose of government spending by President Obama will have the same positive impact on the economy in the next few years that Regan's actions did in his time. Reagan's was a far less intrusive approach to bolstering the economy.
In fact, the Congressional Budget Office just came out with projections that even by 2012, unemployment will still be at or above 8 percent. But sometimes things can get so bad, such as in this Great Recession we have endured over the past few years, that any improvement can seem to be an economic miracle.
There are lessons from the past that Republican leaders must in some instances embrace and in other cases avoid like the plague.
First, it's my opinion that were it not for the enthusiasm of the tea party movement, Republicans would not have seen anywhere near as big of a landslide victory in the U.S. House or in state legislatures that they enjoyed in last November's elections. I believe that because of the missteps of President Obama and the Democratic Congress, we would likely have seen the House go Republican anyway. But it was the tea party rallies that started to give Republicans the momentum that prompted a massive turnout of Republican voters. It would serve the Republican establishment to keep that in mind.
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