Randall DeSoto
I was a college student in the fall of 1988; it was Presidential election year, and I could finally vote. The choice before me, and the country, then was do we go forward with the policies begun under Ronald Reagan or was it time for a change? Reagan was finishing an incredible run that saw nation’s economy experience an unprecedented rebound and America reestablished as the unquestioned leader of the free world. His Vice President, George H.W. Bush, made clear upon accepting the Republican nomination that “the most important work of my life is to complete the mission we started in 1980.” Meanwhile, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis promised if elected that “the Reagan era is over and that a new era is about to begin.”

The times when Reagan took office were in many ways similar to today. In the late 70s and early 80s, the nation witnessed its most severe recession since the Great Depression. Unemployment reached 10.8 percent and the labor force participation rate fell to approximately 60 percent, which is exactly where we are today. Deficits soared fueled in part by the largest peacetime military expansion in United States history to counter the Soviet Union’s massive military build up of the previous decade. However, Reagan’s $1.9 trillion in debt over eight years, adjusted for today’s dollars, still puts him over $2 trillion less than Obama’s $6 trillion total in four.

Social Security, then as now, was on a path to insolvency and the nation’s tax system had become so burdensome (with a top marginal rate of 70%), antiquated and complicated that America struggled to compete in the global economy. Add to these challenges soaring gas prices, double-digit inflation and interest rates, and trying to work with a divided Congress, and Reagan faced a task every bit as great as Obama’s upon taking office, if not more so.

Bill Clinton proclaimed during his nomination speech of Obama a few weeks ago that neither he, Clinton, nor any other President could have turned around an economy as bad as the one Obama inherited in just one term. Actually that is not true: Reagan did. By his re-election year of 1984, the nation’s economy was humming again with a 7.2 percent GDP growth rate, adding over 4 million jobs in that year alone and 9 million during his first term.

Randall DeSoto

Randy DeSoto is a freelance writer and media consultant.