Slate: Reagan Wasn't Half as Conservative as He Seemed
Timothy Noah, in Slate (June 7, 2004):
I've registered as a Republican exactly once in my life. The year was 1980, and Ronald Reagan, who died today at the age of 93, was seeking the GOP nomination for president. Teddy Kennedy was challenging President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination, and in Massachusetts, where I then lived, Kennedy was certain to win the primary. Better to cast my vote where it could do some goodin favor of John Anderson, who at that point was running as a Republican, and who seemed the only candidate capable of denying Reagan the nomination. Reagan was dangerous. He wanted to eliminate vast portions of the government indiscriminately, and he wanted to commit the military to ill-considered interventions abroad.
I couldn't have been more wrong. As an antigovernment crusader and as a warmonger, Reagan turned out to be all bark and no bite. In his first inaugural address, Reagan said:
It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the Federal establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the Federal Government and those reserved to the States or to the people.
But that didn't happen. As Michael Kinsley has observed, after Reagan's two
terms spending by the federal government was one quarter higher, factoring out
inflation, than when he got there; the federal civilian workforce had increased
from 2.8 million to 3 million; and federal spending, as a share of Gross Domestic
Product, had decreased by one percentage point to 21.2 percent. "If Ronald
Reagan and his 'Reaganauts' could only slow down the growth of government spending,
not reverse it or eliminate wasteful programs, what hope is there for any other
conservative president?," complained the conservative Heritage Foundation
soon after Reagan left office. The only major government agency Reagan managed
to eliminate was the Civil Aeronautics Board, which didn't have much to do after
the Carter administration deregulated the airline industry. Fittingly, the Ronald
Reagan Building on Pennsylvania Ave., completed ten years after Reagan left
office, today houses 5,000 government employees and is the largest government
building in Washington.
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