Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 31, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

REAGAN'S FINAL YEARS....In the course of a column advocating that President Bush create several new empire-building agencies, including a Department of Peace (!), Max Boot makes this claim in passing:

These ideas may sound overly ambitious for the final two years of an administration mired in major difficulties. But remember that in his second term, despite the Iran-Contra scandal, Ronald Reagan was able to simplify the tax code and streamline the military chain of command -- major reforms -- by working with a Democratic Congress.

This is not the biggest deal in the world, but for some reason this is a very common claim. Can we please put it to rest?

First: The "last two years" of a presidency surely don't start until, um, the last two years of a presidency. At its earliest, it starts after the sixth year midterm elections. For Reagan, this happened on November 4, 1986. Until then, he had a split Congress (Democratic House, Republican Senate).

Second: the 1986 Tax Reform Act was negotiated in 1985-86 and passed in October 1986. Ditto for the Goldwater-Nichols Act. None of this happened in Reagan's final two years.

Third: News of the arms-for-hostages deal was first reported in the Lebanese press on November 3. So neither of these two pieces of legislation were passed "despite the Iran-Contra scandal."

I'm not sure why this bugs me, but I see it often and it's just wrong. The fact is that Reagan accomplished very little domestically in his final two years, and largely for the same reasons Bush won't: Democrats won the midterms, after November he was mired in scandal, and seventh year presidents are widely considered lame ducks anyway.

That is all. You may now return to the 21st century.

Kevin Drum 12:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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Comments

Not only is the timing wrong in Boot's article, so are his facts.
RR opposed Goldwater-Nichols until Barry Goldwater forced his hand by agreeing to have the bill carry his name. And I seem to recall that the Ways and Means Committee and the Finance Committee did all the heavy lifting on the tax bill, not the White House.

Posted by: chuck c on January 31, 2007 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Reagon's many accomplishments are even more amazing, given the fact that he had to cram them in to just six years. Imagine how much more good he could have done if Democrats didn't put party over country for the last two years of his administration.

Posted by: American Hawk on January 31, 2007 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

Do Max Boot and credibility belong in the same sentence? Last I checked, they did not. Besides, was Ronnie as polarizing as Smirk? I surely don't remember that he was.

Posted by: Ghost of Tom Joad on January 31, 2007 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK
First: The "last two years" of a presidency surely don't start until, um, the last two years of a presidency. At its earliest, it starts after the sixth year midterm elections. For Reagan, this happened on November 4, 1986.

Um, "at it's earliest"? No, its not a variable. It starts two years before the next President is inaugurated. January 20, 1987, in the case of Reagan. That being said, it merely further underlines your point; but really, I think you were bending over way to far to appear generous.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 31, 2007 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

Never let silly things like facts get in the way of good, old fashioned Reagan worshipping. I mean, the guy single handedly destroyed the Soviet Union with his rhetorical death blows!

Posted by: Matthew C on January 31, 2007 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Neocon = liar. That's all you need to know.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on January 31, 2007 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

clinton established a nation-building agency post-kosovo, but bush dismantled it pre-iraq. hindsight's a bitch.

Posted by: adam on January 31, 2007 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

I suppose we will see a Dan Rather being pulled on Max Boot now, and he'll be hounded from his position at the L.A. Times as a result of these errors.

Or not.

Posted by: Boots Day on January 31, 2007 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Why does it bother you? Because conservatives build all their arguments on lies?

Posted by: Gore/Edwards on January 31, 2007 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

Do Max Boot and credibility belong in the same zip code? Last I checked, they did not.

Fixed it for you.

Posted by: Gregory on January 31, 2007 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

"You may now return to the 21st century."

Somebody tell George Bush!

Posted by: Chocolate Thunder on January 31, 2007 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

Chuck: As I recall, Treasury Secretary Don Regan did a lot of work on the tax reform bill. I think you have to give the Reagan administration its share of credit for getting it passed.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on January 31, 2007 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Reagan was as polarizing as Smirk. His habitual lying -- the famous 3x5 cards -- and the press's reluctance to call him on it was maddening.

Reagan's true heritage: an infatuation with debt and the intellectual debasement of the Right.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on January 31, 2007 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

an infatuation with debt

...an infatuation with increasing debt..

Posted by: cleek on January 31, 2007 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps it bugs you because it's a lie. It fact it's more than a lie it's revisionist history. Something proto-facist like boot excel at.

Posted by: klyde on January 31, 2007 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

What exactly did Bush do domestically the last 2 years with a Republican Congress? I'm not speaking of accomplishments that would endear him to Democrats, I'm talking about accomplishments even Republicans would be happy with. I can't think of anything substantial Bush has done anywhere since the 2004 elections. In fact, sending 21,000 more troops to Iraq is the first big thing I can think of Bush doing in the past couple of years. (I guess Bush's biggest domestic accomplishment in his 2nd term was preserving Social Security from the threat of privatization, but unless Bush is more post-modern than we imagine, I don't think that was the plan.)

So, if Bush did nothing with a Republican Congress, what makes anyone think he'll be able to do anything working with what he calls a "Democrat Congress?" When you throw in Bush's lameduck status, I would guess that the only significant accomplishment Bush can make will be to invade Iraq.

Posted by: Guscat on January 31, 2007 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

I think we need to scrap the 1789 constitution and reduce the power of the executive branch of government. We rely upon presidents too much and they have way too much power. The presidency also weighs too heavily on history, clouding events through the lens of powerful individuals who are only actors amongst many. Reagan was brain dead, yet he is given historical credit for all sorts of things he was incapable of being aware of.

Posted by: Brojo on January 31, 2007 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

In point of fact, one of the biggest contributions Reagan made to the cause of tax reform was the simplication plan worked out in Don Regan's Treasury Department, in 1984 before the election. Birnbaum's "Showdown at Gucci Gulch" provides the details.

Posted by: Zathras on January 31, 2007 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

I never thought Reagan did that much anyway. That was part of his charm for me. He was a pacifier for the conservatives.

As long as he was in office, they were happy. He did nothing about abortion, prayer in school, or others values issues except talk pretty. He ended up as a tax raiser.

Posted by: Keith G on January 31, 2007 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Max Bootlicker is just another Repukeliscum whore peddling the same old hoary "St Ronnie" bullcrap. Why the conservaboobs venerate a guy who spent 8 years in an AD fog is beyond me.

Ronnie was just another repukeliboob robot.

Posted by: POed Lib on January 31, 2007 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK
I never thought Reagan did that much anyway. That was part of his charm for me. He was a pacifier for the conservatives.

As long as he was in office, they were happy. He did nothing about abortion, prayer in school, or others values issues except talk pretty.

"Values issues" have always been little more than pretty-talk to keep religious conservatives footsoldiers in line while the Republican party serves its real constituency, the ultra-rich.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 31, 2007 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

"Values issues" have always been little more than pretty-talk to keep religious conservatives footsoldiers in line while the Republican party serves its real constituency, the ultra-rich.

Yep, its the party of the boobs, run by the conniving manipulators.

Posted by: POed Lib on January 31, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK
I think we need to scrap the 1789 constitution and reduce the power of the executive branch of government.

Scrapping the Constitution (which has been revised many times, often to increase the power of the legislative branch, since 1789) is unnecessary to that end, all that is necessary is for Congress to do their job under the Constitution.

If voters would demand that, then we'd have a greatly constrained executive branch.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 31, 2007 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Perfect example of truthiness. It feels like Reagan signed military and tax reform bills in his last two years, so why bother spending 2 minutes researching the facts before writing an op-ed in a major newspaper?

Incidentally, Jeffrey Birnbaum and Alan Murray wrote an excellent book about the creation of the 1986 tax reform bill, Showdown At Gucci Gulch.
http://www.amazon.com/Showdown-at-Gucci-Gulch-Vintage/dp/0394758110

Posted by: beowulf on January 31, 2007 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, quit throwing water on the historical revisionism movement of the Sainthood for Ronnie Club.

Posted by: ckelly on January 31, 2007 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

Bush will be able to raise the minimum wage and reduce the student loan rate by working with a Democratic Congress. (snark)

Posted by: bakho on January 31, 2007 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

Max Boot (b. USSR) and other assorted water carriers like D'Souza (b. India) and Ponnuru (b. India), Ferguson (b. UK) have convinced me that our immigration and citizenship laws are too lax.

I say boot out these crypto imperialists/fascists.

Posted by: gregor on January 31, 2007 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

Ah but Boot's goof is even worse. Reagan basically stopped going to work by December 1986. All he would do was watch TV (old movies and re-runs). He got so bad that aides starting muttering about the 25th amendment to reporters.

I began my scholarly life as a Reagan scholar. It's clear (at least from my reading of the archival records), that Reagan never quite recovers from being shot. And there is a marked decline in mental acuity by 1983. It is why the 1984 election campaign was structured around day trips--ie Reagan had to be back to the White House and the end of any given day.

Go to the Weekly Compilation of PResidential documents and read his Q & A sessions on most any policy issue. Once he departs from script, things generally get pretty bizarre.

Posted by: calugg on January 31, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, Boot's wording is weaselly to try to avoid the very accusation Kevin makes. Note that Boot's first quoted sentence talks about the "final two years" of the Bush administration, but then the next sentence talks about Reagan's "second term." So Boot dodges that bullet on a technicality.

Nevertheless, Kevin is clearly right on the substance - the '86 Tax Reform Act and Goldwater-Nichols were signed and on the books BEFORE Iran-Contra arose at all. So Boot's main point about Reagan's supposed success in the teeth of scandal is just wrong.

I also agree with Kevin's comment above - although Ways and Means chair Rostenkowski (D) and Finance chair Packwood (R) did yeomen's work getting the '86 tax bill passed, and the bill certainly incorporated some Democratic ideas like the "Bradley-Gephardt" tax rate reductions, it was at bottom a Reagan administration initiative.

Posted by: Richard Riley on January 31, 2007 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

France has had many republics. The way politics is gamed, and has been gamed since the inception of the constitution, the people will not be able to enforce their will through its representation in Congress. I think America was very lucky in 1932 to elect a responsible president. We have not been so lucky the past few decades and Congress has not protected the people from the power of the president nor big capital.

Reducing the power of the executive branch is only one reason to rewrite the constitution. I would also like to abolish the House of Lords, which I think is known colloquially as the Millionaires Club.

Posted by: Brojo on January 31, 2007 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

I'm more interested in what W, Cheney, and friends can not accomplish in the final two years. Stuff like War with Iran, Constitutional Shredding, Establishment of the US Politburo, etc.

Posted by: ckelly on January 31, 2007 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

jeffrey davis: Reagan's true heritage: an infatuation with debt and the intellectual debasement of the Right.


"Facts are stupid things." – President Reagan at the 1988 Republican National Convention, attempting to quote John Adams, who said, "Facts are stubborn things."

Posted by: mr. irony on January 31, 2007 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

Their minds are made up - quit confusing them with facts, data, and logic.

Posted by: Robert on January 31, 2007 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK
That is all. You may now return to the 21st century.

[puts parachute pants back in closet]

Posted by: cdc on January 31, 2007 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Thus, urban legends are made and then perpetuated. Dissemination of pernicious misinformation works, especially when the media becomes an echo chamber.

The 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn is still referred to in many quarters as "The Custer Massacre" -- in fact, the U.S. Dept. of the Interior only recently renamed "Custer Battlefield Park" Park as Little Bighorn National Battlefield -- while the 1890 slaughter of unarmed Sioux by the U.S. Cavalry on the Pine Ridge Reservation is officially listed in the Library of Congress as "The Battle of Wounded Knee".

It's the "Big Lie" concept, in that if you repeat something often enough -- or in this case, repeatedly get it printed in mainstream media -- people start to accept it without objection.

After all, simply everyone knows that the so-called "Bush Nat'l Guard AWOL scandal" was all a plot by Dan Rather and CBS News to sabotage the 2004 Bush/Cheney campaign.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 31, 2007 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Who's mired in major difficulties? Bush has it all figured out. Its the rest of the world that can't get it together. Why does he have to keep telling you people, HE is the decider. You are the followers and declarers of his greatness.

Posted by: Al Clone on January 31, 2007 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: "As I recall, Treasury Secretary Don Regan did a lot of work on the tax reform bill."

And as I recall, Don Regan eventually became White House chief of staff, and a few years later learned from the Washington media that he was summarily terminated from that position -- receiving a fruit basket from Nancy Reagan as gratitude for his years of service to her husband, as he was escorted off the White House premises by the Secret Service.

OK, I made up that last part behind the hyphen, thinking that one Ronald Reagan urban legend deserved another.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 31, 2007 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

American Hawk: "Imagine how much more good he could have done if Democrats didn't put party over country for the last two years of his administration."

Imagine how much more good you could do for yourself if your postings weren't the intellectual equivalent of lime Jell-O.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 31, 2007 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

Donald,

Or even better yet,

"Imagine how much more good he could do if George W. Bush didn't put pride and his legacy over country for the last two years of his administration."

Posted by: Robert on January 31, 2007 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

Boot: The president needs to create a Department of Peace, perhaps built out of a revamped Agency for International Development, so that we can be better prepared for the aftermath of future military operations than we were in Iraq. He needs to re-create the defunct U.S. Information Agency, which was folded into the State Department in 1999, to wage the battle of ideas against Islamist extremists. He needs to create a federal police force, possibly within the U.S. Marshals Service, that can be dispatched to enforce the law in lawless lands. He needs to beef up the "expeditionary" capacity in other civilian branches of government, ranging from the Treasury to the Agriculture Department, so that they can augment the efforts of our soldiers.

No fucking way. Boot is advocating the establishment of MiniPax, MiniTrue, MiniLuv (sort of), and MiniPlenty, in that order. It's too suggestive to be anything but deliberate, I think; is he insane?

Posted by: RSA on January 31, 2007 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

Max Boot ?

Reviving idiots like Boot and Pollack , who have been Wrong on just about everything ?

Gimme a break ...

Posted by: mckinl on January 31, 2007 at 6:02 PM | PERMALINK

Max Boot ?

Reviving idiots like Boot and Pollack , who have been Wrong on just about everything ?

Gimme a break ...

Posted by: mckinl on January 31, 2007 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

Weren't Reagan's last two years also associated with Nancy and her astrologer, thoughts of end times, and creeping Alzheimers?

As for lying, don't forget that Boot is a Rooskie.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on January 31, 2007 at 6:35 PM | PERMALINK

The idea that Reagan in 1986 might have had a role in shaping a tax bill is a joke, right? Can anyone imagine how many jellybeans it would take to explain passive activity loss limitations to that empty suit driving down the Pacific Coast Highway into oblivion?

Posted by: Downpuppy on January 31, 2007 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

Wasn't the 1986 tax reform as much a Democratic initiative as an Administration one?

Reagan's bill was a variation on a Bradley-Gephardt proposal, IIRC.

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov on January 31, 2007 at 8:15 PM | PERMALINK

Look, folks, the '86 bill was necessary in the first place because the the original Reagan '82 tax bill, that's the one with his 'Voodoo economics'/supply side fingerprints all over it, was an such a flaming POS which opened up so many tax shelters, sky-rocketing deficits and a myriad of other abuses that it had to be fixed. And the pressure to do that came from the Democratic side of the aisle.

Posted by: MsNThrope on February 1, 2007 at 8:59 AM | PERMALINK

Not only are the facts wrong, this argument presupposes that President Bush is willing to work with Congress. It may well be possible that, if Bush was willing to compromise, he could accomplish something over the next two years. That might happen in an alternate universe but, in this one, it's hard to imagine Bush working cooperatively with a democratic congress if he can't order it around.

Posted by: msb on February 1, 2007 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK
No fucking way. Boot is advocating the establishment of MiniPax, MiniTrue, MiniLuv (sort of), and MiniPlenty, in that order.

While there are some elements of that, the analogy isn't really all that apt; the key thing Boot is arguing for with all that is a permanent imperial bureaucracy designed to consolidate conquest. He is calling for the US to embrace, wholeheartedly, the mantle of Global Empire, take up the White Man's Burden, and build the tools to impose its dominion everywhere.

He is, of course, nucking futs in doing this.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 1, 2007 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

"(I guess Bush's biggest domestic accomplishment in his 2nd term was preserving Social Security from the threat of privatization, but unless Bush is more post-modern than we imagine, I don't think that was the plan.)"

One of the funniest things I've read in a long time. Thanks, Guscat.

Posted by: anon on February 1, 2007 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

While there are some elements of [1984], the analogy isn't really all that apt.

Oops. I fired off a letter to the editor at the LATimes on this analogy, and it appeared today (Friday). Oh, well.

Posted by: RSA on February 2, 2007 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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