Angelo Codevilla: lying liar not worth wading through [updated]
Or so was the reaction of my liberal friends when I posted a link on Facebook yesterday to his latest piece, “As Country Club Republicans Link Up With The Democratic Ruling Class, Millions Of Voters Are Orphaned”. Little did I know at the time that by posting a link highly critical of the GOP establishment, I’d receive in return, from my progressive academic friends, spreadsheets and the like purporting to show that Ronald Reagan was, among modern Presidents, one of the worst offenders when it came to overspending and deficits — that he was, in a word, dangerously profligate in his approach to government.
I’m going to post the entirety of the exchange and if I can manage it, links to the supporting evidence offered on behalf of the notion that Reagan was, by percentage, one of the most irresponsible spenders in modern American history (my problem is I don’t have Excel on my Mac, and my wife is out of town today on business).
Your job as readers and researchers and (in some cases) academics or financial professionals, is to go through the numbers and, if it’s possible to do so, answer the charges being made by my liberal friend.
To that end, here’s the exchange (including comments from others on my Facebook thread). First, my original post:
My liberal friends should read [Codevilla's piece], because it echoes the cry of “outlaw” I made back in 2008 in response to TARP and auto bailouts and the fecklessness of an Establishment GOP ruling class. Such a cry prefigured the TEA Party movement: it was a call for the people to demand representation over and above party labels. Here, Angelo Codevilla lays out what I’ve written about over the last number of years in a single, well-argued and well-thought out essay.
The first response comes from Brant Hadaway:
This is an example of how we’re becoming more like Europe, where the Right and the Left are comfortably esconced in a corrupt, corporatist culture, and politicians who seek to represent the wishes of regular people are marginalized as populists and reactionaries.
…to which I replied,
Exactly, Brant. But the takeaway is (partly) encouraging: the center cannot hold. Right now, going third party is a losing proposition precisely because too many people fear it is a losing proposition, and they fear this will only keep progressives, who are more unified, in power. The GOP establishment banks on this and offers us the lesser of two evils, always believing we’ll pick that over the alternative. This only lasts, however, until the coalition of the unrepresented and the dispossessed realize that if they band together, they are far and away the majority. Reagan knew this. And Karl Rove knows this, which is why he and the establishment are working fervently against this tide to redefine themselves as “conservative” while working to marginalize actual conservatives, classical liberals, and libertarians as fringe. They want to usurp the brand and attach it to the moderate middle, forcing the entirety of the two-party political spectrum to the left. The real battle being fought now is inside the GOP. That, and the battle against time. Because the crash is coming. And fast, now that the Fed has made certain admissions that will lead to its being legaly restrained.
This was followed by the first liberal response from a high school friend of mine, Robert Stern, a very sharp (but quite liberal) guy who works as Regional Medical Officer at U.S. Embassy Cairo (formerly, he was stationed in Turkey, if I’m remembering correctly):
In the very first paragraph, the author excludes the Reagan administration from his complaints of growing government. Why? Government budgets and deficits exploded under his administration. I wonder why RR always gets a pass. At the beginning of the second paragraph, the author speaks of millions of Americans who are unrepresented. In the last election, Democratic candidates for the House received millions more votes than Republican candidates, yet through Gerrymandering, the Republicans control the House. I think this is the real travesty creating millions of unrepresented Americans. Then, I ran out of energy to continue reading.
Leave aside for a moment the rhetorical maneuver of dismissing the essays larger points by concentrating on supposed misstatements in the first paragraph, or the strange suggestion that gerrymandering is a uniquely Republican phenomenon. Or that Codevilla in the essay actually points out the phenomenon of gerrymandering and links it to the growth of the ruling class — which essentially argues in favor of Stern’s ancillary point, though Stern, having run out of energy, never got that far. Which is why in my follow ups (which I’ll combine for convenience) I pointed out that reading the entire article might help put the argument in better perspective:
Reagan cut department budgets in real dollars. He also shut the government down on 4 separate occasions. It’s funny: the same people who tell us Clinton gave us a surplus will blame Reagan for governmental growth, never bothering to remember that Clinton was constrained by a Gingrich-led House, while Reagan was dealing with a Democrat-led Congress. The fact is, you and I were around, Bobby. Carter had given up, told us to layer on sweaters, counseled an acceptance of decline and malaise. Reagan gave us unprecedented growth. Sadly, Bush I screwed the base and surrendered that momentum. Which was one of the points of the piece I linked. You can bracket who controlled the purse strings under Reagan and pretend he was some profligate spender, but we both know that to be a flimsy and strained bit of revisionist history. Reagan rebuilt the military — not coincidentally one of the Constitutional responsibilities of the federal govt. But he also trimmed the budgets of nearly every bureaucratic agency, even WITH a Dem Congress. Not to mention what he did to lower tax rates. You can look it up, even!
Also, the people he’s talking about who are unrepresented are putative Republicans, though he allows for some Dems as well. My advice? Muster the energy to at least get the gist before commenting. Or better still, finish the two pages and address the entirety of what he’s arguing. It is a broadside against the GOP. Which might even make you happy!
Stern’s rejoinder was somewhat predictable, we Reaganites / constitutionalists having met with these types of deflections before:
Jeff, Please do not try to pretend that Reagan did not explode the annual deficit (in nominal and adjusted $) to levels never seen in peace time. I will try to upload the data, if I can figure out this FB thing. Also, do not forget that another Constitutional responsibility of the government is to “Provide for the general welfare” in an attempt to create a more perfect union.
Sent along separately via email was a pdf of the data from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, dated April of 2012
Click here. Then go to table 2.3.
Next up, Dave Price responded thusly:
Reagan’s non-military budgets were ALWAYS smaller than the Democrats’ proposals. We could have cut defense too, but not having the Soviet Union around anymore is probably a public good.
While I can’t be certain Stern would agree that the defeat of the Soviet Union, which created of the US a hyperpower and impelled what Francis Fukuyama assured us was “the End of History,” was on net a global positive, leaving as it did the US in the role of world policeman, I nevertheless decided to expand on an earlier answer:
Again, Bobby, Reagan rebuilt a decimated military while his tax and regulatory policies created over time 25 million jobs. Interest rates under Carter were in the double digits. The amount of revenue taken in under Reagan’s pro- growth policies, despite the dramatic reduction in tax burden, was staggering. So naturally the Democrat Congress wanted more and more in their budgets. But recall, Reagan refused to sign any more omnibus bills. And he was willing to shut the government down 4 times to keep the Dem Congress in line. It is simply disingenuous to suggest Reagan didn’t cut bureaucratic outlay across the board. And this despite a Dem Congress. [Who wanted to spend more. Meaning, if you're willing to call Reagan's spending profligate, why on earth wouldn't you be more concerned with attempts by Democrats to increase that profligacy?]
On the other hand, Bush II and the GOP Congress were profligate spenders. But, as under Reagan, the Dems STILL fought for even MORE spending. Until now when [they] don’t even feel the need to pass a budget and have rolled the “one-time stimulus” into the baseline: over a trillion each year in deficit spending.
So, here’s the question: looking over the numbers Stern provides from the OMB, what are we to make of Reagan’s spending vs., say, Obama’s spending, or Clinton’s Spending, or the spending of the Bushes, factoring in such things as the contemporaneous makeup of the Congresses they each had to deal with, and keeping in mind that Reagan was following Carter’s stagflation, while Obama is following “Bush’s” housing bubble collapse and the bailout of companies too big to fail?
One thing obviously is that, for all Obama’s attempts to blame the collapse on Bush, it is worth noting that the Democrats controlled Congress from 2007 onward, with Supermajorities in the first two years of Obama’s tenure, until the 2010 TEA party revolution (which rankles establishment Republicans almost more than it did Democrats). Also worth noting is that Democrats voted for Bush’s spending (often criticizing his budgets for not spending enough), then, when they gained control of Congress later in his tenure, voted for even more spending, Barack Obama included — meaning that if they believe Bush’s profligate spending (or Reagan’s for that matter) was such a concern, why on earth would they agitate for even more spending than they now claim was profligate at the lower levels?
But as this is to be a group exercise, I’m going to leave you to it. Please do show your work, either through links or through cold hard mathematics.
update: Enrak provides these two graphic representations of the data from the OBM table 2.3:
What I suspect is happening, from a quick glance at the lines, is that the OBM has been instructed to attribute to Bush the entirety of the stimulus, which Obama increased — and therefore, keep those numbers out of any subsequent accounting, given that the budget has simply incorporated that number into its baseline as a practical matter, without a budget having been passed to record officially.