Monday, October 4, 2010
Every Dogma Has Its Day
For what it’s worth, I think the only two truly strategic Presidents we have had in the last 100 years are FDR and Ronald Reagan. Yes, others have done things that have had strategic importance. Ike left us the interstate highway system, LBJ enacted civil rights legislation, Nixon went to China, Carter deregulated industry, Clinton signed trade agreements and W, well W left us a legacy we will have to evaluate a decade hence.
However, both FDR and RR changed the social contract, the unwritten agreement between government and its people by which citizens sacrifice some of their personal sovereignty in exchange for social order. Conservatives often trash the legacy of FDR but he was an inspirational leader and I often wonder what he might have done had he been elected President in 1980 instead of 1932. There are parallels between what these two Presidents faced when elected; economic malaise and a dispirited population. Both struck a new course on which they persevered despite criticism from both their opponents and members of their own party.
Reagan introduced supply side economics which his own VP referred to as “voodoo economics” during the campaign leading up to the Republican convention. He lowered tax rates while building up our defense capability and negotiating a reduction in nuclear missiles with the Soviets. All were controversial at the time. His legacy causes his name to be mentioned often by Republicans of today.
Yet, Reagan was also a pragmatist. He raised taxes – yes, he raised taxes – three times during his presidency when tax revenues did not meet the expectations set by his economic team. The last of them, The Tax Reform Act of 1986, raised taxes on the middle class by eliminating deductions to which we had become accustomed. I still think of it when I fill out my Schedule A each April.
Can you imagine a Republican President proposing tax increases today? He’d be tarred and feathered by members of his own party. The entrenched views of extremists in both parties simply don’t permit a pragmatic approach to solving problems. Entitlement reform, energy policy, deficit reduction, tax reform, et al.
So, what happened? How did we reach this impasse where the leaders of both parties are so wrapped up in their own dogma that compromise seems impossible?
The change in Congressional control in both 1994 and 2006 had one thing in common. In both instances, the moderates were voted out and replaced by moderates of the other party. The extremists of both parties remain in leadership positions in both houses of Congress because of the seniority system. Party loyalty is so essential to leaders that independent thinkers wishing to accomplish something on matters of importance are quashed by their seniors.
Yet, there may be hope in the not too distant future. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has introduced his Roadmap for America’s Future promising to reform entitlements, lower the income tax and introduce a value added tax. A value added tax? OMG! Does Glenn Beck know about this?
On the other side of the aisle, Rep. John Adler (D-NJ) has authored a letter to the Democratic leadership urging the extension of the Bush tax cuts on dividends and capital gains in order to encourage “capital formation”. When was the last time you heard that phrase from the lips of a Congressional Democrat.
Each of these guys has included ideas from the opposite side of the aisle in a reasoned approach to solving our country's problems. If you live in one of their districts, your vote is more than a proxy for or against the President. Agree or disagree, they have a plan that transcends the dogma of their parties.
The voters who supported FDR and Reagan saw them as true leaders because they perceived them to be putting the country first and their party second. That’s what leaders do. So, when you go to the polls next month, I encourage you to use that standard when making your choice.
Just ask yourself, WHO WILL LEAD?