Monday, October 4, 2010

Every Dogma Has Its Day

It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.   Franklin D. Roosevelt

If you're afraid of the future, then get out of the way, stand aside. The people of this country are ready to move again.   Ronald Reagan

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?


  1. A reworking of FDR's quote might be "Do something, anything, even if it is wrong." In fact, FDR did a lot of things wrong. He was a leader, to be sure, but led us down a horrible path that we are still on and the way back is so long it may be impossible to get there (think abolishing social security as it presently exists).

    My "favorite" FDR decision was that no one needed to earn more than $25K per year(equivalent of about $250K today -- sound familiar?) and so every dollar above that should be taxed at 99%. This was his presidential "decree" because he felt the 90% maximum bracket established by Congress wasn't high enough. His attempt did not succeeed, legally, but that is an example of FDR's "leadership."

    The graduated income tax, which is immoral and unfair, coupled with excessive entitlements represent the politics of envy and create class warfare. The legitimacy of a government can be no greater than the fairness by which it raises funds for its operations. By this standard, our country has been illegitimately operated for close to 100 years.

    We all pay the same percentage of real property taxes. People with more expensive houses pay more taxes but are not subjected to a higher tax rate. "Rich" people pay the same price for a meal at a restaurant as "poor" people and are not surcharged because that is their "fair" share.

    A true leader of this country will strive to correct the inequities in our taxing system. To the surprise of many people (but not me) a lot of our other problems will start getting resolved if our taxing system is corrected and made fair. A VAT is a step in the right direction. Tax consumption except for basic foods and other necessities.

  2. John, thanks for a great article.I know that there will be plenty of disagreement on the subject, but I'm with you. Those two Presidents stuck their necks out and did a lot of unpopular things, but some how they brought the country along with them. I'm not a big Reagan fan because of what I feel he did to the middle class, but he was responsible for a lot of good; the biggest of which was ending the cold war. Quite an accomplishment!