“There is no credibility left for the Republican Party as a force to reduce the size of government. That is the message of the Reagan years.”
Ron Paul 1987
Politicians have a tendency to change history to suit their purposes. The revising of history by Soviet dictators was legendary. Our own leaders have on occasion been guilty of distorting, reconfiguring, or downright lying about past events. Most notable are the claims that Abraham Lincoln launched the Civil War to end slavery and that Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal ended the Great Depression.
One of the greatest revisionist histories perpetuated in the latter part of the 20th Century by both Republicans and Democrats alike is that Ronald Reagan was a conservative, limited government president. Republicans praise him for his record of getting the government off our backs and dramatically reducing the size of the federal leviathan. Democrats vilify him for weakening programs that helped the underclass and for reducing the scope of government needed to ensure economic prosperity. Both Republicans and Democrats couldn’t be further from the truth in their thinking.
In the first place, government got exponentially larger during Reagan’s eight years as president. For instance, during the 1980 race for the White House, Reagan made a cornerstone of his campaign the elimination of federal agencies and departments. In particular, he proposed abolishing the Departments of Education and Energy. Instead of eliminating those wasteful departments, by the end of his term Reagan had doubled their budgets and created another department: the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. In eight years as president, the former B Actor hired 230,000 more bureaucrats. How is that the work of a small government president?
Reagan is also portrayed as a tax reducer by both sides. Up to that point in our history, he was one of the biggest tax increasers of all time. He increased taxes and fees on everything from gasoline to trucking to Social Security. The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 was the largest tax increase in American history to that point. It rolled back many business tax cuts enacted during his first year in office. The remarkable thing is that given his reputation for being a dedicated tax cutter, by the time he left office in January 1989 tax revenues were still 24.7 percent of national income, only slightly down from 25.1 percent when he took office in 1981. The facts bear proof that Reagan was no tax cutter.