Friday, April 09, 2010

The Limbaugh Manipulative Machine: #4

It is President Ronald Reagan as the great, principled, even doctrinaire, conservative.

In a minority of areas, it is accurate. However, it is usually a figment of GOP imagination- or of deliberate obfuscation. Let's consider when Rush Limbaugh on Thursday, April 8 argued

If he wants to create jobs, he's gotta cut taxes, he's gotta remove some federal regulations, he's basically gotta get out of people's way. He's gotta stop taxing achievement; he's gotta stop punishing risk-takers; he's gotta do the exact opposite of what he's doing. The blueprint for coming out of one of these recessions exists back in 1981 and '82. It goes by the name of Ronaldus Magnus and it worked so well that this regime is doing everything they can to reverse every aspect of Reaganism.

Literally, a portion of those is accurate. As Paul Krugman noted in 1984 when he compared President Reagan to President Bush the XLIII, the nation’s 40th President cut income taxes dramatically in 1981, then raised them the following two years. The 1982 tax increase diminished the cut of 1981 by approximately one-third and the 1982 increase primarily increased the payroll tax that paid for Social Security and medicare hospital insurance.

It is not illegitimate (though simplistic and debatable), therefore, to claim President Reagan issued “the blueprint for coming out of one of these recessions.” (Leave aside the qualitative and quantitative difference of this recession.) It is misleading, though, for Limbaugh to imply- as he surely is- that insofar as the change was brought about by a change in tax policy, it was exclusively a result of lowering taxes. Taxes were cut (substantially), then raised- by more, and on more people, than any President ever has done in peacetime.

The impact on the middle-class, however, was not as benign as Rush implied, inasmuch as

For many middle- and low-income families, this tax increase more than undid any gains from Mr. Reagan's income tax cuts. In 1980, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, middle-income families with children paid 8.2 percent of their income in income taxes, and 9.5 percent in payroll taxes. By 1988 the income tax share was down to 6.6 percent -- but the payroll tax share was up to 11.8 percent, and the combined burden was up, not down.

The benefits of the Reagan tax policy mostly accrued to the upper class while the middle class was called upon (in 1982 and 1983) to pick up the tab. It’s possible Limbaugh, while no doubt aware that President Reagan’s tax policies helped the wealthy more than the middle class, was not aware that the overall federal tax burden of middle-income families with children increased. On this discourse from Thursday, therefore, Rush Limbaugh was merely misleading his audience.

This is all part of a larger issue. Republicans everywhere put on the mantle of “Reagan Republican” and claim President Reagan was a true-blue, rock-solid conservative while the 43rd President (widely regarded as a failure) was an impostor. The truth, of course, is virtually the opposite: Krugman notes Reagan, in contrast to Bush, “showed both some pragmatism and some sense of responsibility”….. which would, not insignificantly, be something he had in common with our 44th President.

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