Monday was Ronald Reagan’s birthday, and once again Republicans were paying homage to the Gipper–perhaps the only Republican, apart from Abraham Lincoln, about whom no GOPer dares speak ill. Reagan is to Republican candidates what Kim Il Sung is to North Korean apparatchiks. It’s not good enough to say you love and admire Reagan, you’ve got to outdo the other guy in demonstrating the depth of your love for the man. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, for instance, have spent weeks bickering about which of them best represents the Reagan legacy, including a textual examination of the man’s diaries.
What Republicans like Gingrich and Romney ignore, however, is that even Reagan wasn’t quite the Reagan of their memory. Certainly, the real Reagan would have some explaining to do to a Republican Party that has shifted to the right in the 23 years since he left office. Today’s conservative Republicans are loath to compromise with Democrats and militant about not raising taxes. But in 1983 Reagan worked with the Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill to come up with a bipartisan plan to reform Social Security. He also worked with liberal Democratic Senator Bill Bradley, among others, to pass a major tax reform bill in 1986. Admittedly, that tax bill did not raise taxes–it was “revenue neutral.” But Reagan did, in fact, raise taxes several times during his presidency, including a 1982 tax hike aimed at reining in the deficit.read more