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Alterman writes: "President Reagan's preference for fantasy over fact was evident from the first moments of his presidency. 'In the early years of Reagan rule,' as the libertarian author Murray Rothbard notes, 'the press busily checked out Reagan's beloved anecdotes, and found that almost every one of them was full of holes. But Reagan never veered from his course.'"

President Ronald Reagan addresses Congress, 1/26/82. (photo: AP/stf)
President Ronald Reagan addresses Congress, 1/26/82. (photo: AP/stf)

Conservatives Prefer Reagan Fantasies to Reality (And So Did Reagan)

By Eric Alterman, Center for American Progress

09 January 12


bizarre incident took place during the "60 Minutes" interview with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) on New Year's Day: When Leslie Stahl asked Rep. Cantor whether he would be willing to compromise with President Barack Obama to improve the legislative performance of the current Congress, Rep. Cantor responded: "Compromising principles, you don't want to ask anybody to do that. That's who they are as their core being."

When Stahl replied that President Ronald Reagan, Rep. Cantor's "idol," had compromised, Rep. Cantor stuck to his guns, replying, "He never compromised his principles."

Stahl, at the ready, answered, "Well, he raised taxes and it was one of his principles not to raise taxes."

Rep. Cantor, slightly flummoxed, came back with "Well, he - he also cut taxes."

And here things got interesting.

Rep. Cantor's press secretary, Brad Dayspring, began yelling from off screen, "That's not true. And I don't want to let that stand."

Stahl, in a taped voice-over, later added in the mildest language imaginable, and without any personal aspersions cast - "There seemed to be some difficulty accepting the fact that even though Ronald Reagan cut taxes, he also pushed through several tax increases, including one in 1982 during a recession."

President Reagan's voice was then heard to say, "Make no mistake about it, this whole package is a compromise," followed by Rep. Cantor, doubling down, "We as Republicans are not going to support tax increases."

The interview has generated a great deal of attention in the blogosphere. ThinkProgress jumped on it immediately, noting that President Reagan did not "compromise" just this once, but actually increased taxes "in seven of his eight years in office, including one stretch of four tax increases in just two years."

The site quoted the Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman, noting that "no peacetime president has raised taxes so much on so many people."

The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen pitched in with his observation that the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, which was Reagan's biggest tax hike, is today "generally considered the largest tax increase - as a percentage of the economy - in modern American history."

Moreover, says Benen, "between 1982 and 1984, Reagan raised taxes four times, and as Bruce Bartlett has explained more than once, Reagan raised taxes 12 times during his eight years in office."

Benen believes that President Reagan's legacy makes contemporary conservatives "look ridiculous."

On MSNBC's "The Ed Show," Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein took a stab at explaining why this must be the case, noting that the grand poobah behind the "Reagan Legacy Project," and so much right-wing political thinking and organizing today, is Grover Norquist, who "has a vested interest in promoting the myth of ‘Saint Ronnie the Tax Slayer' to justify his ‘no new taxes ever' ideology."

This is true, but it misses what is really strangest about this incident.

It is actually unheard of for a press secretary to attempt anything like Dayspring's interruption, especially in so high profile a forum as "60 Minutes" and with a boss in as influential a position as Rep. Cantor. (It is especially crazy to do so in one in which the editing process allows the correspondent to have the last word.) To do so with a bald (and easily demonstrable) falsehood would be under almost any imaginable circumstances a firing offense, as it makes both men, politician and aide alike, appear uninformed, incompetent, and generally out to lunch.

Rep. Cantor's office did attempt to "clarify" Mr. Dayspring's outburst, insisting that it "referred to the cumulative effect of President Reagan's various tax increases and cuts, when added together."

Again, this is not the point. President Obama has lowered taxes more than he has raised them, and they are today lower than they were in President Reagan's time. But you don't hear conservatives crowing about that.

No, the real story here is the vehemence of the conservative movement's commitment to ignoring all forms of evidence that it finds inconsistent with its ideological preconceptions, regardless of circumstances or even consequences.

Ironically, tendency to ignore inconvenient facts and unwelcome evidence is actually President Reagan's true legacy, as I noted in The Nation back in 2000, before the current right-wing mania for President Reagan gained its full force. His worshipful, if fanciful, biographer Edmund Morris even called him an "apparent airhead." The president's famous cluelessness was so obvious during his years in office that his defenders would attempt to deploy it as a defense of his actions, as if he were a small child or a beloved, but retarded, uncle.

The president tended to "build these little worlds and live in them," noted a senior advisor. "He makes things up and believes them," explained one of his kids. President Reagan thought he'd liberated concentration camps. He invented what he called "a verbal message" from the pope in support of his Central America policies, news to everyone in Vatican City. In 1985 President Reagan one day announced that the vicious South African apartheid regime of P.W. Botha had already "eliminated the segregation that we once had in our own country." And note that I have not even mentioned the words "Iran Contra," a scandal that was filled with more presidential lies than one can comfortably recount here.

President Reagan's preference for fantasy over fact was evident from the first moments of his presidency. "In the early years of Reagan rule," as the libertarian author Murray Rothbard notes, "the press busily checked out Reagan's beloved anecdotes, and found that almost every one of them was full of holes. But Reagan never veered from his course."

This strategy proved so successful that it became a template for the modern conservative movement, and hence underlies its leaders' statements on virtually every topic from economics to the environment to the beliefs of this country's founders.

This explains why Mr. Dayspring still has a job, as well as why his particular error was made in the service of protecting the phony public image of an alleged secular saint - insofar as contemporary conservatives would have it - who is actually an almost pathological liar. It is a shame for Americans, liberals, and conservatives both that increasingly our right wing does care to recognize the difference. And it is our media's shame that such lies are rarely, if ever, identified as such. So one must conclude that in the isolated case of Leslie Stahl and "60 Minutes," we must be grateful for small favors. your social media marketing partner


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We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

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Founder, Reader Supported News

+41 # BradFromSalem 2012-01-09 15:49
How about somebody tell Rep. Cantor that the reason Bush I made his infamous "read my lips" pledge was to inform Republicans at the time that he would have a more conservative administration on fiscal policy than President Reagan. It is also why Bush II went forth with his tax cuts immediately upon taking office. Even prior to 9-11 the economy was slowing down as the internet bubble was bursting. His tax cut was actually a "bonus" to high earners for the fiscal achievements under Clinton. This bonus has now become under Republican orthodoxy an entitlement program for the rich.
And now 30 years later, the myth repeated over and over has become accepted truth.
The Bizzaro world of Eric Cantor, et al goes as follows.
Reagan reduced taxes saving the world from the catastrophic inflation caused by Carter's personal rampage to undermine American exceptionalism. This idyllic world got interuppted by the ineptness of Daddy Bush, creating an opening for the Socialist Clinton administration. Fortunately, we were saved by Baby Bush, who returned us to Freedom and its pal Capitalism by lowering taxes, then killing lots of America hating Muslims (see 9-11). Finally, we ended up with the Muslim Communist Obama who immediately gave a ton of money to banks and forced us to go to the doctor for a death panel evaluation.
I choose the simple life, in the real world. Unfortunately the Republicans in their Bizzarro world are able to affect it.
+9 # Doubter 2012-01-10 12:49
May I venture to label the whole Republican/Cons ervative gaggle as "consistently inconsistent?"
+19 # psadave 2012-01-09 16:10
Those pesky facts keep getting in the way of the GOP message! Frank Luntz, where are you? What words can we use to rewrite this history?
+34 # squawcraw 2012-01-09 18:24
The GOP's new motto: "that was not meant to be a factual statement!" Who needs facts and reality when you can make up your own, right?
+36 # Rick Levy 2012-01-09 20:04
"The president's famous cluelessness was so obvious during his years in office that his defenders would attempt to deploy it as a defense of his actions, as if he were a small child or a beloved, but retarded, uncle."

Reagan was already showing signs of senility when he was governor of California.
+46 # RMDC 2012-01-09 20:11
The point is that Reagan raised taxes on the middle and lower income earners. His whole regime was about shifting the tax burden from the wealthy and corporations on to the poor and middle class. The worst tax increase was in Social Security tax, which was a cooperative effort between Reagan and Tip O'Neill and the democrats. Everyone knew the tax money collected would go into the general fund of the regime, even though it was said to be going into a social security trust fund.

When republicans today say Reagan cut taxes, they really mean he cut taxes on corporate and wealthy persons, that is, those who count in Reagan's delusional world. They completely ignore the middle and lower income classes. Just like Sanitorium said in NH, there is no "middle class." Republicans simply do not have any interest in the middle and lower class. They lie to them and manipulate them with fear and hate campaigns in order to get their votes, but the govern solely for the very rich.

All the republican presidential candidates are promising tax cuts, but the cuts they are talking about are cuts in capital gains tax and cuts in the corporate tax rate. Newt is the worst. He wants to cut both to ZERO. Let the middle and lower classes pay the full cost of government.
+5 # jimyoung 2012-01-10 02:01
I'm not so sure Reagan didn't do more eliminating loopholes and counterproducti ve incentives as part of the bargain with O'Neil. At least he raised revenue restoring about a third of the cuts. Bush, however, ignored another O'Neil, his first Treasury Secretary and 450 economists (including 10 of the 24 living Nobel Prize winners) with his excessive and poorly targeted "temporary" tax cuts. To use a conservative source check"
Looks like the "temporary" Bush tax cuts did pretty much what Paul O'Neil and the 450 economists predicted. If a progressive tax policy was in place, we wouldn't have had trillions in revenue reduction the last three years. Not as much if the higher velocity of money in investment income was taxed at Clinton rates. The velocity of money within the broader middle class seems far too low as I see many formerly profitable small business people and self-employed sitting comfortably idle. They are secure having homes paid for and adequate savings and investments. What they are not doing is producing the goods and services they did that added so much more real value to our currency than the financial manipulators that simply move money and overpriced debt around, skimming far more than ever before for their shoddy services.
+2 # jimyoung 2012-01-10 11:14
Followup, will look for multiple sources on the claim that Reagan raised capital gains taxes to 40%
+29 # susienoodle 2012-01-09 23:47
What can we do to educate the dolts who buy the rethug misinformation ? They are not embarrassed to be so clueless.
They are not interested in the truth nor the facts.
They watch the lies and propaganda on Faux. Which reminds me: why isn't Rubert Murdock in jail already? When are we going to pull Faux's broadcast license? As vile as so many of these rethugs are, the fact they get any traction at all boggles my mind. We better defeat them in Nov is all I can say.
+18 # goodsensecynic 2012-01-10 05:01
There is nothing to be done to "educate the dolts." They are dolts. End of story.

Ignorance is nothing to be ashamed of ... provided you are open-minded and willing to learn. Stupidity is also nothing to be ashamed of ... if your brain is biologically incapable of processing information independently. Pig-headedness (with apologies to my porcine friends) is, however, a serious problem and one which against which even the gods struggle in vain.

So, not being gods, let us concentrate on the ignorant and the stupid. Some of them may be willing and possibly able to learn ... a little.

As for the bulk of the rabid, right-wing religious zealots in the circus tent called the Republican Party, let them go.

Does I sound elitist? You betcha! The nice thing about the "left-wing" elite is, however, that it is open to anyone with the wit and the will to pay attention and to think. The right-wing elite, in the alternative, requires a massive cash deposit and a solemn vow to be wilfully ignorant, self-righteousl y stupid and possessed of an ideological straightjacket as impenetrable as the the Country Clubs where they sit slurping their drinks and watching their brains ooze out of their ... other end.
+6 # SouthBrun 2012-01-10 10:09
Re: Elitism..
Elitism is the slur directed at merit by doltish mediocrity. -Sydney J. Harris, journalist (1917-1986)
+2 # Doubter 2012-01-10 23:27
That is under the assumption that we live in a Meritocracy. OUR elites suffer from "DOLLARITIS"and "Power Addiction."
Dictionary .com definition of "elite"
1. ...the most powerful, rich, gifted, or educated members of a group, community, etc.
The FIRST concept is "powerful." "Educated" is almost an after thought.
O.K. so I admit to mediocrity.
"By their fruits ye shall know them."
So YOU tell me. What have our 'elites' done for us lately? It seems they've put it to us instead, and that they've always been mooching off us and having us do all the work while all they need do is sit and scheme.
+5 # lionsdenmother 2012-01-10 14:23
You can not educate the brain washed masses, the sheeple. Their religion is rush,hannity et al. WE need more spokespeople like rachal maddow and jon steward etc to shows back at them their own words like stewart or to question and research like maddow
+10 # pol 2012-01-10 00:25
Have you noticed how Republicans dutifully went about renaming highways, airports, schools, etc. after St. Ronnie? They certainly didn't want us to forget about their saint, did they? What's so ridiculous is that he was such an airhead... He didn't know what was going on half the time.
+14 # angelfish 2012-01-10 01:05
Ah yes, Lies and the lying liars who tell them. The ReTHUGlican Party ABOUNDS with them! They've learned that by simply repeating the LIE, Thousands will eventually take it as Gospel truth. In reality, Reagan was under the influence of the Alzheimer's Disease that would eventually kill him for most of his first term and ALL of his second! He and like-minded Conservatives such as Charlton Heston were great Historical revisionists, who actually believed their own Press. Reagan thought he really WAS the "Gipper" and Heston believed he was Moses, incarnate! It was refreshing to see Jon Huntsmann flush Romney's toilet in the New Hampshire Debates when he spoke of supporting his Country over partisan Party Politics. Wow! What a concept! At least he has two sons serving in the Navy. Romney has FIVE sons, NONE of whom have served in the Military. I wonder why? Anybody?
+9 # Rainphase 2012-01-10 03:32
Reagan did a lot of things wrong, but as president he actually raised the capital gains tax to 40%...which was subsequently cut in the late 90s by Republicans under Newt to 15% leaving nothing to balance the budget with.

I highly recommend listening to Terry Gross' interview with Tim Dickinson, where he goes into tax policy since Reagan and how Republicans took the country off a cliff. It's enlightening and, if you have any moral sense, will make you angry.
+11 # humanmancalvin 2012-01-10 07:35
This quote accurately sums up the GOP ..
"No, the real story here is the vehemence of the conservative movement's commitment to ignoring all forms of evidence that it finds inconsistent with its ideological preconceptions, regardless of circumstances or even consequences."
Like Saint Ronny, today's Republican far-right wing party is delusional & corrupt. Do not be fooled: they are not "self" delusional. They are quite aware of the fantasies & falsehoods they spread like manure on a farm. A Republican speaks to an evangelical audience, he/she has Jesus in their lives from the first leak of the morning to the first snore of the night not to mention their Jesus dreams. Insert any other group and the Republican chameleon changes colors on the spot.
Not that the Democrat pol is an innocent lamb, far from it. As a whole however, the Republican party is one of myth, lies, and total distortion of almost any & every truth. Period.
+11 # stonecutter 2012-01-10 09:15
In Texas, they have a quaint phrase to describe a phony, a braggart, a blowhard, a poseur: "He's all hat and no cattle". By that standard, the entire GOP crew in the media spotlight right now couldn't rustle up a baby calf between them.

Reality is not their tactical objective. Propping up an Alzheimer's-aff licted president in the Oval Office for years proved they could manage the perception of reality better than Walt Disney. Bush 41's single term, despite his own WWII heroism and runaway victory in the first Gulf War, proved that mythology "trumps" reality every time, and they have always had the well-greased machine to burnish that mythology for the mass of red-state imbeciles who swallow it.

W.'s lamentable years in office, despite the transparent reality of his serial ineptitude, grotesque policies and moral bankruptcy, cemented the case for continuing to feed the distracted, dumbed-down electorate a steady Rovian diet of fairy tales and "reality" TV, much more palatable and effective than some version of "the truth". Who really cares about truth if it makes you uncomfortable, fearful, more anxious than you already are every day?

Now with the Citizens United decision, they have unchecked, galactic wealth behind them to further construct and polish their alternate comic-book universe of "Christian America", "Our Freedoms" and the fight against the un-American "Kenyan Socialist", facts and the "common good" be damned.
+8 # ABen 2012-01-10 10:50
This current iteration of the GOP doesn't let the factual historical record get in the way of a narrative that seems very compelling to ignorant voters. This effort at what Orwell termed "new speak" is the stock and trade of Faux News.
+5 # lionsdenmother 2012-01-10 14:07
humanmancalvin. .. sounds just like a religion
+4 # Psyche 2012-01-10 18:57
Is it not a requirement of conservative idealist to be a good liar? President Reagan went beyond lying. He appears to have said things, and told entertaining stories over and over again so much that he began to believe them.
Google "delusion". You will catch my drift.
+5 # RMDC 2012-01-11 06:52
Yes, Reagan was delusional. He was also pretty far into alzheimers by the middle of his first term. He simply was not mentally competent. He could be programmed to make a short speech or take a brief interview, but other than that he was not really mentally competent.

But Reagan was also always a personally vicious guy. He was a snitch for the FBI and HUAC in the 50s, fingering hollywood types for being communists. He worked with the mafia to infiltrate the Screen Actors Guild while he was president of SAG. As spokesperson for GE, he was a paid propagandist.

Reagan is a great insult to the world. I met him twice in California. I got terrible vibes from my short experience. I sensed he was a mean and ignorant person. Of course, I looked like a hippie then and that is probably what made him take an immediate dislike toward me. But it was palpable. There were others in the room talking about Reagan's run for governor. Reagan did not understand what they were saying. His only engagement was emotional and the emotional range was only hate, barely covered up by an insincere facade.

That a man like this could be the hero of conservatives is truly appalling.

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