Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. These articles are republished from V & V, a web site of the Center for Vision & Values. Paul Kengor is author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004), The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007), and The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007). His latest book is The Communist - Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink (2012).
Obama Should Study the History of Reaganomics?
Last Tuesday, The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College hosted its eighth Ronald Reagan Lecture, a much-anticipated annual event. This year featured Art Laffer and Roger Robinson. Laffer is the namesake of the Laffer Curve, a cornerstone of President Reagan's supply-side economic policies. Robinson spearheaded the extraordinary economic-warfare campaign against the Soviet Union for Reagan's fearless National Security Council.
The discussion covered many issues, including how the policies pursued by Ronald Reagan to stimulate economic growth were so completely different from Barack Obama's. It's worth highlighting those differences here. We ignore them at our peril.
Reagan inherited an abysmal economy from Jimmy Carter. His prescription for recovery rested on four pillars: tax cuts, deregulation, reductions in the rate of growth of government spending, and carefully managed growth of the money supply. He wanted to stimulate economic growth via tax cuts, allowing the American people to keep their money and invest it more wisely and efficiently than government.
This was, in effect, private-sector stimulus - a stark contrast to President Obama's massive $800 billion public-sector (read: government) "stimulus" in 2009. Among Reagan's tax cuts, the federal income tax reduction was the centerpiece. Reagan secured a 25 percent across-the-board reduction in tax rates over a three-year period beginning in October 1981. Eventually, the upper-income rate was dropped from 70 percent to 28 percent.
In the process, Reagan also dramatically simplified the tax code. When he was inaugurated, there were 16 separate tax brackets. When he was finished, there were only two. Not only did this simplification eliminate complexity, it also eliminated loopholes and removed 4 million working poor from the tax rolls; they no longer paid any federal income tax.
Reagan presided over the largest tax cut in American history and accomplished it in tandem with a huge Democratic Party majority in the House. It was a bipartisan triumph that The Washington Post called "one of the most remarkable demonstrations of presidential leadership in modern history." Unlike President Obama, who derided his Republican congressional opposition as "hostage takers" and denounced their desire for tax cuts, Reagan found a way to work with the opposition to advance the country.
After a slow start through 1982-83, the stimulus effect of the Reagan tax cuts was unprecedented, sparking the longest peacetime expansion/recovery in the nation's history: 92 consecutive months. The bogeymen of the 1970s - chronic unemployment and the deadly combination of double-digit inflation and interest rates - were vanquished. The poverty rate dropped; the standard of living soared. The Dow Jones industrial average, which, in real terms, had declined 70 percent from 1967-82, nearly tripled from 1983-89.
Contrary to liberal demonology, African Americans and other minorities did extremely well during the Reagan years. Real income for a median African American family had dropped 11 percent from 1977-82. But from 1982-89, coming out of the recession, it rose by 17 percent. In the 1980s, there was a 40 percent jump in African American households earning over $50,000.
African American unemployment (which has increased significantly under President Obama) fell faster than white unemployment in the 1980s. The number of African American-owned businesses increased by almost 40 percent while the number of African Americans enrolled in college increased by almost 30 percent (white college enrollment increased only 6 percent).
There were likewise impressive numbers for Hispanics and women. Hispanic-owned businesses in the 1980s grew by an astounding 81 percent and the number of Hispanics in college jumped 45 percent.
Overall, the "Reagan Boom" not only produced widespread prosperity but - along with the attendant Soviet collapse - generated budget surpluses in the 1990s. Carter-era terms like "malaise" and "misery index" vanished. Only during the Obama years, and specifically in 2011, has America re-approached similar misery-index levels, reaching a 28-year high.
All of this is not just history. It's a crucial economics lesson that we need to learn and remember. We neglect it to our detriment.
Shirley Temple's America
I learned only yesterday that Shirley Temple, the iconic child actress, died earlier this week at age 85. Reports on her death were easy to miss. I went through my usual scan of various websites and saw nothing. I fortunately caught a buried "Shirley Temple, R.I.P." by a writer at a political website.
I was dismayed by the sparse reaction to the loss of this woman who lived a great American life. Had Shirley Temple died 50 years ago, or even 30 years ago, the country would have stopped. People everywhere would have paused to give Temple her due. It would have been the lead in every newspaper.
But not today. Our culture is too obsessed with Miley Cyrus and gay marriage to give proper recognition to a woman who was one of the most acclaimed, respected, and even cherished Americans, a household name to children and adults alike.
When I caught the news of Temple's death, I groaned. I braced myself to tell my two young daughters. They've watched Shirley Temple movies for years. To them, she's a contemporary, another innocent little girl. When I informed my 11-year-old daughter, she frowned and said, "Oh, that's terrible." She was about to cry when I quickly explained that Shirley was 85 and had lived an extraordinary life. There was no reason to be sad.
For years, as my daughters and wife and I watched Temple's old movies, particularly on the superb Turner Classic Movies channel, we'd check her date of birth, do the math, and realize that Shirley probably would be with us a while longer. That time has finally closed.
I never met Shirley Temple, but a good friend of mine who died in August knew her. Bill Clark, who was Ronald Reagan's close friend and crucial adviser in taking down the Soviet Union, met Temple at the height of her popularity, when both were children.
Clark's grandfather was a literal sheriff, cowboy, and California trailblazer, known throughout the Los Angeles area. Some Hollywood publicity folks contacted the senior Clark around 1936 for a local promotion. The promotion featured four-year-old little Bill pinning a badge on Shirley Temple's vest as she was "officially" deputized by Marshal Clark.
Bill Clark always fondly recalled that moment, captured in a photo that he kept framed and that we put in his biography. He would later have pictures with the likes of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, but here was one photo he kept close to heart.
Fifty years later, Clark and Temple served together again, this time in the State Department, where Clark held the higher rank: he, as second in command; she, as foreign affairs officer. Temple's old Hollywood friend, fellow Republican, and political ally, Ronald Reagan, had appointed her. She became an ambassador.
But Shirley Temple was, of course, known for film rather than politics. I cannot do justice to that storied career here, but indulge me as I share one of my favorite Shirley Temple movies.
In the 1934 classic, "Bright Eyes," Shirley played a five-year-old who lost her father in an airplane crash and then lost her mother. She is comforted by loving people who would do anything for her, including her godfather, who is identified as just that. The godfather behaves like a true godfather. The movie includes constant, natural references to faith, never shying from words like God, Heaven, and even Jesus.
Today's sneering secular audiences would reflexively dismiss the film as Norman Rockwell-ish. To the contrary, the movie is hardly sugarcoated. Just when your heart is broken from the death of sweet Shirley's dad, her mom is killed by a car while carrying a cake for Shirley on Christmas day.
That doesn't remind me of any Norman Rockwell portrait I've seen.
What such cynics really mean is that the film isn't sufficiently depraved for modern tastes. Shirley doesn't pole dance or "twerk." She doesn't do a darling little strip tease for the boys while singing "Good Ship, Lollipop." The references to God are not in vain or in the form of enlightening blasphemy. And the movie has a happy, not miserable, ending.
Come to think of it, maybe this isn't a movie for modern audiences!
For 80 years, Shirley Temple's bright eyes brightened the big screen. They reflected what was good and decent in this country. She embodied what made America great, and she brightened our lives in the process. *