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Ronald Reagans Leben und seine Politik

Kurz dargestellt von Steven F. Hayward, Wissenschaftler beim American Enterprise Institute (AEI)

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Reagan Believed Himself to Be Heir

By Inspiring Hope in Government, the Republican Actually Ended Up Saving New Deal Policies

By Steven F. Hayward

Posted: Tuesday, June 8, 2004


Any assessment of Ronald Reagan's place in history will have to resolve a paradox.

Reagan voted four times for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and professed to love FDR even after he became a Republican. When he was president, Reagan's opponents charged that he aimed at nothing less than the complete undoing of New Deal. Reagan himself believed that he was the proper heir to FDR.

Reagan said it was liberalism, not himself, that had changed, but liberals thought Reagan practiced political larceny when he quoted FDR favorably. (One liberal who objected was Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who said of Reagan's use of FDR: "Anyone can quote him, but his words mean nothing out of context.")

There is a long argument to be made about the exact character of FDR's New Deal liberalism and its successor, the Great Society-style liberalism of the 1960s. Reagan, friends and critics noted, didn't seriously attack any of the pillars of the New Deal, such as Social Security. And even though Reagan may have said he was really after the Great Society, he wasn't able to trim much of that either, and now, under President George W. Bush, the Great Society's largest legacy-Medicare--has just grown dramatically larger. Government's share of the economy didn't shrink at all under Reagan, though it might have grown much larger had he not been president.

Rather than undoing the past, Reagan made his own unique legacy. His use of FDR's words on behalf of his own cause was a shrewd act of rhetorical jujitsu. For however little he may have undone the substance of the New Deal, he did derail the near-monopoly of New Deal liberalism in American politics.

Just as FDR cast a long shadow over the next generation of American political life, Reagan's shadow over our subsequent political course is proving to be similarly long and may still be lengthening. While he didn't turn back the welfare state as some of his more fervent supporters hoped, he did apply a much-needed brake to activist government, such that Clinton felt compelled, on the eve of his 1996 re-election campaign, to say that "the era of big government is over."

Meanwhile, Reagan's ideas of tax cuts and missile defense have proved to be durable staples of politics today. Reagan, it should be recalled, began as an insurgent in the Republican Party, battling the party establishment. Today the Republican establishment says, "We are all Reaganites now." Like FDR, he effected a wholesale transformation of his party.

But above all, Reagan reinvigorated the presidency after a period in which Americans were coming to doubt the institution itself, using it for large purposes. He was no Calvin Coolidge or even Dwight Eisenhower; FDR would have approved of the style of Reagan's governance.

There is a major irony to Reagan's achievement. Reagan's reinvigoration of the presidency led to an increase in the public confidence in government, and actually saved the New Deal. This is why the eminent presidential scholar Richard Neustadt once called Reagan "a New Deal Republican."

There were remarkable echoes of FDR's 1933 inaugural address in Reagan's own first inaugural address, especially the abiding faith in American democracy and the innate optimism that uplifted listeners. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. tells us at the outset of "The Age of Roosevelt" that, "The fog of despair hung over the land" as FDR assumed office in 1933. With FDR's inaugural address, "Across the land the fog began to lift."

Reagan seemed to strike much the same effect on a traumatized nation in 1981. He was exactly the right man for the moment, and he was fully conscious of FDR's precedent. The day after Reagan's inauguration, the Washington Post wrote, "By the time (Reagan) left the Capitol, America seemed a different place." The nation is still a different place today because of him, which is why future historians rank Reagan alongside FDR as the most consequential president of the 20th century, and why historians will refer to our time as the Age of Reagan.

Reagan, in Short

By Steven F. Hayward

Posted: Monday, June 7, 2004


San Francisco Chronicle

Publication Date: June 7, 2004

"No, no, Jimmy Stewart for governor; Ronald Reagan for best friend."

So said film executive Jack Warner, according to legend, on hearing in 1965 that Ronald Reagan was planning to run for governor of California. Sure, Ronald Reagan is a genial fellow, gives a great speech and has a definite ideology, but can an actor really be the governor of the largest state in the nation? While Democrats underestimated him, the voters didn't, sending him to Sacramento by a million-vote landslide.

It is generally forgotten today that Reagan got off to a bad start. As his long-time aide Lyn Nofziger later admitted, "We weren't just amateurs, we were novice amateurs." Yet Reagan managed to get his bearings quickly, developing an effective governing style that enabled him to have a successful presidency.

Still, his seemingly light workload that got him home by 6 p.m. was a source of criticism. Behind the scenes, Reagan worked harder than most people, including his staff, knew. For some reason, Reagan liked to project an insouciant image, with quips about his work habits such as, "They say hard work never killed anybody, but I say, why take chances?"

Reagan inherited a $1 billion-budget deficit (proportionally about the same as California's budget deficit today). As he later reflected, "I didn't know if I was elected governor or appointed receiver." Reagan followed his first instinct, and called for a 10 percent across-the-board spending cut in every state agency and spending program. "Any major business can tighten its belt by 10 percent and still maintain the quality and quantity of its operation," Reagan said. "So too can government."

The 10 percent across-the-board cutback idea was an impractical nonstarter, and made Reagan look like the amateur politician that he was. He quickly agreed to raise taxes, which infuriated some conservatives. Yet most of them stuck with him when he explained that the tax increase "does not represent my philosophy of government. I still think the government of California costs the people of California too much."

Reagan possessed the one essential virtue of any successful leader: the power of decision. Lou Cannon, the definitive biographer of Reagan's governorship, read through the minutes of Cabinet meetings and observed that the minutes "reveal a Reagan who was not above admitting his ignorance about a major state issue but who displayed a ready decisiveness once he was presented with alternatives.

"There's no better time to make a decision than when it's right in front of you," Reagan liked to say.

Reagan began a practice in Sacramento, which he carried with him to the White House, that he called "round-tabling." Reagan liked to hash out different points of view on an issue with his advisers. Reagan relied on a controversial managerial device to drive this process: the one-page memo.

Reagan required officials and staff to boil down an issue into a one-page format with the following four elements: the issue, the facts, reasoning and recommendations. His cabinet secretary, William P. Clark Jr., had helped develop the routine. "It has been found," Clark said, "that almost any issue can be reduced to a single page."

Reagan made as many as eight decisions an hour during staff meetings, affixing an "OK, R.R." next to one of the alternatives presented in a memo. Critics ridiculed Reagan's one-pagers, not realizing that Reagan had followed the practice of Winston Churchill, who often demanded "on a single sheet of paper" memoranda from his cabinet about wartime issues, and also Dwight Eisenhower, who had used the single-page format both as president and also as Allied commander during World War II.

"Amazingly enough," Newsweek magazine reported in May 1967, "with little more than his first 100 days in office scratched from the calendar, the quondam host of 'Death Valley Days' has managed to close one of the widest credibility gaps any politician ever faced." Even before his passing, Reagan had begun to close the credibility gap about his presidency as well. Whether you liked his views or not, he showed that he could be a genial person and govern effectively, too.

Steven F. Hayward is a resident scholar at AEI and the author of The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order (Prima Publishing, 2001).

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