As I watch the internal debate about the future of the conservative movement, I hear the constant reframe about returning to the core principles of the conservative movement…to return to the Reagan roots.
Those values include cutting taxes, reducing government and “pro family” policies. But what is missing from this mix is a value that all Republican/conservative administrations since Ronald Reagan–and most congressional Republicans–have embraced…and that is a resounding belief in the “value” of debt.
The fact is the national debt, as a percentage of the GDP was declining from the end of WWII until the end of the Carter Presidency when it started to climb again when reagan took office. It then leveled off and declined again under Clinton, only to take off again under W.
It is generally acknowledged that there as an electoral realignment in 1980 when Reagan won and it ushered in an era of conservative ideology. Many point to the economic growth we experienced as a vindication of conservative ideas. But what is ignored (unspoken) by conservatives is that when Reagan took office, the total national debt was about $1 trillion and now it is projected to be about $12 trillion by the end of ’09. Conservatives like to credit lower taxes for the economic growth, but clearly Keynesian “pump priming” was driving the growth: sure lower taxes helped, but government spending was increased (under Reagan, that was in the form of the defense budget) also.
In the end, the last 28 years of growth was mostly fueled by debt. This will be the legacy of the Republican Party for the last 28 years and not just the legacy of W. And as Republicans assess their “values” and what they stand for…will they have the guts to talk about their reliance on debt and how it will impact this country for the next 20 years or so?