View Poll Results: Was Ronald Reagan a libertarian?

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Thread: Was Ronald Reagan a libertarian?

  1. #1
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    Was Ronald Reagan a libertarian?

    I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.
    - Ronald Reagan, 1975

    When one discusses the Reagan-era deficit spending with conservative apologists, the usual excuse given is that they were "the fault of the Democratic Congress", or remnants of the Carter Administration. Murray Rothbard, often considered the dean of American liberalism, disagreed with that assessment, and while I have my own issues with Rothbard (his tendency to ally with labor protectionists like Pat Buchanan), I admire what he wrote of Reagan:

    There was no "Reagan Revolution." Any "revolution" in the direction of liberty (in Ronnie’s words "to get government off our backs") would reduce the total level of government spending. And that means reduce in absolute terms, not as proportion of the gross national product, or corrected for inflation, or anything else. There is no divine commandment that the federal government must always be at least as great a proportion of the national product as it was in 1980. If the government was a monstrous swollen Leviathan in 1980, as libertarians were surely convinced, as the inchoate American masses were apparently convinced and as Reagan and his cadre claimed to believe, then cutting government spending was in order. At the very least, federal government spending should have been frozen, in absolute terms, so that the rest of the economy would be allowed to grow in contrast. Instead, Ronald Reagan cut nothing, even in the heady first year, 1981.

    At first, the only "cut" was in Carter’s last-minute loony-tunes estimates for the future. But in a few short years, Reagan’s spending surpassed even Carter’s irresponsible estimates. Instead, Reagan not only increased government spending by an enormous amount – so enormous that it would take a 40 percent cut to bring us back to Carter’s wild spending totals of 1980 – he even substantially increased the percentage of government spending to GNP. That’s a "revolution"?
    Of course, nobody today takes seriously the argument that Reagan actually put a dent in the government's rate of expansion, and any honest assessment of his Presidency will admit that he did not even propose to do so after his election. However, most libertarian critiques of Reagan end here: many cannot bring themselves to admit that Reagan was a bad President, from a libertarian perspective, even outside concerns of economic Statism. But that's a discussion I feel it's important to have - hence the thread.

  2. #2
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    Re: Was Ronald Reagan a libertarian?

    Was he a libertarian deep down? That's a question we'll never know the answer to.

    Did he govern as one? Hell no.

    Was he a fantastic spokesman for libertarianism? Hell yeah.

    Last edited by Black_Zawisza; 06-25-12 at 05:11 AM.
    Statist silliness of the day:
    Quote Originally Posted by sangha View Post
    All this talk about "dominion over a third person" is libertarianistic goobledy-gook. "dominion over a third person" means that the 3rd person is "controlled", and our govt does not control people.

  3. #3
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    Re: Was Ronald Reagan a libertarian?

    Quote Originally Posted by Black_Zawisza View Post
    Was he a fantastic spokesman for libertarianism? Hell yeah.

    That's really a pretty awful speech, in the sense that it does not attack the root and branch of the State's expansion during the 1960s: the Cold War, and its resultant military-industrial complex. Goldwater wasn't much better in that respect, but simply painting over the issue actively set libertarianism back.

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    Re: Was Ronald Reagan a libertarian?

    Quote Originally Posted by Einzige View Post
    That's really a pretty awful speech, in the sense that it does not attack the root and branch of the State's expansion during the 1960s: the Cold War, and its resultant military-industrial complex. Goldwater wasn't much better in that respect, but simply painting over the issue actively set libertarianism back.
    Whoops, you're right - I didn't bother checking which part of "A Time for Choosing" it was. He does a great job earlier on in the speech, when he's attacking the welfare state. As you correctly point out, he was terrible on the warfare side of the equation.

    Statist silliness of the day:
    Quote Originally Posted by sangha View Post
    All this talk about "dominion over a third person" is libertarianistic goobledy-gook. "dominion over a third person" means that the 3rd person is "controlled", and our govt does not control people.

  5. #5
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    Re: Was Ronald Reagan a libertarian?

    Quote Originally Posted by Einzige View Post
    - Ronald Reagan, 1975

    When one discusses the Reagan-era deficit spending with conservative apologists, the usual excuse given is that they were "the fault of the Democratic Congress", or remnants of the Carter Administration. Murray Rothbard, often considered the dean of American liberalism, disagreed with that assessment, and while I have my own issues with Rothbard (his tendency to ally with labor protectionists like Pat Buchanan), I admire what he wrote of Reagan:



    Of course, nobody today takes seriously the argument that Reagan actually put a dent in the government's rate of expansion, and any honest assessment of his Presidency will admit that he did not even propose to do so after his election. However, most libertarian critiques of Reagan end here: many cannot bring themselves to admit that Reagan was a bad President, from a libertarian perspective, even outside concerns of economic Statism. But that's a discussion I feel it's important to have - hence the thread.
    By the way, when you speak of Murray Rothbard being the dean of American liberalism - I would have to disagree. Even the classical liberals were too statist for him (and myself).
    Statist silliness of the day:
    Quote Originally Posted by sangha View Post
    All this talk about "dominion over a third person" is libertarianistic goobledy-gook. "dominion over a third person" means that the 3rd person is "controlled", and our govt does not control people.

  6. #6
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    Re: Was Ronald Reagan a libertarian?

    of course not and his record in office is proof enough of that.
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  7. #7
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    Re: Was Ronald Reagan a libertarian?

    No way in hell.

    But, then again, it was pretty tough to be a libertarian politician during the Cold War.

    I don't think many of the younger people here on this forum really understand the existential threat that the Cold War was from the 1950's to the 1990's, when the USSR finally fell. I remember growing up as a little boy understanding that at any time nuclear warheads could fly between the United States and the Soviet Union and utterly destroy this planet. It wasn't quaint, like the "duck and cover" short made it seem. It was a ****ing reality and we had to live our lives despite the constant threat of world annihilation.

    Given the stakes, I don't see how the full scope of libertarianism could have been practical. Social libertarianism may have been possible, but I don't think their stances on taxes and foreign policy would have won out.

    We needed those military bases in Western Europe to deter the USSR from taking the rest of the continent from their puppet states in Eastern Europe. We needed increased defense spending to pay for those nuclear warheads to make the Soviet Union understand that we could hurt them just as much or even more than they could hurt us.

    I mean it was so bad that there were direct lines between the White House and the Kremlin so that if one of them, or the ally nation of one of them, went to war they could call the other to try to explain and assure that they weren't going to directly attack them and they wouldn't use nuclear weapons.

    When the RAND Corporation, a policy think tank organization formed in 1948, proposed a counterforce strategy for the nuclear arsenal - that is that only military targets would be hit by nuclear armaments but civilian areas wouldn't be hit - the commander of Strategic Air Command, Air Force General Thomas S. Power responded

    Quote Originally Posted by Thomas S. Power
    Restraint? Why are you so concerned with saving their lives? The whole idea is to kill the bastards. At the end of the war if there are two Americans and one Russian left alive, we win.
    That's not hyperbole. That's not exaggeration. That's not saber rattling.

    For half a century the two superpowers were perfectly willing to utterly destroy each other because both sides knew that the other would do the same to them.

    So how can we have a government of non-coercion and non-violence and a greatly limited military and isolationist foreign policy in that kind of global environment?

    You can't.

    So no, Reagan wasn't a full blooded libertarian President. But it would have been both disastrous and treasonous if he was. And no matter what you think of Reagan, the world is a better place because he wasn't.
    Also, we need to legalize recreational drugs and prostitution.

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    Re: Was Ronald Reagan a libertarian?

    Nope. He was a dyed-in-the-wool LIBERAL through and through.

  9. #9
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    Re: Was Ronald Reagan a libertarian?

    I have to disagree on Reagan being what we needed. He was the exact opposite. We didn't need to spend like a hot war to fight a cold war. Massive and often ill conceived spending sprees expanded our debt to what was then unthinkable levels. To counter the Soviet threat is one thing. To send Marines to die in Lebanon, another. We went from a flexible containment to fight even three guys we think MIGHT not want our 'guidance'. From helping hand to warped Hollywood version of a High Noon Sheriff in a B movie.

    What wasn't mentioned anywhere was for all Ronnie railed against taxes he increased them almost every year he was in office. He signed executive orders and bills to limit the 2nd amendment. he shrugged off the mounting, unprecedented debt as something every family in America has.

    Ronnie was a lot of things but he seemed far more like a neo-con, big government, spend our children's future soft soap salesman than anything we would call responsible.

  10. #10
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    Re: Was Ronald Reagan a libertarian?

    First...amazing post Sam.

    Second...no, Ronald Reagan wasn't a libertarian and certainly not a Libertarian. That said, he never claimed to be. Suggesting that libertarianism is at the heart of conservatism is not necessarily saying they are one and the same but simply suggesting one is part of what drives the whole of the other. Which is an accurate assessment ideologically.

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