July 7

Ep. 0010: The Myth of Reagan

Ah, the Gipper!  He reversed (or at least significantly slowed) the growth of the post-New Deal/Great Society Leviathan federal government in the US, right?  I mean, he sure did take a rhetorical ax to the government….

But what if it was all just talk?  What if conservatives love and liberals hate Ronald Wilson Reagan, but for things that aren’t even real?

(BTW, I apologize for the intermittent background noise.  A cable was rubbing on the mic and I didn’t notice it until after I’d recorded the whole episode!)

Join Prof CJ as he discusses:

  •  The Mythical Story of Reagan-as-Gov’t-Cutter
  • Supply Side theory & practice
  • Candidate Reagan’s platform c. 1980
  • Reagan’s record on such things as deregulation, taxes, spending, borrowing, money, and federal programs & departments
  • Some excerpts from David Stockman’s excellent book, The Triumph of Politics, on how & why the Reagan Revolution didn’t really happen
  • The Prof’s thoughts on how figures like Reagan (and Obama) seem to emerge whenever there’s a real possibility of the Anti-Establishment Left & Anti-Establishment Right getting together (such as in the late-70s & circa the end of George W. Bush’s presidency), and successfully 1) re-divide the Left and Right sides of Anti-Establishmentarianism and 2) co-opt & defuse the energy and anger of their respective side (as Reagan did for much of the Anti-Est. Right of the 1980s and Obama did for much of the Anti-Est. Left in recent years.)

Prof CJ’s Picks (buy from Amazon via these links to help support the show)

External links:


Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved.

Posted July 7, 2014 by profcj in category "American History", "Podcasts


  1. By Rhesa Browning on

    Interesting commentary on Reagan. One question though. You mention that spending and size of government increased during his terms and other Republican Presidents. My question is how did the House/Senate breakdown during Reagan’s era and those of other 20th Century Republican Presidents? I ask because Clinton is often used as an example of a Democrat President who reduced size of government and spending, even the welfare state. However, of that happened during his 2nd term when he was being pressured by Republicans to do so. Of course he also cut defense spending. I’ll give him that one.

    1. By profcj (Post author) on

      Good question. As far as I recall, during Reagan’s presidency, the House was controlled by Democrats the whole time, and the Senate was controlled by Republicans for part of his presidency, but not all of it.

      As far as other Republican presidents, I’m pretty sure that the Democrats controlled the House almost the entire time from the 1930s through the mid-1990s; at most, there may have been 1 or 2 brief periods in that time when it briefly went Republican (for example, I think it did for a couple of years during Truman’s presidency.) The Senate, while still in Democratic hands for the majority of the same time period, was in Republican hands a little bit more than the House. For example, for part of Eisenhower’s presidency.

      While Leviathan has tended to grow overall regardless of who’s in charge since at least the 1930s, I’m pretty sure that it has tended to grow the slowest when the president is a Democrat and Congress is controlled by Republicans. (However, recent years have been somewhat of an exception.) When Republicans control either both the legislature or the executive, or when they just control the executive, it tends to grow faster. LBJ’s an exception to this, and there may be others, but that’s the basic pattern as I understand it.

      In general, when there’s a Republican president, on the rare occasions where even a token effort at “cuts” to the welfare state (often just cuts in the rate of growth) is made, they tend to buckle pretty quickly under accusations of “not caring about the poor”, etc. And of course they’re always for upping the military budget in any way they can.

      1. By Rhesa Browning on

        Thanks. That’s an interesting dynamic. Maybe it shows the importance of the distance of the representative to the people. Maybe if there Congressional districts were smaller and Congressmen more numerous we would see more of a positive effect, since they would be more likely to do thing for the people.

        I do think that is a big weakness of the Republicans is that they seem to give up when accused of being careless or they feign care for conservative principles before they get in power. The aspect of the military budget is a complicating factor too. I appreciate your perspective on the military and think we should be slow to go to war but I don’t know if I have arrived at your view… yet.

        At this point I think it would be huge win if only there could be a law to hold all government taxing & spending constant on a dollar basis for a 20+ years, really forever but even a large finite number would be helpful. Of course, we would have to find a way to pay off debt.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.