Reaganism's Death Knell

[ Posted Wednesday, August 11th, 2021 – 16:19 UTC ]

Ronald Reagan was the first president in the modern age who truly understood the importance of television cameras and snappy one-liners to advance his political agenda. This wasn't that big a surprise, seeing as how he had been a minor Hollywood movie actor and learned the impact of visual presence on the screen at an early age. He used this to great advantage both in his campaigns for president and, once he won, in the Oval Office itself. And one of his best lines was a take on a very old joke. Reagan was fond of summarizing his antipathy towards "big government" with the following quip: "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help!'"

As mentioned, this wasn't an original thought, it was actually the punchline to a common joke: "What are the three biggest lies in Western civilization?" The first two answers (in case there's anyone out there who hasn't heard this before) are: "I'll respect you in the morning," and: "The check is in the mail." That last one shows how dated the joke truly is, as younger readers might have to have the concept of "check" (if not "mail") explained to them.

All kidding aside, however, Reagan used the one-liner to advocate for shrinking the federal government as much as possible (even though it actually grew under his watch), restricting what it could and could not do, and getting the public behind supporting this limited-government agenda. He was most successful at the last of those, and we've been living with the hangover ever since. First there were "centrist" Democrats like Bill Clinton who infamously signed a bill declaring it would: "end welfare as we know it." Then there were less-centrist but still timid Democrats like Barack Obama, who knew Reaganism was wrong but didn't have the political willpower to force any drastic changes (Obamacare was indeed historic, but it fell far short of what would have been truly revolutionary -- some form of single-payer).

Today, however, might just be seen as the dawn of a new era in American politics, and the death knell of Reaganism. Because there was a perfect storm of a worldwide pandemic, an economic shutdown which led to devastating circumstances for tens of millions, and a huge failure of the federal government to adequately step up to the plate, the American public seems much more willing to now embrace the polar opposite of Reaganism: a robust federal government that does indeed try to actively help average middle-class families.

This is a historic and monumental shift. And it began in the wee hours of this morning, when the Senate passed the first hurdle towards a budget reconciliation bill that, in the words of its author Senator Bernie Sanders: "will be the most consequential piece of legislation for working people, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor since F.D.R. and the New Deal of the 1930s." And that's not really even an overstatement of the facts. Reaganism is on life support and this bill aims to pull the plug.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer circulated a memo which lays out exactly what this bill will accomplish. It is a breathtaking and extensive list, by any measure. Although his memo runs to nine pages, the first four are the crucial ones. They contain a committee-by-committee breakdown of what should be in the final bill. Two committees in particular are going to get to direct the most radical government investment effort since F.D.R.: the Finance Committee and the Heath, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Here is just a subset of the Finance Committee's bullet points:

  • Paid Family and Medical Leave
  • ACA expansion extension and filling the Medicaid Coverage Gap
  • Expanding Medicare to include dental, vision, hearing benefits and lowering the eligibility age
  • Child Tax Credit/EITC/CDCTC extension
  • Long-term care for seniors and persons with disabilities (HCBS)
  • Clean energy, manufacturing, and transportation tax incentives
  • Pro-worker incentives and worker support

And here is some of what the HELP Committee will tackle:

  • Universal Pre-K for 3 and 4-year olds
  • Child care for working families
  • Tuition-free community college
  • Increase the maximum Pell grant award
  • School infrastructure, student success grants, and educator investments

And finally, here is a list of some of the other ambitious programs the bill will provide, from all the other committees:

  • Agriculture conservation, drought, and forestry programs to help reduce carbon emissions and prevent wildfires
  • Rural development and rural co-op clean energy investments
  • Civilian Climate Corps funding
  • Improve housing affordability and equity by providing down payment assistance, rental assistance, and other homeownership initiatives
  • Consumer rebates to weatherize and electrify homes
  • Financing for domestic manufacturing of clean energy and auto supply chain technologies
  • Clean Energy Technology Accelerator that would fund low-income solar and other climate-friendly technologies
  • Investments in clean vehicles
  • Electrifying the federal vehicle fleet (USPS and Non-USPS)
  • Lawful permanent status for qualified immigrants
  • Investments in smart and effective border security measures

As I said, simply breathtaking in its scope. Any one of these getting passed in a standalone bill would have been a major accomplishment. Any random five of them passed in a bill together would have earned the term "historic." And the ones I have listed here are merely a subset of the total outlined in the memo.

Bernie's right. This bill represents a sea-change in what the federal government does for average people. It will transform millions of lives, if passed in any form which even resembles this outline. It will change the future for the better for almost everyone, in multiple different ways. It will show the American people that the federal government (and Democrats in Congress) still can effect transformative change. And it will drive a stake through the heart of Reaganism -- at least in the minds of a vast majority of the population. Arguing in the abstract about "socialism" is one thing, but arguing that you don't deserve free community college or free pre-K for your child is a whole different ball of wax -- and that's the political argument we're about to have.

Of course, the final bill will have changes. That's the nature of the sausage-making. Prima donna Democrats in the Senate will hold out until they can brag "I stood up to the liberal wing!" to get re-elected, and then they will vote for the bill. Amusingly, one particular item in the initial memo seemed to be an initial offer in this game, to Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia: "Appalachian Regional Commission and Economic Development Administration economic development and transition programs." But even if most of the agenda items make it through, it'll still be transformative and extremely progressive.

This battle will be joined immediately after the Senate returns from its August break which (due to the bipartisan infrastructure bill wasting so much time) will only be a paltry two weeks instead of the usual month. So September is going to see some serious horse-trading and bargaining within all the committees. There is also the hurdle of getting the Senate parliamentarian to approve all of these programs, and the hurdle of which taxes to raise to pay for it all (and Democrats have been swearing the whole thing will be paid for, so this is going to be critical).

But occasionally in Washington bills take on a life of their own. They get so much momentum behind them that they become, in essence, too big to fail. This bill has that feel. Both factions of the Democratic Party know full well it is in their interests to pass both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and Bernie's bill. One or the other won't do -- both are necessary. If the Democrats can put both of them on President Biden's desk for a signature, then the party will have an impressive platform to run on in both 2022 and 2024 ("Democrats get stuff done!"). If they fail to pass these bills, they will have precisely nothing to run on for the midterms and will likely be slaughtered, leaving both chambers on Capitol Hill in Republican hands. So these bills aren't just critical for the public and country at large, they are also crucial for the Democratic Party itself. That's what I mean by so much momentum as to be too big to fail.

If these bills pass largely unscathed, then the public will begin to benefit from all the new programs over the course of the next year. If Democrats do a good enough sales job on it (reminding everyone over and over again: "Democrats did this by ourselves, with no Republican help!"), then they stand a chance of bucking the historical trend of losing congressional seats in the midterms.

But there will be a larger and longer-term benefit as well. Reaganism will finally be dead. Once middle-class Americans start to enjoy these benefits, it will become almost impossible for the Republicans to take them away because there would just be too big a political backlash. People will get comfortable with the idea of the federal government actually doing more for families like theirs than just ignoring them and their plight. Which is exactly what happened under F.D.R., and could indeed happen over the course of the next year or so.

Reaganism might be finally and completely laid to rest. That would be a happy day for America. I'd be so happy, in fact, I'd be metaphorically dancing on Reaganism's grave.


[Program Note: Today was spent waiting for a part to arrive at the local auto parts store (alternator, for those who care about these things). So I was able to write this article. Tomorrow, however, will almost certainly be too busy for posting, so I just wanted to warn everyone and apologize in advance. And fear not: Friday's column should still be on track, no matter what.]

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


17 Comments on “Reaganism's Death Knell”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Other than a quick reference to president Biden's desk, one might think that Biden had nothing to do with this consequential piece of legislation upon reading the column today.

    Well, if this thing gets passed, it will have had a lot to do with the Biden plan and approach to things, just to be clear.

  2. [2] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    that's a pretty damn ambitious program. kudos, joe!

  3. [3] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    The concept underlying this whole 'infrastructure' plan as described by CW and Bernie Sanders appears to me to be the claim that we as a society will now be able to collectively consume a helluva lot more than we have previously been consuming, which we will achieve by giving lower-income earners a helluva lot more money than they previously earned on the job.

    If we hope to accomplish that goal by means of re-distribution of income from high earners to lower earners, some portion of that dream might actually be realized.

    If however, we hope to accomplish that dream by means of the Fed Res bank providing the $, it simply ain't gonna happen.

    I fear that we may have lost sight of the eternal truth that in the world of reality, nobody can ever consume anything until somebody has first produced it.

  4. [4] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    but enough about all this silly USA stuff. i read that canada had a real emergency a couple weeks ago.

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Ice-cream cake is the best. And, Joe Biden knows what's what.

  6. [6] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    nonsense! cake is for poseurs. only a pie emergency could be forgiven.

  7. [7] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    and here's something from the times...

    liz, you might want to pay special attention to number 2 on the list...


  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I wrote cake but I was thinking and meant to say pie.

  9. [9] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    That kind of initial error would have sunk other presidents. But, not Biden. In fact, it makes his accomplishment even more impressive.

    Now, let's see what he can get done when all he has to do is herd cats! :)

  10. [10] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    we are in a pie-mergency.

  11. [11] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I'm largely tuning out for the next few days, so ... keep me posted!

  12. [12] 
    nypoet22 wrote:
  13. [13] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Ever since Saint Ronnie died I've had a fantasy about going to his grave in the coast and peeing on it. Yeah, I'd likely get arrested but that's how much I hate what Reaganism has done to our country.

    If Joe gets both passed I think I'll feel that America has symbolically peed on Reaganism and that maybe I pull my little fantasy of the old Bucket List.

  14. [14] 
    Kick wrote:

    Reaganism's Death Knell? What, no genuflect!?

    AND no column tonight!? On Biden's last day in office?
    Have you lost your ever-lovin' mind!? Rhetorical question.

    I'm going to be nice and overlook this grievous error of yours (along with your repetitive shunning of fashionable society and your long-running eschewing of the wonderfulness that is pie), and I'm going to write you a column for Biden's Death Knell. Got a nice ring to it, n'est-ce pas?

    Ahem (for EM)

    Biden's Death Knell

    It was a nice run, but alas, tomorrow is Friday the 13th, and we have it on good authority from Nostradumbass the Your Pillow (Not My Pillow) Guy that Trump will be returning to the White House... tomorrow. Reinstatement day is nigh.

    Yes, when the sun rises (it doesn't really rise) in the East once more, it's going to flip, President Biden will magnanimously be leaving the White House, and those long suffering from paraskevidekatriaphobia will accrue another reason to rue the day.

    So let us bemoan our thusly sealed fate and toast yet again in song (as we are wont to do). Can I get an ECHO... Echo... echo:

    The Story of Tonight

    I may not live to see our glory
    But I will gladly join the fight
    And when our children tell our story
    They'll tell the story of tonight

    Let's have another round tonight

    Raise a glass to freedumb
    Something they can never take away
    No matter what they tell you.

    So to recap:

    * Tomorrow is another big Q-Anon MAGA meltdown
    * Goalposts moving (again) day
    * Elect a clown, expect a circus

  15. [15] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    If we hope to accomplish that goal by means of re-distribution of income from high earners to lower earners, some portion of that dream might actually be realized.

    Damn straight its time to restore a 91% top marginal rate on the fat cats who've made out like bandits for 40 years. FYI America enjoyed far more GDP growth and rising living standards back in that golden age.

    91% on obscene income would also reduce incentives to cook up things like CDOs and whatnot that trashed the world in 2008, so there's that.

  16. [16] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    All I can say is,

    Hosanna, Queen of Snark!

    Hosanna in the Highest!

    And I mean this respectfully, even reverently.

    Texas doesn't deserve you.

  17. [17] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    no word since wednesday, hope CW is ok. car troubles can be a real chore.

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