On July 17, 1984 President Ronald Reagan greatly expanded the federal government when he signed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, which required individual states to raise the minimum drinking age to 21 or forfeit 10 percent of federal highway funding. He also raised taxes several times.
The major tax increases, according to Reagan’s friend and former Republican Senator from Wyoming, Alan Simpson, are as follows: 1982, the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act; 1982, the gas tax increase; 1983, the Greenspan Commission that funded Social Security; and 1984, the deficit reduction tax.
In other words, the hero-worshiping of Reagan as a small government anti-tax Republican needs a reality check. In a recent interview with NPR, Simpson explained that Reagan was a realist about politics. A “New Yorker” article from 1981 takes a similar tone. Reagan informed the audience at the National Religious Broadcasters that he did believe in the separation of church and state just months before the election, much to the dismay of the Moral Majority, who undoubtedly helped secure Reagan’s election. He did, however, note his support of voluntary non-sectarian school prayer. The voluntary part is a far cry from the Moral Majority agenda.
None of this is to say that Reagan did not reduce government regulations at all; it’s merely to highlight that he was no purist about states’ rights or repealing taxes. He was, as Simpson’s interview states, a realist.
If the far right wants to invoke a small government political character with a staunch states’ rights mantra, might I suggest Barry Goldwater – a man so adamant about states’ rights that it cost him the 1964 election. While I support the 1964 Civil Rights Act, I admire Goldwater’s commitment to his principles for believing it was up to the states to set civil rights policy.
More importantly, however, I admire Goldwater’s understanding that one cannot willy-nilly cherry pick federal laws as one pleases. Goldwater believed the restriction of the federal government applied to all issues, not just ones that social conservatives disdain.
For instance, Goldwater supported Roe v. Wade because Goldwater understood that a truly limited federal government applied to an individual’s choice. Just because one person’s religious belief opposed abortion should not imply that all have to abide by that so-called religious choice.
Goldwater would shame current Republican leaders and their stance on moral issues. Last week, John Boehner announced he would convene a bi-partisan advisory group to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act. In the mid 1990s Senator Goldwater did not support “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” and I highly doubt he would care to have the federal government spend time defining marriage and exerting its will on individuals.
Think about it this way. Since the 1819 Dartmouth case, the Supreme Court recognizes corporations as individuals, although we don’t assign them genders. Still we allow these genderless individuals to merge with each other. Merger and acquisition lawyers are glorified family lawyers. If two airlines can marry each other, then why not two people? For the same reason we want decreased regulation in certain areas of business, we should remove the government from our personal lives.
For those who fear an increase of federal government, it’s time to recognize that social issues such as abortion and gay marriage should rest with individuals, not a government mandate or decrees on the issue. Moreover, if the Republican Party removes social issues from its platform, I suspect it will largely increase its membership by bringing in a younger population as well as drawing in many independents. Similarly, if the Democrats don’t have social issues to defend, what is their platform? Unions? They will need more than that to win an election.
Tucker may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Tucker849.