The Corner

Al Hunt, Wrong Again

Al Hunt on Ronald Reagan in today’s Wall Street Journal:

“Although with his landslide win in 1984 he could have claimed a mandate for more of the same, he didn’t. He moved to the center on both domestic issues—the landmark 1986 tax bill was a genuinely bipartisan effort—and on foreign affairs, particularly in his dealings with the Soviet Union and Mikhail Gorbachev.”

This is ignorant.

Reagan’s 1986 tax reform, which sharply reduced personal income tax rates, was precisely “more of the same,” a deepening of the tax cuts he had enacted in his first term. Did the 1986 reform receive bipartisan support? It did indeed. Because Reagan moved to the center? No. Because by 1986 Reagan had shfited the entire political landscape, forcing the center to come to him.

In his dealings with the Soviet Union, it is certainly true that Reagan held summit meetings with Gorbachev, and even that, here and there in arms negotiations, Reagan proved conciliatory toward the Soviets. Yet this represented not a shift in Reagan’s attitudes but the fulfillment of his strategy. He had already engaged in a massive arms buildup, called the Soviets the names they deserved, and launched the strategic defense initiative, in effect shoving the Soviets against the wall and slapping them silly. (Note also that his sharpest exchange with the Soviets took place at Reykjavik in 1987—well into Reagan’s second term.) Once the Soviets themselves had come around—and remember that the INF treaty Gorby and Reagan signed in 1987 agreed to the same “zero option” that in 1981 had caused the Soviets to break off negotiations—Reagan quite happily proved sweetness and light. But he hadn’t changed his strategy. He’d won.

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