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WWRD: What Would Reagan Do?

“The problems we inherited were far worse than most inside and out of government had expected; the recession was deeper that most inside and out of government had predicted. Curing these problems has taken more time and a higher toll than any of us wanted. Unemployment is far too high. Projected federal spending—if government refuses to tighten its own belt—will also be far too high and could weaken and shorten the economic recovery now underway.

“We’re witnessing an upsurge of productivity and impressive evidence that American industry will once again become competitive in markets at home and abroad, ensuring more jobs and better incomes for the nation’s work force. But our confidence must also be tempered by realism and patience. Quick fixes and artificial stimulants repeatedly applied over decades are what brought us the ... disorders that we’ve now paid such a heavy price to cure.

“The permanent recovery in employment, production, and investment we seek won’t come in a sharp, short spurt. It’ll build carefully and steadily in the months and years ahead. In the meantime, the challenge of government is to identify the things that we can do now to ease the massive economic transition for the American people.”

A sneak preview of Barack Obama’s forthcoming State of the Union address? Nope. It’s part of the address Ronald Reagan delivered in January 1983, when unemployment stood at 10.8 percent. If today’s Republicans heard these very words coming out of Obama’s mouth, would they applaud him or denounce him? And what if the president were to recommend a comprehensive deficit reduction strategy that included a standby tax increase, contingent on spending cuts? That’s what Reagan, who had already signed a significant tax increase in August 1982, proposed in his address. Was he a RINO?

Yes, Obama needs to focus and clarify his agenda. But Republicans have a responsibility as well—to reconsider their anti-tax theology, to reengage with the governance process, to address the country’s real problems, not just the politics of those problems. If they don’t, they may make some tactical gains this November, but they won’t be selling any durable goods the American people will want to buy. Right now the Republicans are thinking too much about 1994 and not nearly enough about 1996.

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