Longtime Democrat William Galston, Bill Clinton’s deputy aide for domestic policy, wrote a recent column for the Wall Street Journal on the performance of the economy during Clinton’s eight years in office. According to Galston, virtually everything Clinton has done has been successful.
Real annual growth of gross domestic product? It averaged “3.8% robust”. Inflation? A “withholding… 2.6%”. Payrolls have grown by nearly 236,000 per month, “the fastest on record for a two-term presidency.” Unemployment “went from 7.3% in January 1993 to 3.8% in April 2000 before rising slightly to 4.2%” at the end of his second term. Corrected for inflation, “real median household income increased by 13.9%”.
“And the poor? Galston asks, then exults: “The poverty rate fell by nearly a quarter under the Clinton administration, from 15.1% to 11.3%, near an all-time low. And it has declined even faster among minorities.
It’s hard to argue with Galston’s stats. When Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2016, she vowed to put her husband in charge of the economy because Democrats and most Americans knew she was thriving when he was in the White House. . This columnist recognized the point in The Washington Times. But voters, I warn, “must be constantly reminded” that prosperity materialized because Bill Clinton capitulated to the Republicans who politically pressured him to accept the policies that led to Ronald Reagan’s successful presidency. .
Clinton’s first two years in office, Galston fails to tell his readers, ended in electoral disaster for Democrats. Determined to go on a tax and big spending spree after winning the Oval Office in 1992, Clinton narrowly won a major income tax hike in the Democratic-controlled Congress. But Congressional Republicans blocked his other major initiatives, including a big-spending “stimulus” program, a major energy tax and Hillary Clinton’s national health care plan.
When 1994 rolled around and with Newt Gingrich leading the Republican out-of-year House campaign charge with his reaganized “Deal with America” proposal, the GOP swept both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years. The consequence: Bill Clinton executed a somersault policy worthy of the Flying Wallendas. He quickly dropped many of his first-term proposals, including his wife’s health care plan, telling us that “the age of big government is over.” He now advocates a balanced budget and apologizes for having “raised [taxes] too.” With Republicans in charge, he enacted sweeping tax breaks for businesses and the middle class, including a 30% capital gains tax cut for individuals.
He also signed the Welfare Reform legislation, which included popular work requirements that Reagan placed in his own Welfare Reform Act when he was Governor of California. Clinton even used Reagan’s rhetoric to sell the bill he signed. The measure has proven to be surprisingly effective, reducing the number of cases by 50% and halving child poverty. Robert Rector, the Heritage Foundation’s well-being expert, wrote much of the 1996 bill that Clinton eventually approved. Overall, the nation, as Galston notes, was clearly having fun.
But let me set up some numbers included in the 2016 column, just as bright as Galston’s, but somewhat different in their emphasis. The unemployment rate had fallen to 4% by the end of the Clinton presidency, the lowest level in more than 30 years. Black and Hispanic unemployment was cut in half, to 7% and 5% respectively. The stock market more than doubled between 1998 and 2000. And a miracle happened. We began paying off the national debt in colossal installments – largely because of the nearly $1 trillion that was taken out of the military because Reagan won the Cold War.
Democrats don’t want to admit it, but the truth is that Ronald Reagan’s conservative policies dominated the two decades that began with his victory over President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Reagan’s first two terms produced high rates of significantly lower taxation for individuals and corporations, national (non-defense) spending restraint, and deregulation, which brought about the end of those gas lines that had so plagued Carter’s presidency. Reagan’s first executive order eliminated the price controls that Carter had imposed on oil and natural gas, which proved a disaster since, as Gingrich noted, “It limited us to buying oil. gasoline every other day based on the latest number of our license plates. From gasoline scarcity to abundance in six months – that was one of Reagan’s first obvious accomplishments.” And accomplishments followed.
Reagan’s first two terms produced lower personal and corporate tax rates, restriction and deregulation of domestic (non-military) spending, an explosion of job growth, and a period of major boom which lasted 92 months without a recession (November 1982 to July 1990). At the time, this turned out to be the longest period of sustained peacetime economic growth in US history. The late and great economics writer Warren Brookes noted that under the Gipper the percentage of low-income families was declining. These people moved up the pay scale and got significant tax breaks through higher deductibles and a tripling of the earned income tax credit. Six million of America’s poorest workers, Brookes pointed out, have been removed from the income tax roll entirely, drawing praise even from anti-Republican liberals. Black families have made the most impressive gains.
And Reagan achieved something even more remarkable, which also had a profound economic and monetary impact. He overthrew the Soviet Empire without dragging that country into war. He won this astonishing victory by rejuvenating our economy, rebuilding our military and engaging in cunning diplomacy. He squeezed Russia economically, placed deadly missiles in Europe that threatened Moscow itself, and armed the Afghans with Stinger missiles – forcing the Russians out of the country they had so brutally invaded.
When Reagan refused to abandon his Strategic Defense Initiative in 1986 in Reykjavik, Iceland, Mikhail Gorbachev, eager to end hostilities with the United States, decided to end the Cold War, realizing that his country, even if he wanted to, could no longer compete with America. whether militarily or economically. (Gorbachev knew that Reagan’s reliance on supply-side economics and his major military strategy, both so harshly mocked by Democrats, worked all too well to put his country on the defensive.)
Democrats love to take credit for the good things that happened in the last two decades of the 20th century. But since his election in 1980, Reagan provided this country with the conservative policies that radically reversed the disastrous first two years of Clinton’s liberal administration. He also made Clinton’s presidency much more comfortable with his shrewd strategy that compelled Gorbachev to abandon the evil empire. Reagan, in short, was the key to Clinton’s success, an indisputable fact that Clintonians still cannot bring themselves to acknowledge.
Allan H. Ryskind was a long-time editor of Human Events, Ronald Reagan’s favorite political publication. He and Thomas Winter, the publisher, were also co-owners of HE.
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