Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Looks like it's all about Ronald Reagan today. Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post sees Reagan for who he really was. The Gipper was not the genial grandfather nor the eternal optimist. The man was a class warrior, capital's knight in shining armour.
But however much Reagan helped wind down the Cold War abroad, he absolutely revived class war here at home. Slashing taxes on the rich, refusing to raise the minimum wage and declaring war on unions by firing air traffic controllers during their 1981 strike, Reagan took aim at the New Deal's proudest creation: a secure and decently paid working class. Broadly shared prosperity was out; plutocracy was dug up from the boneyard of bad ideas. The share of the nation's wealth held by the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans rose by 5 percent during Reagan's presidency, while virtually everyone else's declined. . . .

Roughly a quarter of American workers belonged to unions when Reagan took office. When he broke the PATCO strike, it was an unambiguous signal that employers need feel little or no obligation to their workers, and employers got that message loud and clear -- illegally firing workers who sought to unionize, replacing permanent employees who could collect benefits with temps who could not, shipping factories and jobs abroad. Reagan may have preached traditional values, but loyalty was not one of them. . . .

Reaganomics reflected the rise of Sunbelt capitalism -- of right-to-work-state businessmen who, unlike their Northern counterparts, had never cottoned at all to unions or regulations. From Reagan's dictum that government is the problem to Tom DeLay's equation of the Environmental Protection Agency with the Gestapo, the idea that there are higher purposes than private profit, or gainful pest extermination, has been banished from modern Republicanism. And though Reaganomics may have begun in the backwaters of American capitalism, it soon spread to Wall Street, which has rewarded our current Reaganaut, George W. Bush, with more money for his campaign than any other sector. Scrap the taxes on dividends, and that musty financial oversight, and watch finance become the political clone of the oil bidness.

By letting business be business in its pre-New Deal mold -- free to speculate and shed longtime employees -- Reagan and his acolytes not only transformed the classic Northeastern capitalists. They also drove from their ranks the Willkie-Eisenhower-Rockefeller-Nixon Republicans who were the traditional GOP's political tribunes. In this the Reaganites succeeded all too well.


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