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What Reagan Actually Said

Advance Copy of Editorial from the April 23, 2012, issue.

12:00 AM, Apr 13, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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The second Reagan speech Obama referred to was given on June 28, 1985, in Chicago Heights, Illinois. There Reagan reiterated his call to “bring tax rates down for the vast majority of Americans.” Reagan emphasized that “America’s longsuffering families will get dramatic tax relief.” And he said,

This is a tax plan for a growing, dynamic America. Lower, flatter tax rates will give Americans more confidence in the future. It’ll mean if you work overtime or get a raise or a promotion or if you have a small business and are able to turn a profit, more of that extra income will end up where it belongs—in your wallets, not in Uncle Sam’s pockets. With lower personal and corporate rates and another capital gains tax cut, small and entrepreneurial businesses will take off. Americans will have an open field to test their dreams and challenge their imaginations, and the next decade will become known as the age of opportunity.

Obama didn’t quote that.

And Reagan summed up: “Our tax proposal is the opposite of trickle down; it’s bubble up.”

Obama didn’t quote that.

Needless to say, reading the speeches reminds us of the huge gulf between the worldviews of our 40th and 44th presidents. The difference goes beyond an analytical disagreement about how big government should be, or what tax rates produce faster economic growth. For Reagan, America at its best is citizen-centered and “bubble up.” For Obama, America is government-centered and top-down. This is in a way the core difference between these two presidents, and between our two political parties today.

Barack Obama has established the legitimacy and precedent of appealing to Ronald Reagan. It's a gift to Mitt Romney! Now Romney just has to walk through the door Obama’s opened, reclaim Reagan by elaborating on his vision and updating his policies, make the case against the nanny state and for freedom and a “bubble up” society—and win.

—William Kristol

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