BY WILLIAM KRISTOL
I’m not the first president to call for this idea that everybody has got to do their fair share. Some years ago, one of my predecessors traveled across the country pushing for the same concept. He gave a speech where he talked about a letter he had received from a wealthy executive who paid lower tax rates than his secretary, and wanted to come to Washington and tell Congress why that was wrong. So this president gave another speech where he said it was “crazy”—that’s a quote—that certain tax loopholes make it possible for multimillionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary. That wild-eyed, socialist, tax-hiking class warrior was Ronald Reagan.
He thought that, in America, the wealthiest should pay their fair share, and he said so. I know that position might disqualify him from the Republican primaries these days, but what Ronald Reagan was calling for then is the same thing that we’re calling for now: a return to basic fairness and responsibility; everybody doing their part. And if it will help convince folks in Congress to make the right choice, we could call it the Reagan Rule instead of the Buffett Rule.
—President Obama, April 11, 2012
Barack Obama’s appeal to Ronald Reagan is illuminating in a number of ways. It’s illuminating that today’s liberals need to appeal to the example of Reagan to sell their policies. That’s a posthumous victory for Reagan, and an important contemporary victory for Reaganism. Even more, it’s illuminating because it gives us reason to go back and read the Reagan speeches Obama cited and see how compelling they were and how thoroughly the president misrepresented them.
Did Reagan, as Obama claimed, “travel across the country pushing for the same concept” as Obama today? No. Reagan was pushing for comprehensive tax reform, at the center of which was an across-the-board tax rate reduction combined with elimination of tax shelters. The idea was to simplify the system, out of respect for citizens and for the health of the economy. Obama, by contrast, has never risked offering a serious big tax reform proposal. What he does want to do is raise marginal tax rates on many American families.