Ronald Reagan on Government Reform

President of the U.S., 1981-1989; Republican Governor (CA)


We the people reversed course of government

President Reagan put it well in his farewell address: "Ours was the 1st revolution in the history of mankind that truly reversed the course of government, and with 3 little words: 'We the People.'

'We the People' tell the government what to do; it doesn't tell us. 'We the People' are the driver; the government is the car. And we decide where it should go, and by what route, and how fast. Almost all the world's constitutions are documents in which governments tell the people what their privileges are. Our Constitution is a document in which 'We the People' tell the government what it is allowed to do. 'We the People' are free.

Source: The Debt Bomb, by Sen. Tom Coburn, p. xvi , Apr 17, 2012

Big enough to give everything means they can take it away

In the 1970s. under Nixon and President Gerald Ford, making sense of all the idiotic price-control regulations that the government was using to straightjacket the energy market. All that red tape had been a failure, of course. We had reached a grim point of reckoning. Yet thanks to Ronald Reagan, those negative trends were finally reversed in the eighties.

Warning against runaway statism, the Gipper liked to quip, "A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take it all away." And that truism reminds me yet again that the ultimate point of free enterprise and free markets can be summed up in just one word: freedom. The bigger the government, the smaller the freedom. And if the government controls the economy, it also controls the media and the right to free speech. As they say, the only way to be guaranteed a free press is to own one--private ownership is a vital check against state power.

Source: Core of Conviction, by Michele Bachmann, p. 75-76 , Nov 21, 2011

1982: Agreed with Indiana resolution against paternalism

I found the text of a resolution adopted by the Indiana state legislature in 1947, after the scope of the federal government had grown exponentially during World War II and Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal: In a speech in Indiana as president in 1982, Ronald Reagan noted, "Well, it's taken over thirty years, but, I'm happy to report, your message has finally gotten through. To tell you the truth, I believed you the first time you said it." The sentiments expressed by the Indiana legislators aren't radicalism, they're common sense, or at least what we used to recognize as common sense.
Source: America by Heart, by Sarah Palin, p. 78-80 , Nov 23, 2010

Not intention to do away with government; but make it work

Some critics portray the choice we face in 2010 as between government and no government; between a life of safety and security in the nanny state and a nasty, brutish, and short life. In doing so, they employ raw fear in order to persuade us to accept a powerful state.

But the American people aren't children, and the choice before us isn't one of security versus insecurity, or safety versus fear. We are offering Americans the same choice as Ronald Reagan did more than a quarter century ago when he said: "It is not my intention to do away with government. It is, rather, to make it work--work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it."

This fundamental choice has been debated in the name of many different things over the past year & a half: health-care reform, energy policy, economic policy, housing policy. But ultimately it's a debate about what kind of country we want to have.

Source: Young Guns, by Reps. Ryan, Cantor & McCarthy, p.113 , Sep 14, 2010

Free market can best determine winners and losers

The Reagan Revolution of the 1980s was about more than shifting the tax burden--it was about shifting the way America looked at itself. In short order, government was no longer seen as a solution--it was fingered as the problem. Tocqueville's "welfare of the greatest possible number" was replaced by the notion that the invisible hand of the free market could best determine society's winners and losers--until, that is, the winners got into trouble in 2008 and the government rushed to the rescue in the nam of preventing Armageddon.

In the three decades since the Reagan Revolution, Americans have been preached to from pulpits far and wide the holy word of unregulated markets as the true path to a higher standard of living. As part of the new religion, we were converted from citizens to consumers and taught the catechism about how the market--not "equality of conditions"--was the foundation of our country. Along the way, the social contract was fed into a shredder.

Source: Third World America, by Arianna Huffington, p. 49-50 , Sep 2, 2010

OpEd: Reagan staff made a deal for 1981 Iran hostage release

The Incident:
On the same day that Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president, January 20, 1981, Iran released the American hostages it had been holding in our embassy there for 444 days.
The Official Word:
The timing was coincidental.
My Take:
Reagan's people had cut a deal with Iran to keep the hostages beyond the presidential election, to ensure that President Carter's negotiations with Iran failed and that he lost to Reagan.
Source: American Conspiracies, by Jesse Ventura, p.104 , Mar 9, 2010

The more the plans fail, the more the planners plan

The more our federal government tries to solve every problem, the more problems it causes. The more problems it causes, the more it spends and the bigger it grows as it tries to fix the problems it has caused. As Ronald Reagan said, "The more the plans fail, the more the planners plan." And inevitably the bigger our federal government grows, the more freedom evaporates as America slides precariously closer to socialism.
Source: Saving Freedom, by Jim DeMint, p.119 , Jul 4, 2009

Appointed judges who reinforced conservative political goals

For a long time, during the middle of the twentieth century, it wasn't even clear what it meant to be a judicial conservative. Then, with great suddenness, during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, judges & lawyers on the right found a voice and an agenda. Their goals reflected and reinforced the political goals of the conservative wing of the Republican Party.

The Warren Court had transformed American law; many of his Court's decisions quickly worked their way into the permanent substructure of American law. New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, which protected newspapers that published controversial speech; Miranda v. Arizona, which established new rules for interrogating criminal suspects; even Griswold v. Connecticut, which announced a right of married people to buy birth control, under the broader heading of privacy-all these cases, along with the Warren Court's many pronouncements on race, became unassailable precedents.

Source: The Nine, by Jeffrey Toobin, Chapter One , Sep 9, 2008

OpEd: Led shift to deregulation, but didn't start it

In recent decades, politicians have been subjected to a great deal more lobbying than before, and the need for more money to finance their campaigns has grown. For this reason, their behavior has changed.

Politicians are important, but they cannot effectuate economic and social change unless the preconditions for change already exist, or unless extraordinary circumstances allow it. By the time Reagan came to power, the economy had already started to shift. Deregulation, for example, unleashed many of America's industries before Reagan took office. Small, profitable airlines, banks, and high-tech companies had already gained a competitive foothold and were intent on bringing down regulatory barriers. The percentage of Americans workers belonging to labor unions was already declining. And the number of business lobbyists in Washington, DC had already begun rising; indeed, the number escalated sharply during the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton.

Source: Supercapitalism, by Robert Reich, p. 11 , Sep 9, 2008

1981: Government is not the solution; it is the problem

Just for the record, here is the original rather than the imitation, from Ronald Reagan's first inaugural address: "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." Just for the record, here is the original rather than the imitation, from Ronald Reagan's first inaugural address: "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."
Source: Obama`s Challenge, by Robert Kuttner, p. 87-88 , Aug 25, 2008

Told friends he failed to cut size of government enough

Today, 18 million Americans work in government--in health, education, the military, and local, state, and federal bureaucracies. The number of Americans receiving Social Security and Medicare is now in the scores of millions, with 77 million Baby Boomers not far back in line now. There are millions receiving veterans benefits, tens of millions on food stamps, Medicaid, and welfare, and millions more who receive the Earned Income Credit.

The lower half of the US labor force carries roughly 4% of a federal income tax burden that is largely borne now by the top ten percent of earners. Then, there is corporate welfare, which Beltway lobbyists fight to preserve and expand, and the pork barrel projects congressmen simply must take home to the district. We may have received the tipping point. Even Ronald Reagan, who succeeded in so much, conceded to friends that he failed to cut back the growth and the size of government as he had hoped.

Source: Where the Right Went Wrong, by Pat Buchanan, p.192 , Aug 12, 2004

1981: Focused exclusively on women as Supreme Court nominees

What purpose is the president trying to achieve with the appointment? Is he trying to shift the jurisprudential direction of the Court--a long-term goal--or is he aiming to achieve a more immediate political or public-relations goal, say by appointing the first woman? That was the choice before President Reagan in 1981, when he directed the attorney general to focus exclusively on women as prospective nominees. Left behind: the overwhelming choice of the Reagan Justice Department, Robert Bork. That presidential decision, driven entirely by political considerations, changed the course of the Court's modern history, since there is little doubt that the Republican-controlled Senate in 1981 would have confirmed Bork handily.
Source: First Among Equals, by Kenneth Starr, p. xxiv , Oct 10, 2002

New Federalism: shift programs to states & deregulate

Deregulation became a watchword of the Reagan administration, but critics charged that reduced regulation created hazards to public health and safety. During his first term, the president sought to shift dozens of federal programs to the state and local levels under his system of “new federalism.” Officials in these jurisdictions complained that promised federal aid to implement the programs was inadequate.
Source: Grolier Encyclopedia on-line, “The Presidency” , Dec 25, 2000

Principal mission was government deregulation

Reagan’s principal mission in the presidency, he thought, was to rein in a government he considered an obstacle to economic opportunity and human liberty. His complaint that the federal government had “over-spent, over-estimated, and over-regulated” changed little over the years, but the audience for this message grew steadily larger during the 1970s. Regulatory reform had the status of consensus by the time Reagan took office.

OMB led the deregulatory charge, seeking to accomplish through executive action what another administration might have attempted through the legislative process. OMB [required] strict cost-benefit analyses of all federal regulations, [and was accused of] “ideological arithmetic” that ignored the cost in lives and illnesses.

Reagan might have been able to do more if his approach to deregulation had been less overtly pro-business. Instead, he aroused the hostility of liberals with appointments that critics likened to naming a fox to guard a chicken coop.

Source: The Role of a Lifetime, by Lou Cannon, p. 819-22 , Jul 2, 1991

Softened on “Gov’t isn’t the solution; gov’t is the problem”

In his State of the Union address to Congress in January 1983, he seemed to be abandoning the conservative economic philosophy that had brought him to power. He called for bipartisan, emergency action to save Social Security from bankruptcy, even if that meant increased taxes. He cited Franklin Roosevelt’s believe that “the great public is interested more in government than in politics,” to the dismay of libertarians who remembers his old mantra, government isn’t the solution, government is the problem.

Only those veteran observers who remembered his willingness to compromise, when necessary, as president of the Screen Actors Guild and Governor of California, were reassured that Reagan knew what he was doing.

Source: Dutch, by Edmund Morris, p.469-470 , Jan 15, 1983

In 1981, cut 23,000 pages of Federal Register regulations

There were pessimistic predictions about the relationship between our administration and this Congress. It was said we could never work together.
  • Together, we have cut the growth of new Federal regulations nearly in half. In 1981 there were 23,000 fewer pages in the Federal Register, which lists new regulations, than there were in 1980. By deregulating oil we've come closer to achieving energy independence and helped bring down the cost of gasoline and heating fuel.
  • Together, we have created an effective Federal strike force to combat waste and fraud in government.
  • Together we've begun to mobilize the private sector, not to duplicate wasteful and discredited government programs, but to bring thousands of Americans into a volunteer effort to help solve many of America's social problems.
  • Together we have made a New Beginning, but we have only begun.
    Source: Pres. Reagan's 1982 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 26, 1982

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    Other past presidents on Government Reform: Ronald Reagan on other issues:
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    George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
    Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
    Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
    Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
    Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
    Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
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    Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022