I’m going to start by defining differences among my own. A value system is just that—agreement on what is most important and the orientation a society should have. But it doesn’t always spell out agreement on individual issues. The foundation of my political life is that I’m a pre-1968 Democrat, before the party was wrested off its moorings by the Left. The best politicians of the 20th century were men like James Michael Curley (the former mayor of Boston whose photo you see on the right), Al Smith and John McCormack. They believed that the government should lift up the poor and give them a real shot at planting their feet in their middle class. But their belief in government didn’t stop there. They also strongly supported the police and the military, believing in the preservation of the traditional social order. And they believed in the value of work. It was unthinkable that someone would get government help, yet just get a free ride. They were the true values of the middle class, somewhere between the Ivy League Left and the Wall Street Republican financiers.
There were areas where the traditional Democrats still went too far however, and foremost among them was the area of taxation. At one point the top income tax rate in this country hit a stunning 91 percent. To the credit of America’s most famous Boston Democrat, John F. Kennedy recognized it and scaled it back to 70 percent with his tax cut proposals that were passed shortly after his death. But the overall tax rate showed an inability to recognize when a good movement was going too far. In the early 20th century, taxes had been virtually non-existent, big business all-powerful and the government unable to help anyone out. The push for higher taxes to fund government programs was a good and necessary idea back then. It hit its limit and the tax rate began to suffocate the very economic growth that would provide the tax base necessary for continued public action. And on the human level, stifling economic growth restricted the ability of people to work for their bread and to gain middle-class prosperity. Without some sort of change, the traditional Democratic movement would have devoured its own goals.
Fortunately, one traditional Democrat recognized the problem and began to speak out and do something about it. An actor-turned politician named Ronald Reagan traveled across the country on the speaking circuit talking on a variety of issues, but high taxes being foremost among them. Reagan would switch parties and become governor of California in 1962, setting the stage for his rise to the presidency. There he initiated two separate tax proposals (1981 & 1986) that scaled top rates all the way back to 28 percent. Even with recent increases by Clinton & Obama, the top rate stays at 43 percent rate that is still nowhere near the standards of the old days and no one dares even propose it go back that high. Ronald Reagan changed the course of American political dialogue on taxes and with it spawned a new movement of its own. And it’s that movement—the Reaganites—that we'll look at on Saturday.