Posted by Michael Kennedy on February 6th, 2011 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
Dan’s has encouraged me to contribute this equally personal post. I was a college student when I cast my first vote for Nixon in 1960. This enraged my family as they were not only Democrats but distant cousins of the Kennedy family of Boston. My mother later claimed she had always been a Republican but I knew better. I had changed from the family affiliation after taking a course in economics. I’m not sure if what is taught today in basic economics in most colleges would have the same effect.
I was not a fan of Reagan, at first, as Governor. I still had some residual liberalism and he ran against the University of California at Berkley in his campaign. I was a medical student and well aware of the antics of many UC students and alleged students but it still annoyed me. I thought the U of California was above such criticism. The 1968 USC graduating class, sophomores when I was a senior, had a serious drug problem, a sign of the times but still frightening. As I was student body president, the Dean called me in to talk about it. From him I learned that about 22 of the 66 students in that class were using LSD. Some later never graduated or never finished internships. I gradually became more of a Reagan fan. I think it was maturity.
When Jimmy Carter was elected, I was in practice. My wife and I were taking our first trip to England. I remember being ashamed that Carter was president. I thought, “Well, he can’t be too bad. After all, he has been a businessman.” He was. He made the same mistake that Obama did. He let Congress and the Democratic majority have its head in legislation. The 1974 class of Democrats in Congress was the most leftist in history. Inflation took off. I knew doctor colleagues who were buying bags of quarters and dimes for their pension plans. Others had Swiss bank accounts with gold coins (It had only become legal to own gold under Ford). The Swiss charged negative interest of about 2% on those accounts. Two other friends, both doctors, opened a crystal shop in Laguna Beach and became the largest sellers of Lalique crystal in the world. The company brought them to France to honor them. Everybody was fleeing the dollar.
The conventional wisdom said Reagan was too conservative to ever be elected. The present rhetoric about Sarah Palin is similar to that about Reagan. He certainly was better qualified than she is but it didn’t matter. He was “an amiable dunce”(Clark Clifford) or he was a madman determined on a nuclear war. The Democrats who are trying to conflate Reagan and Obama would just as soon you didn’t remember that. I watched all the debates. I was shouting at the TV the night that Ford made his gaffe about Poland which elected Carter. I was worried about Reagan and how he would do. Here is where we all learned about his charm and his ability to slough off nasty comments by opponents. His skill with repartee and humor made him president. He looked like a reliable father figure and the attacks just bounced off. The only other president in my memory who was as immune to attack was Eisenhower but that was an earlier, pre-Nixon coup era. His “Great Communicator” title is often meant by Democrats as a slur, implying that was all he was. What I mean, and I think it is true, is that without that talent, he would not have been elected, as bad as Jimmy Carter was. That attacks on Reagan have been forgotten but they were harsh and had some resonance until the debates.
About the time Reagan was elected, I was able to purchase Treasury 5 year notes with a coupon rate of 16% and a real rate of 18%. My partner built a new custom house. The construction loan interest rate was 21%. Two neighbors built new custom homes on either side of him. When the houses were finished, the neighbors, both professionals, could not qualify for the permanent financing and the two houses went into foreclosure. That was 1979.
I following the administration closely, which had the Senate in Republican hands, but the House was dominated by Democrats and Tip O’Neill. Reagan’s most destructive enemy those first two years was Bob Dole, a true “root canal Republican.” He convinced himself that the Reagan tax cuts would lead to deficits “as far as the eye can see,” as Democrats put it. It was he, the Senate Majority Leader, who made the tax cuts effective only in 1982. As a result, the deep recession, brought on by Paul Volker’s battle with inflation, extended to the end of 1982 and cost the Republicans the Senate. Once the tax cuts became effective, the economy took off and it was clear sailing for a while, more than ten years and beyond to 2000.
Reagan’s era coincided with my becoming an adult. I wish we had someone like him now but we will not see his like again.