Memories – Unemployment During the Reagan Years

David Brooks appeared on the St. Patrick’s Day edition of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and made this sensible comment:

You choose the reality you want to see. And, then, the Clinton years, when you had the reverse, this time, it was the Republicans’ turn to be more pessimistic and wrong. People choose the reality that flatters themselves.

This statement certainly applies to those small government conservatives who worship at the alter of St. Ronald Reagan – as witnessed by all the recent revisionist history as to the level of Federal spending relative to GDP during the 1980’s. But it was this statement that drew fire from Media Matters:

People choose the reality that – that flatters their partisanship. For example, in the Reagan years, unemployment went from 13 percent to 5 percent. If you asked Democrats, at the end of that, did unemployment go up or down under Reagan, 60 percent said it went up. Republicans said down.

I know conservatives love to paint Jimmy Carter as an awful President but doesn’t Mr. Brooks have inflation and unemployment confused here? After all, the highest unemployment rate in the post World War II era was 10.8% – not 13% – and that occurred a couple of years into the Reagan term of office. If you are old as I am, you might recall the 1984 GOP campaign slogan called Morning in America with the operative lie being put forward to voters back then that it was Jimmy Carter who presided over the 1982 recession. Yes, we had a recession during Carter’s term, just as we had a recession during Bush41’s term. In both cases, the economy was slowly recovering with the unemployment rate just over 7% when their Administrations were turned over to Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, respectively.

Also notice this line from the recent WSJ oped “Still Morning in America”:

Where Republicans have most strayed from the Reagan vision has been on controlling federal spending.

Really? Twenty years ago – this same rightwing crowd blamed the Reagan deficits on too much spending rather than those Reagan tax cuts.

While Mr. Brooks wishes to see a “reality” divorced from the facts, I have provided graphs of the unemployment rates during both the Reagan and the Clinton terms. Given that George W. Bush has been the worst President in at least my lifetime, I can see why folks would long for the good old days. I especially have sympathy for conservatives given that they were the ones who supported Bush for President some six years ago. But if one has to praise Ronald Reagan by misrepresenting the historical record- why even bother?