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Original Press™
Reagan's Politics Reviewed
By Robin Knight for the
Originally published Feb 19th, 1968

In an article in the February issue of 'Atlantic', it is written that Gov. Ronald Reagan's political philosophy is based on a book by R. C. Cornuelle, published in 1965, Reclaiming the American Dream.

This book, it turns out, is a classical example of laissez-faire conservative theory. "Leave it all to the good people, and they will respond" runs the message. "Unlimited government needlessly compromises the American dream," Cornuelle claims. "There is a better way to do most of its work."

That way is the 'independent sector,' a collusion of institutions neither commercial nor governmental, which meet human needs without adding to the power of government. But what is the American dream, one might well ask. It is, Cornuelle confidently asserts, that "the free society and the good society can be realized together . . . and for a hundred years and more, it worked." "We were free because we limited the power of government."

This idyllic state was ended by the Depression. The need for governmental intervention at that time led to the acceptance, described by Galbraith, of the need for functions to accrue to the state "because, as a purely technical matter, there is no alternative to public management."

But They Disagree

In fact, Galbraith in the Affluent Society, and Cornuelle could not be further apart. The central theme of Galbraith's book is the contrast between an economy whose public sector, starved of funds, is pathetic in performance, and whose private sector, bloated with riches, pours out a mass of trivial products.

Cornuelle agrees that government's welfare programs result in little but frusrtation and waste. So, one presumes, he welcomed Reagan's $210 million cut in California's Medicaid, and a $17.7 million reduction of the state's mental care program. Similarly, pay increases for the blind, which were stopped, and dental care for schoolchildren on welfare, which was ended, will be justified on the grounds that those needs can be met from the long-forgotten and abused 'independent sector'. So far there seems to be a gap between theory and practice. 

The 'independent sector' is that part of society which should deal with public business without governmental help. It is not the same as the 'private sector,' which Cornuelle says is "profit-seeking commerce." The "independent sector" should actively compete with government. At present it obviously is not: in fact it is "corrupted" today by too much financial dependence on government. Thus the government "grows immune to popular control." There seems little that Cornuelle, and presumably Reagan, believes the 'independent sector' cannot achieve. One gathers it can end unemployment, poverty, juvenile crime, air and water pollution, and racial segregation. It can also solve the farm problem, give medical care to all, renew towns and cities, and obliterate slums. 

Business Can Do Anything

It can, so the argument goes, pay 'reasonable' pensions, handle the entire U.S. science program, and turn American foreign policy into a world crusade for human welfare. Reagan recently applied this latter philosophy with regard to the Pueblo incident.

At root, this theory revives the notion of man's inherent goodness. It is this motive that Cornuelle believes will get the fat, rich businessman off his bottom, and into the ghettoes, slums, and rural poverty areas. When he gets there he will produce the energy, dynamism, and drive he shows daily in pursuit of profit—but now he will be satisfying his innate "desire for meaningful service."

Cornuelle is aware that, to date, the 'independent sector' has rather let him down in terms of actual performance. This does not perturb him. He explains this failure as a result of the insidious, undermining encroachment of government into private life which encourages, and results in, dependence. The desire to serve, which is characterised as the 'motive force' of the 'independent sector,' has not been destroyed completely. It is on a revival of this energy source that the conservative message is based.

Shows Reagan's Approach

All this thinking shows in Reagan's approach to government. It is to private charity he invariably turns when he wishes to switch off public welfare. Business, not government, is seen as the means through which the racial problem can be solved. "Make a man pay for what he gets," might be the new state motto Budget cuts, advertised as the hallmark of Reagan's regime, artti ' the largest tax increase "this or any other state ever contrived," not so widely trumpeted, are seen as the way to cure the ills of society.

The power of this theory is its facilism and simplism. The answer to all our problems is readily and cheaply available to us if only we would realize it. The world's little men can now get up and defy Uncle Sam, John Bull, General deGaulle and anyone else representing the strength of central government.

This is a message which points the way to the promised land, whilst not forgetting to emphasize the disasters that will occur if we ignore the prophets —'1984 and Brave New World'. Technology is all right, so long as you keep it strapped to the laboratory table, and see that scientists are strictly controlled by ... . well, the government has to do something. Otherwise we wouldn't have movie actors in Sacramento, would we?

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