Contextual Content

America pays the piper, big time Pt. 2

There was an effort to build an infrastructure to sell the free market and reduced regulation for business society. Cut taxes and cut the social net was sold as the magic fix.


Story Transcript

America pays the piper, big time Pt. 2

Producer: Carlo Basilone

WARREN E. BURGER, US CHIEF JUSTICE: I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear—

RONALD REAGAN, US PRESIDENT: I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear—

BURGER: —that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States.

REAGAN: —that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States.


ROBERT PARRY, AUTHOR AND INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Part of the Reagan administration and what they call the "Reagan revolution" was to do away with government regulation as much as possible. In his first inaugural address, President Reagan famously said the government is not there to solve the problem, the government is the problem. And he turned against this idea—and the country increasingly did—that the government could help in terms of dealing with these deep-seated problems. Remember, in the 1970s there was a lot of frustration about oil prices; there was nagging about saving of your gas mileage on your car; there were demands that we retrofit our houses; there were gas lines when gasoline became scarce. So what Reagan basically did was tell the American people, "Don’t worry, be happy. Enjoy yourself. These will be solved; they’ll work out; the magic of the market will prevail." There was also that you remove government regulations and strictures and let the market work. And that was a very appealing message, because basically it said you really don’t have to worry about all these other problems; you don’t have to have the government making you drive 55 miles an hour; you can do what you want. And that was sort of what we were sold on during that period. And that became a stronger and stronger movement as those years went on. It was also an effort by some of the elements of the economy that were under some pressure—the military-industrial complex, the energy industry, and also Wall Street—put more money into the think tanks that were becoming more powerful and influential in Washington. And if they kick back some of their bigger and bigger profits into these well-funded think tanks, they would guarantee op-eds in The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal or The Washington Post promoting these ideas. So they became much more acceptable. Think tanks like Heritage, AEI, there was CSIS [inaudible] that were in Georgetown for awhile and then became independent, these organizations saw their budgets enriched in part by conservative foundations that began investing heavily in building this infrastructure up. You know, Scaife is obviously [one that] people talk about, but there [are also the] Olin Foundation and Smith Richardson and others. These wealthy foundations began, essentially, [donating] seed money for many of these operations, not just the think tanks but also media outlets—magazines and newspapers. And ultimately that expanded into electronic media—TV, radio, Internet later. So you have this effort to build an infrastructure to make a case. There wasn’t much pushing back against that. At the time, I was with the Associated Press in the 1980s and then with Newsweek. And mainstream reporters were finding themselves very much under pressure, because there were attack groups that were being set up to go after us and try to prevent us from giving the American people the information we were discovering. And it proved pretty effective as a way to control how information got from us, the reporters, to the American people. If you went after editors and got them to pressure their reporters—there were all kinds of ways to make it harder for that information to reach the public. So that was sort of the framework. And within that, the idea that government was the problem was a very seductive message, and it began to be accepted more widely by the American people and in our political process, the idea of doing away with taxes and cutting back on taxes, even if it meant that the deficit would go up. All that was occurring during the Reagan years. And so that momentum was quite powerful as we go through that decade.


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