President Reagan’s cartoon administration

From way back in 1986, Michael Kinsley reviews David A. Stockman’s The Triumph of Politics: How the Reagan Revolution Failed (1986). Stockman was President Reagan’s budget director from 1981-85.

The Reagan stories are priceless.

Cabinet members take skillful advantage of the Commander in Chief’s capacity for befuddlement. Secretary of Transportation Drew Lewis convinces him that quotas on Japanese cars are not a violation of free trade because Government regulations have hampered American producers. (Japanese cars must meet the same regulations, of course.) Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger shows up for a meeting intended to settle whether the defense buildup should be $1.46 trillion over five years or only $1.33 trillion. His chief prop is a cartoon of three soldiers – one, a pygmy without a rifle, representing the Carter budget; one, ”a four-eyed wimp . . . carrying a tiny rifle,” representing $1.33 trillion, Mr. Stockman’s defense budget; and one, ”G.I. Joe himself . . . all decked out in helmet and flak jacket and pointing an M-60 machine gun,” representing $1.46 trillion. This is how Presidential decisions are made. Mr. Stockman makes clear that Mr. Weinberger himself had absolutely no idea how to spend all this money at the time he argued it was essential to our national security. He would get as much as he could, then go back to the Pentagon and figure out what to do with it.

And this was before the Alzheimer’s disease was noticeable in Reagan’s second term. Government by cartoon. I wonder if this is the budget process they teach in political science classes. A $130 billion dollar cartoon.

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