Ronald Reagan, the original class warrior?

Al Kamen
Columnist October 6, 2011

Was hard not to be a bit skeptical Monday when liberal think tank Center for American Progress unveiled a 1985 speech by President Ronald Reagan that made it seem he was the fore­father of President Obama’s class warfare on job creators.

“We’re going to close the unproductive tax loopholes that have allowed some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share,” Reagan said in a speech to high school students. The loopholes “sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing,” he said, “while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary, and that’s crazy. It’s time we stopped.”

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Sounds like the Buffett rule about the rich paying less than their secretaries. Reagan revved up the crowd: “Do you think the millionaire ought to pay more in taxes than the bus driver or less?”

“More!” the audience shouted.

“We want to see that everyone pays their fair share and no one gets a free ride,” Reagan said, and that “no one is manipulating the system to their advantage because they’re rich and powerful.”

CAP compared Reagan’s words with those in an Obama speech in September, one that GOP leaders promptly denounced as class warfare. Obama appears to be virtually plagiarizing Reagan’s remarks. (Reagan also said “hope was always the fuel that kept America going.”)

By Tuesday, Obama was repeatedly citing Reagan as his muse.

But wait a minute. Anyone can Photoshop anything these days and slice and dice video to show anything. Sure, Reagan voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the original “traitor to his class,” but Reagan had seen the light well before he took office.

So we investigated. A CAP spokeswoman told us an intern, John Craig, a Georgetown law graduate waiting for bar exam results, had been reading “Showdown at Gucci Gulch,” about the 1986 tax-reform fight. He noticed the Reagan team bragging about how many millionaires were hit. So Craig started looking for Reagan quotes and found the speech.

But maybe the speech was a phony? Where did Craig find it? Oh, the Reagan Foundation?

Indeed. The foundation posted the video on YouTube on July 29, following the usual practice of posting pieces of Reagan footage that relate to various events — in this case a scholarship award — the foundation’s communications director, Melissa Giller, told our colleague Emily Heil.

“We were looking for educational quotes,” Giller said, and Reagan’s speech to the students “seemed to fit.”

But it got virtually no notice — fewer than 800 views when Craig found it. CAP has gotten more than 86,000 views as of Thursday afternoon.

Well, okay, so maybe Obama’s just a plagiarist?

The final frontier

Houston has a problem. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) took to the House floor this week to blast a decision to display NASA’s retired space shuttle Enterprise in the slums of New York, not the wide-open spaces of the Lone Star State.

Poe decried the decision by New York’s Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, which won the bid to receive the spacecraft, to locate the shuttle in a parking lot away from the museum’s main facility. The spot the museum selected, Poe complained, was marred by a blight unworthy of the prize.

“They want to move this piece of space history next to a bagel joint, a car wash and a strip club to supposedly beautify the area,” he said.

Wait a minute. New Yorkers may feel that bagel shops, car washes and strip joints give the area a bit of charm, make a statement.

Besides, a hunk of space-scarred metal? There goes the neighborhood.

The house always wins

Jack Abramoff might have a book on the way, but literary lucre isn’t in his future.

When we reported last week that Abramoff was penning a first-person account of his adventures in uber-lobbying, some readers fretted that he stood to get rich from rehashing his misdeeds.

Fear not: If his soon-to-be-published book, “Capitol Punishment,” makes money, much of it will go to the Indian tribes that the ex-lobbyist ripped off. Under a restitution order imposed after Abramoff was convicted of fraud and corruption, he must pay back more than $23 million to his victims under a plan that calls for him to pay a hefty percentage of his gross income.

Janet Fallon, a marketing consultant for publisher WND Books, says Abramoff will outline a series of “harsh, thorough reforms” to cure Washington’s influence industry of corruption. These proposals, she said, will be all the more credible coming from someone who knows how to game the system.

Sounds like a fox writing henhouse-security policies, or Willie Sutton opening a locksmith shop.

Unclear whether lawmakers will embrace Abramoff’s lobbying campaign this time around. Unlike his last attempts to sway them, there’s nothing in it for them.

A gentleman among rogues

Lawmakers generally try to buck the popular image of themselves as crooks. But Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) seems to be embracing the outlaw sterotype. Brown is holding a fundraiser next week — a gathering that will doubtless include plenty of lobbyists and other eager-to-influence-the-powerful — at a venue that celebrates the adventures and demises of the bandit class: the Museum of Crime and Punishment here in Washington.

For $250 for an individual or $1,000 for a PAC, attendees can tour the off-the-tourist-track museum, whose exhibits include serial killer Ted Bundy’s VW Bug and tools used by “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski. The museum is an unlikely choice for such a gathering; fundraisers are far more likely to take place at the city’s array of tony restaurants and bars, or the occasional golf course.

And while Brown doesn’t have a rap sheet, he does know something about being a wanted man: He once posed nude for Cosmopolitan magazine.

Fredo, back at work

Good news! Former attorney general Alberto “Fredo” Gonzales, who’s had a tough time signing on with a law firm because of his controversial tenure during the Bush administration, has landed a job at a Nashville law firm, Waller Lansden. It’s not a partnership, only an “of counsel” gig, but it’s a start.

Meanwhile, Gonzales, who’s been teaching at Texas Tech, is also going to be a law professor at Nashville’s new law school, Belmont University, which says on its Web site that it “will seek accreditation from the American Bar Association as soon as possible.”

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