Although we get splendid service from the Post Office, it still takes three or four days for the Eastern newspapers to arrive here in the mountains. Thus, it was not until several days after Congress passed the new tax increase that we discovered this vote was a victory for Ronald Reagan.
We knew about the tax hike as soon as it happened. KRKY-FM interrupted an hour-long no-commercials Johnny Paycheck concert with a bulletin on the bad news. The Douglas County News-Press ran a story on how much more we'll pay for cigarettes and telephone bills. But until the heavy political analysis began to roll in from the East, people here had naively assumed that the tax vote was simply what it appeared to be: a humiliating repudiation of everything Ronald Reagan has always claimed to stand for.
A tax increase to reduce a budget deficit? Both concepts were going to be rendered impossible under Reagan's leadership. Candidate Reagan promised at least 5,000 times -- if you estimate 10 times per day over 18 months of campaigning -- that he would not raise taxes. He wouldn't need to, he promised, because his big tax cuts would eliminate deficits by 1983.
If you protest that it is unfair to cite such ancient history as the 1980 campaign, just take a look at the Great Communicator's nationally televised communication on Jan. 26 of this year. "I will seek no tax increases this year," Reagan promised. " I will not ask (Congress) to balance the budget on the backs of the American taxpayer."
In a sense, Reagan fulfilled that promise. He didn't just ask Congress: he begged, bargained, pleaded and prayed for the tax increase. That he did so at all can only be taken as an admission that his economic plan has failed. Even worse, he had to use an utterly humiliating argument to make his case -- that even greater economic disaster would develop if his original program was not changed.
To compound the embarrassment, Reagan -- who declared six months ago that " higher taxes will not mean lower deficits" -- had to renig on his fundamental campaign promise just to keep the budget deficit "down" to $100 billion. How can this be? Anyone who has listened to a Reagan speech knows that Ronald Reagan and red ink are incompatible.
"We can do it! We must do it!" Reagan pronounced in a fairly typical flight of rhetorical fancy on Oct. 15, 1980. "And I intend that we will do it -- we will balance the budget. . . . Mr. Carter says that he can't do it. . . . But I refuse to accept his defeatist and pessimistic view."
President Reagan's rationale for breaking his promises not to raise taxes just emphasized the extent of his failure: he sought new tax revenue not to eliminate the budget deficit, but merely to reduce it to $100 billion or so.
The world's greatest tax cutter and budget balancer raised taxes and will still run up record-smashing deficits. This is a victory? Ronald Reagan wrote thank you notes to Ted Kennedy and Tip O'Neill, while Jack Kemp and Barry Goldwater voted against him. This is a victory?
Yes, indeed, according to the Washington political analyses that the mailman hauled up our hill last week. Passage of the tax bill was "another significant political achievement" and a "major victory for the President." Reagan triumphed because he convinced his Republican troops to march along the only realistic course, the analysts said.
Maybe so, but Napoleon, too, convinced his troops to take the realistic course after Waterloo, and nobody called that a victory. The difference, perhaps, is that Washington is so infatuated with the effective use of political power that even a retreat is considered a victory if the president can get Congress to march along in an orderly fashion.
A president who gets his way in Congress is rare enough that Washington's political community will celebrate -- even if the way the president gets contradicts his own advertised principles.
But then, does Ronald Reagan have principles?
In fact, despite another favorite Washington theory that Reagan is a staunch ideologue, he has always been perfectly willing to eat his words if there's nothing better around to munch on. So a man who declared that "raising taxes won't balance the budget, raising taxes will slow economic growth, reduce production, and destroy future jobs," could decide six months after uttering those fine words to raise taxes by $98 billion.
It does come as a surprise, though, that people in Washington can talk about that turnabout as a "victory." Out here, we don't see the vote as a Reagan victory. We see it as a tax hike.