Obama has often been called a great communicator in the Reagan mold, inspiring Democrats with his "Change We Can Believe In" slogan. But the way he has governed -- at one point seeking a so-called Grand Bargain with Republicans -- has frustrated liberals who felt betrayed by his brand of compromise.
Reagan was also known for speaking one way and governing another.
In 1967, the first thing he did as California governor was raise taxes to fill a $500 million deficit left by his predecessor, Pat Brown. Later, he raised taxes by $2 billion to put together a $10 billion budget.
In his first year as governor, Reagan also signed the nation's most liberalized abortion law, saying at the time: "Liberalization of abortion laws is necessary." Later, when he ran for president, Reagan pivoted to the right in his attempt to expand the GOP base to include religious conservatives, becoming an anti-abortion candidate.
Bill Bagley, a San Rafael Republican who served in the Legislature from 1960 to 1974 and authored the second tax reform bill that Reagan signed, said the Reagan he knew is not the Reagan that contemporary Republicans imagine him to be.
"He was there to govern. When we needed revenue, he acceded and did the right thing," said Bagley, 84. "He was there every day, negotiating. Every once in a while he'd break into a joke, but he had the ability to keep things going."
Reagan "never went for the jugular, and he was far from being a conservative," Bagley added. "What's happened recently is the ideologues have taken over on the Republican side, both nationally and in California."
Reagan himself spoke of avoiding the pitfalls of ideological politics when he first became governor.
"We cannot offer (voters) a narrow sectarian party in which all must swear allegiance to prescribed commandments," he told conservative activists. "Such a party can be highly disciplined, but it does not win elections. This kind of party soon disappears in a blaze of glorious defeat, and it never puts into practice its basic tenets, no matter how noble they may be."
As president, Reagan jolted the nation by cutting the top income tax rate in half. But a year later, he signed a $37 billion tax increase, the largest in U.S. history -- bigger than President Bill Clinton's $30 billion increase in 1993. And that was followed with another major tax increase in 1986. Both were progressive taxes that put more of the burdens on the wealthy. In his two terms, he signed 11 tax hikes.
Reagan promised to balance the budget, but he tripled the national debt to a record $2.6 trillion by the time he left office.
Still, conservatives who decry deficits and refuse to entertain new taxes say they aren't bothered by Reagan's record.
They say that Reagan's key contribution was in making taxes and spending -- and a principled opposition to big government -- the cornerstone of modern American political debate.
"Taking the top rate from 70 percent to 35 makes up for a lot of sins," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. "He had a great handle on the principles of limited government -- even if individual policies weren't a furtherance of his world vision."
Other conservatives are convinced Reagan wouldn't have raised taxes now and that he would have been beloved by the tea party.
"Most people are in love with the ideal of Ronald Reagan in broad terms," said Jon Fleischman, a former California Republican Party executive director who writes the conservative FlashReport blog. "Raising taxes is a legitimate part of his history. But as a practical matter, a great number of conservatives will first learn that Reagan signed tax increases when they read this story. It's just not a part of the narrative."
REAGAN'S RECORD AS PRESIDENT, GOVERNOR
--After cutting the top federal income tax rate from 70 percent to 35 percent in 1981, Reagan went on to sign the largest tax increase in history in 1982, as well as another significant hike in 1986.
--Federal spending under Reagan increased the deficit three-fold to a record $1.4 trillion by the end of his second term.
--He promised to eliminate entire departments of the federal government but didn't. Instead, he added one more, the Department of Veteran Affairs.
--He signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviet Union to reduce nuclear arsenals, upsetting such conservative stalwarts as George Will and William F. Buckley Jr.
--Instead of reforming Social Security as he'd vowed, he bailed it out with $165 billion in new funding -- and made Social Security taxes more progressive.
--As governor of California, his first act in 1967 was to raise taxes. That same year, he signed the most liberalized abortion law in the nation and the Lanterman Act, which created safeguards for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled.
--He created the Department of Consumer Affairs in 1969; signed a law limiting agricultural burning in 1970; and signed the California Clean Water Act of 1969.
--Bay Area News Group research
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