Inside Ronald Reagan
A Reason Interview
July 1975 Print Edition
“I don’t believe in a government that protects us from ourselves.”
Those of us concerned about liberty have had good reason of late to be interested in Ronald Reagan. Increasingly, California’s former governor has been turning up in first place among Republican figures in political opinion polls, among Independents as well as Republicans. In addition, in recent months Reagan has taken to using the term “libertarian” (or “libertarian-conservative”) to describe his political philosophy. All of which naturally made us interested in taking a closer look at the man and his ideas. Thanks to the efforts of the late Ned Hutchinson (a former Reagan aide), REASON was able to obtain time out of Reagan’s busy schedule for him to be interviewed by Editor Manuel S. Klausner.
Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in Illinois in 1911. After a varied career as a radio sports announcer, motion picture actor, and TV host, Reagan became active in conservative politics. After achieving national publicity for his televised speeches for Barry Goldwater in 1964, Reagan went on to win the California governorship in 1966 and was re-elected to a second four-year term in 1970. Throughout his eight years in office, Reagan stressed the idea of holding down the size and cost of government, nonetheless, the state budget increased from $5.7 billion to $10.8 billion during his time in office.
Reagan did institute property and inventory tax cuts, but during his tenure the sales tax was increased to six percent and withholding was introduced to the state income tax system. Under Reagan’s administration, state funding for public schools (grades K- 12) increased 105 percent (although enrollment went up only 5 percent), state support for junior colleges increased 323 percent, and grants and loans to college students increased 900 percent Reagan’s major proposal to hold down the cost of government was a constitutional amendment to limit state spending to a specified (slowly declining) percentage of the gross income of the state’s population. The measure was submitted to the voters as an initiative measure, Proposition One, but was defeated when liberal opponents pictured it as a measure that would force local tax increases.
Reagan instituted a major overhaul of the state welfare system that reduced the total welfare caseload (which had been rapidly increasing) while raising benefits by 30 percent and increasing administrative costs. He encouraged the formation of HMO-like prepaid health care plans for MediCal patients, a move that has drawn mixed reactions from the medical community. His Federally-funded Office of Criminal Justice Planning made large grants to police agencies for computers and other expensive equipment, and funded (among other projects) a large-scale research effort on how to prosecute pornographers more effectively. He several times vetoed legislation to reduce marijuana possession to a misdemeanor, and signed legislation sharply increasing penalties for drug dealers
Thus, Reagan’s record, while generally conservative, is not particularly libertarian. But one’s administrative decisions, constrained as they are by existing laws, institutions, and politics, do not necessarily mirror one’s underlying philosophy. We were therefore curious to find out more about the real Ronald Reagan. Looking relaxed and healthy despite his 64 years and a hectic schedule, Reagan welcomed us to his Los Angeles office on Wilshire Boulevard and talked political philosophy with us for over an hour. Here is what we learned.
REASON: Governor Reagan, you have been quoted in the press as saying that you’re doing a lot of speaking now on behalf of the philosophy of conservatism and libertarianism. Is there a difference between the two?
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