Lately I've been reading The Sixteen-Trillion Dollar Mistake by Bruce S. Jansson. The book discusses U.S. fiscal policy from FDR to Clinton, contending that bad decisions have cost us $16 trillion over the last 70 years. It was difficult reading at first. The back-and-forth between the President and Congress on budget matters buried me beneath a bewildering pile of numbers, and it was particularly hard to keep track while tiredly riding the El home from work. I kept asking myself why I ever bought the book. At one point, the fact that I paid $20 for it was the only thing that kept me reading. Things began to pick up with the Cold War, however, and I sense that it will get progressively more interesting approaching the present. After all I wasn't born until the Nixon years, so New Deal budget battles are pretty esoteric to me.
One consistent theme that I have found is that Republicans have a tradition of pressing for tax cuts regardless of what's in the country's best interests. At least now I know it's nothing new. Another surprise was that JFK was such a hawk throughout his political career (FYI, a "hawk" is a pro-war person, as opposed to a "dove"--when I told my wife about JFK being a hawk, she thought I was talking about his womanizing!). I guess I was surprised because it didn't fit the romantic vision of Camelot that my mother gave me about the JFK years. Then again, she was thirteen years old when JFK died, so maybe she wasn't fully immersed in politics.
On the other hand, when I was thirteen and Reagan was in office, I was too into politics. I read the Chicago Tribune daily, and I was sure we were all going to die in a nuclear war (Sting's "Russians" gave me chills). Maybe that's why I was so disgusted by people deifying Reagan when he died--his macho posturing with the Soviets scared the hell out of me when I was a kid. Just the same, I can't wait to get to the Reagan years in this book. Isn't that where G.W. learned how to cut taxes and increase spending?