[A]s the conversation progressed, it became clear to several in the room that Obama seemed less interested in talking about Lincoln’s team of rivals or Kennedy’s Camelot than the accomplishments of an amiable conservative named Ronald Reagan, who had sparked a revolution three decades earlier when he arrived in the Oval Office. Obama and Reagan share a number of gifts but virtually no priorities. And yet Obama was clearly impressed by the way Reagan had transformed Americans’ attitude about government.
Brendan Nyhan casts some doubts on whether this transformation actually happened, citing public opinion data.
In some ways I think it’s more useful to just look at broad policy outcomes. Suppose someone proposed to repeal Obama, then end Medicare prescription drug coverage, then repeal SCHIP, then repeal the Americans With Disabilities Act, substantially roll back the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, reduce Medicaid eligibility, and repeal COBRA. We’d consider that a gigantic rollback of the welfare state, right? This would be a more right-wing agenda than Mike Pence dares propose. And yet it would describe returning the American welfare state to its pre-Reagan status quo.
The remarkable thing, to me, is that if you look at the years 1977-2008 there was a clear trajectory to policy that continued more-or-less unbroken despite changes in party control of different branches of government. Environmental regulations got stricter, the welfare state expanded, and other forms of business regulation declined. The biggest welfare state expansion happened under GW Bush and the biggest deregulatory episodes occurred under Carter and Clinton.