Some parallels between '88, '08 elections

I know the operative word for this coming election is “change.”

Nobody wants to look back — we usually strive to look forward. Still, there’s the biblical adage, “There’s nothing new under the sun,” and I can’t help but reflect on the issues we face in 2008 with respect to where we’ve been, at least within the context of my own adult life and voting history.

Twenty years ago, 1988: I was 24 and had voted for Ronald Reagan only once, in 1984, my senior year in college. I campaigned with my friends and neighbors for “The Gipper” in the 1980 election (my senior year in high school), very frustrated that I was six weeks too young to vote in that election.

Remember 1980? The Iran hostage crisis had gripped my attention for over a year, President Jimmy Carter informed the world that the United States would boycott the Summer Olympic games if the Soviet Union did not pull out of Afghanistan, interest rates were in the double digits and inflation was on a daily climb toward 13 percent.

This is the direction our nation went with President Carter (1976-1980), the great Democratic hope who took the White House after a tumultuous Nixon Watergate scandal, a humiliating exit from Vietnam (which was followed by a Communist takeover, mass persecutions and one of the 20th century’s worst mass killings in history by the Khmer Rouge). We were soft internationally and very soft economically.

Then came the Reagan years, 1980-1988. Reagan had eight years of battling a “tax and spend” Democrat-controlled Congress. By 1988, Americans were depressed by the hangover of daily Iran-Contra hearings that played relentlessly across the radio and TV in the preceding months. He had presided over a strong national defense and dared the “evil empire” toward its own collapse. In spite of the damage Iran-Contra did to Reagan’s credibility, he left office with an unprecedented 64 percent approval rating. We were strong internationally and economically recovering.

Then came 1988. Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush, was running against the Democrats’ great hope, the “Massachusetts Miracle” as he was called, Michael Dukakis. The 1988 campaign gave me little inspiration and, in fact, I am not proud to reveal that it was the only election for which I did not vote.

I was not inspired, needless to say, and being 24 and immature in my appreciation for the privilege of voting, I needed inspiration to put forth any effort. I have voted in every election since.

The Bill Clinton years brought us a continuation of economic prosperity, but only after an initial bold attempt into nationalizing health care, increasing taxes and reducing military strength by a third. The 1994 “Republican Revolution” forced Clinton to adopt a more conservative, centrist approach to, among other things, welfare reform. His centrist turn, along with a Republican Congress, led to a very successful decade of economic prosperity.

After eight years of the Bush presidency, I believe 2008 bears some striking resemblance to 1988. Except that the torchbearer for my team, George W. Bush, has not carried the mantle of our party’s principles with the same eloquence as Reagan.

Most conservatives I know admit to cringing when President Bush speaks, his command of English is so inept. His record is one that covers the bases of bold, stubborn, weak, heroic and, at times, downright lucky.

What he will not get credit for is that the economy, under his leadership and for the first six years under a Republican majority, has weathered unimaginable hits with amazing resilience.

Americans have become accustomed to Reagan-era standards of low inflation, low prices, low unemployment and low interest rates.

After 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Enron collapse (worth noting that Enron enjoyed its heyday during the 1990s and was busted for its crimes during the Bush era) and the final collapse of Alan Greenspan’s mortgage bubble (a phenomenon that hatched and grew its strength with Greenspan’s constant tinkering), it is remarkable that we have managed to avoid a recession at all.

Still, under Bush, what most conservatives are depressed by is that the government and its accompanying red tape expanded by leaps and bounds, far more than under Clinton. Government expansion is the great sin for our team and it’s hard to be inspired when your team has let you down. This is why Republicans took it in the shorts in 2006 — and lost their majority in Congress. Unlike Reagan, Bush’s approval rating is one of the lowest for an exiting two-term president (trumped only by an even lower approval rating for Congress).

In 2008, just as in 1988, certain realities hold true. It will be the entrepreneurial creative impulse of the human spirit, not government programs, which will lead to solutions of our most difficult problems. It will be the inventors of new energy solutions that lead us toward energy independence, not punishing oil companies for profits or charging Americans for their “carbon blueprint” offenses.

Success will come because citizens are free to explore solutions, and yes, make a profit for their efforts and not have to face a mountain of paperwork from licensing agencies and tax collectors. Private solutions to public problems should be rewarded and not discouraged.

In 2008, like 20 years ago, we will face some tough questions. Which team will lead us toward more freedom to explore solutions? Which team will hamper the effort by more government mandates? We’ve got four months to explore the question of who will lead us forward, for better or for worse.

Federal Way resident Angie Vogt: vogt.e@comcast.net. For past columns and further commentary, visit www.soundupdate.com.

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