Monday, July 14, 2008

New Matt Kinnaman Article

Getting it Right
July 10, 2008
Fearless Leadership and Big Ideas: A Lesson for Massachusetts
By Matt Kinnaman

Friday, February 11, 1983 was an historic day in Washington D.C. A major winter storm enveloped the city. At the White House, most workers left for home before noon. Others who didn’t ended up snowed-in as DC’s fifth biggest accumulation ever buried the district’s streets and landmarks.

President Reagan recorded the storm in his journal, along with a much more consequential occurrence that took place while many members of Reagan’s team were hurrying home early to escape the blizzard. It was a lunch meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, lasting almost two hours, and Reagan wrote that “out of it came a super idea.”

To describe this breakthrough, the president posed a question in his diary: “What if we tell the world we want to protect our people, not avenge them; that we’re going to embark on a program of research to come up with a defensive weapon that could make nuclear weapons obsolete?”

With one of the greatest creative policy strokes ever painted, President Reagan introduced the Strategic Defense Initiative to the US and the world in a March 23rd speech, ingeniously positioning an unprecedented US nuclear buildup with an unmatched willingness to protect the rest of the world from its future use.

Reagan’s “super idea” infuriated and emboldened his critics on the Left, who immediately derided the initiative as “Star Wars.” They perceived it as a dunderheaded stumble by a deficient and unsophisticated grade B actor masquerading as president. But they were mistaken.

What they failed in their emboldened protests to notice was that Reagan’s daring move decisively un-emboldened America’s number one adversary, the Soviet Union. When Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev insisted in their 1986 Reykjavik Summit that Reagan abandon SDI in exchange for Soviet arms reductions, Reagan refused, and instead offered to share SDI technology with the Soviet Union. Convinced of the US president’s commitment to develop an anti-ballistic weapons shield and America’s demonstrated economic ability to amass a nuclear capability the Soviets could not afford to match, Gorbachev folded.

On December 25, 1991, 3240 days after February 11, 1983’s snowstorm and brainstorm, not only had that day’s frozen accumulation melted; so had the Cold War. In a Christmas gift to the entire world, a gift made possible by Reagan’s prescience and persistence in pursuit of a super idea, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as president of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and the USSR was officially dissolved the following day.

When Gorbachev announced his resignation, he expressed bewildered regret at the Soviet Union’s failure: “There is plenty of everything: land, oil and gas, other natural riches, and God gave us lots of intelligence and talent, yet we lived much worse than developed countries and keep falling behind them more and more.”

Meanwhile, the US was moving further and further ahead because of Reagan’s additional super ideas; across-the-board tax reduction and reduced regulation on economic enterprise. Though these initiatives were also derided by Democrats (grandma will be left out in the cold, school children will starve in the closed cafeterias, etc…), Reagan’s vision for lower taxes and eased regulation unleashed an historic 1980’s blizzard of economic growth (adjusted for inflation, US GDP grew by one-third), job expansion (nearly 20 million new jobs), increased government revenues (nearly doubling from $517 billion to more than $1 trillion), and reinvigorated US leadership on the world stage.

Diarist, president, and big thinker, Reagan was not blown about by storms of popular incumbent opinion. This is instructive for Massachusetts at this moment, in a year when a politically transformative question will appear on the ballot; whether to eliminate the state’s income tax on individual workers. What will Massachusetts do?

Like SDI, eliminating the income tax is a big idea that requires political vision, and promises a huge upside. State Senate president Therese Murray warns that this “would mean laying off teachers, police and firefighters, closing schools and shutting down road projects." What it would really mean is an average annual raise of $3600 per worker, a revved up growth engine, a rebuilt nationwide reputation for Massachusetts as an emerging leader of citizen-led economic empowerment, and the simultaneous imposition of serious and transparent fiscal discipline on the legislature.

Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce president Paul Guzzi says "It's irresponsible and it goes too far, and reasonable people understand that." But the “reasonable” politicos and chatterers who scurry away from greatness in favor of the status quo sureties of convention said similar things when President Reagan proposed his revolutionary ideas.

Thankfully, he didn’t listen.

Matt Kinnaman’s “Getting it Right” column appears every week in The Transcript.