President Barack Obama laughs with former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, April 25, 2013.
Pete Souza/Official White House Photo

Forgetting the not-so-distant past

Perhaps no portion of Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) presidential kickoff speech was more memorable than this:
“While our people and economy are pushing the boundaries of the 21st century, too many of our leaders and their ideas are stuck in the 20th century.
“They are busy looking backward, so they do not see how jobs and prosperity today depend on our ability to compete in a global economy. So our leaders put us at a disadvantage by taxing, borrowing and regulating like it’s 1999.”
It may have been some kind of attempt at a Prince joke, but Rubio couldn’t have picked a worse point of comparison. As Roll Call noted yesterday, “The problem with the senator’s statement is that the government is neither taxing, nor borrowing, nor regulating like it did in 1999.”
In 1999, the U.S. economy was still in the midst of a Clinton-era boom. We had higher taxes, faster growth, and lower unemployment. What’s more, we weren’t “borrowing” at all – by 1999, the deficit had disappeared entirely and the nation was running a large surplus.
As we talked about yesterday, Rubio sees 1999 as some kind of dystopia to be avoided, but by any sane metric, those were economic conditions America should strive for, not avoid.
But the Florida Republican’s remarks came just days after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) argued, “The last president we had was Ronald Reagan that said we’re going to dramatically cut tax rates. And guess what? More revenue came in, but tens of millions of jobs were created.” None of this is even remotely true.
The week before, George Will mis-remembered Reagan’s jobs record. A few weeks prior, Gov. Scott Walker (R) argued that Reagan firing air-traffic controllers was “the most significant foreign policy decision” of his lifetime – which is plainly ridiculous.
Taken together, a common thread starts to emerge: prominent Republican leaders have no real memory of the 1980s and 1990s. It’s like some kind of mass amnesia has taken root in GOP circles.
Regrettably, the phenomenon isn’t entirely new. Last year, Rand Paul insisted, “When is the last time in our country we created millions of jobs? It was under Ronald Reagan.” It’s as if, in Rand Paul’s mind, the Clinton and Obama eras never happened.
But the scope and scale of the amnesia seems to be getting worse. Republicans don’t seem to remember the Iran-Contra scandal. They don’t recall the bombing in Beirut in 1983. They don’t recall ’90s-era tax increases. They don’t even remember how much they hated Bill Clinton when he was in office.
I’m starting to think there’s value in creating a new crowd-funding campaign: people donate money to buy books for Republicans about the decades the GOP doesn’t recall.