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Monday Memories: The Triumph of Politics


This is the fifteenth of my Monday Memories series of posts. In these posts, I pull a book off my shelf, somewhat randomly, and tell you a bit about it. It's not a review of the book so much as a memory of the book, a bit about what might have been going on in my life when I read it, and my thoughts on who might like this book. 

The Book

The Triumph of Politics: The Inside Story of the Reagan Revolution by David Stockman. An Avon Book, published by arrangement with Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. Copyright 1986, 1987 by David Stockman.
First Avon Printing, January 1987. Printed in the USA.

Why This Book?

This is a book by an author who changed my life. More on that later. 

What's This Book About?

From memory:
The politics of the 1980s began with Ronald Reagan's vision of Morning in America, where "deficits as far as the eye can see" are cured by a balanced budget, where "wasteful" government spending by (at best) misguided bureaucrats is ended, and where the government gets "off the backs" of us citizens so that we can go about our lives and fulfill all of our needs by the successful application of our own two hands in the free market. Stockman's book details how the execution of much of that vision crumbled in the reality of politics as usual in Washington. It is an indictment of Washington politics by Reagan's own budget director who was, essentially, the General leading the revolutionary charge.

From perusing the book after I pulled it off the shelf:
David Stockman was raised in my home state of Michigan and graduated in 1968 with a BS in History from what would later be my own alma mater, Michigan State University. He was elected from Michigan to the US House in 1976, where he served until 1981, when he joined the Reagan administration as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The book details many of the political ups and downs of the Reagan administration's budget proposals to slash federal spending. After some initial success, the administration found itself fighting for every budget reduction they could get, and having more success in cutting taxes than cutting expenses. As a result, by the time Stockman resigned in September 1985, the federal budget deficit almost doubled, from $907 Billion in President Carter's final year, to $1.8 Billion.

In the book Stockman paints himself as the True Believer who is unable to accomplish the President's fiscal vision because of the recalcitrance of congressional Republicans. He never once gives up the supply side vision, but he is pretty bitter about his Washington experience, and regretful of the Federal deficits he left behind.

What Was Going On In My Life When I Read This?

When Ronald Reagan was elected President I was at Michigan State studying for my Bachelor's Degree.  Alongside Reagan's election in 1980 came a whole host of political, economic, financial and cultural changes to society.  Some changes like MTV and New Wave music were right up my alley and a big part of my life. Others, like the resurgence of Fraternities and the associated "frat boy" culture, along with "preppy" clothes and attitudes, were not my thing at all, though they became watered down and widespread enough eventually that it was hard to avoid them. By the time I graduated from grad school in 1984 I was "dressing for success" with the rest of 'em. 

Reagan's first term early success in budget cutting directly affected my life and changed it's direction. I graduated in 1982 with my BS in Civil Engineering. The year before, all the Seniors I knew in the Civil program had no problem landing a job, many of them with multiple job offers. The year I graduated fewer  than 25% of the graduates had any job offers at all, and I was not one of them. The difference? In 1981 & 1982 the US suffered what at the time was the worst recession since the Great Depression. Specifically for civil engineers, the job market was bleak due to federal budget cuts on infrastructure. That meant that states were not getting matching Federal funds for projects and were cutting spending, which meant that many civil engineers were getting laid off and very few firms were hiring. 

I ended up moving out to Denver as it was one of the only areas of the country doing well, because of the oil industry based there. My sister had moved to Denver with her husband, whose construction firm had relocated there, and said there was a lot of construction going on. I spent my first few weeks in Denver pounding the pavement cold calling firms to drop off my resume and see if I could talk to someone about hiring. In fact, there was little to no engineering design work going on in Denver despite the building boom. 

So, after my fruitless job search and a stint waiting tables, I finally switched gears and went back to school to get my masters in Business, in an effort to broaden my opportunities. It worked, and I landed a job in the purchasing department of a major corporation in New York right out of school. 

Because of all of that, I have never worked as a civil engineer. And that is how David Stockman, along with Ronald Reagan and the Reagan Revolution, changed my life.

Why Would Someone Like This Book?

Political junkies will find this memoir insightful, and if you have not read it and have an interest in 1980s politics or the Reagan presidency, it's worth picking up. A word of caution - there are a lot of "facts and figures" which may be hard to follow so many years after the fact, but if you are a political junkie who has a working understanding of Federal agencies and some notion of their budgets you'll be fine.

So that's my "Monday Memories" book post for this week. Were you around during the "Reagan Revolution"? How, if at all, did it impact you? Leave a comment below.