Now that David Stockman, Reagan’s former duplicitous budget director, is cashing his $2 1/2 million in royalties for his book: The Triumph of Politics: How the Reagan Revolution Failed, his critics are having a field day deploring his disloyalty to Reagan. Why, they demand, did Stockman wait until he left office and sign a book contract before telling the public that the Reagan Revolution was over as early as 1981 and that he and others cooked figures to keep the bad news about coming deficits and the like from the American people? “When they weren’t bamboozling the President, the Reaganites were bamboozling the citizenry,” writes Michael Kinsley in his review of the book for the New York Times.
Well I think the critics are missing the most important devastation wrought by Stockman. It was not in the area of deficits, because anyone in Stockman’s place would probably have behaved the same way, except for being even more tight-lipped to friendly reporters. The deficits were inevitable once Reagan decided to double the military budget and sharply cut taxes for corporations and the rich in 1981.
Stockman’s uniquely macabre legacy is his zealous blocking and deterring of critical health and safety standards designed to protect workers, consumers, infants and the environment. More than his censorious practice at the Office of Management and Budget in refusing to clear even modest regulations designed to prevent cancer, make automobiles safer or clean up the drinking water, Stockman sent a daily chill to the consumer, job safety and environmental agencies with the message: ‘freeze, reduce your enforcement actions and weed out any civil servant who persistently objects.’
He presided over a Budget office that met secretly with corporate emissaries trying to circumvent the agencies and destroy health and safety rules. He rode roughshod over federal laws requiring all contacts and submissions to be in the public dockets of such agencies as the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission. His own submissions were often oral and, if in writing, were not publically docketed so that citizens could review them pending consideration of the agency’s proposals.
It was not as if these Reagan-ruled agencies were aching to defend consumers from toxic wastes and dangerous automobiles or to shield workers from cotton dust or lead. When these bureaus sent standards to the Budget office for clearance, you could be sure that they were needed and at much stronger levels.
Nonetheless, Stockman sat on an infant formula safety standard (to prevent brain damage to the little ones) for 18 months before media exposure forced approval. He wanted to close down OSHA (the job safety agency) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission which focused on hazards of household products and materials. He fought tooth and nail against air bags and even toyed with the idea in late 1984 with asking Congress to repeal the Safe Drinking Act of 1974. He had nothing but contempt for the public’s right to know and to participate in these regulatory proceedings as was their right under federal law.
On cruelty to the poor and children, Stockman had no peer except for Ronald Reagan. The Budget director wanted to abolish successful infant and children nutrition programs, legal aid to the poor, low income housing, and student loans. He was stubbornly opposed to assisting local school districts in controlling cancerous asbestos contamination which the
Environmental Protection Agency declared was exposing 15 million students, 1.5 teachers and workers in 30,000 schools.
Stockman needs to be given a “not so fast sign” by the media and the American people he so disserved. He needs to be judged for the policies he pushed whose adverse effects will be felt for many years.
Seized with a juvenile mind that achieved too much power to fast, Stockman writes his confessions about how he misjudged the American people’s desire for social equity, economic fairness and security. The now Wall Street investment banker now would have been more candid were he to admit coming to his powerful government job without any empathy, any compassion and any feeling for the proper role of government in curbing the abuses of the powerful and opening its doors to the needs and visions of the people.
More information about the Stockman story that the media missed is contained in our new book — The Real David Stockman by John Greenya and Anne Urban (St. Martin’s Press, New York).