Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., shown on a video screen from C-SPAN's Washington studio, speaks during a forum Monday, Aug. 3, 2015, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) (AP)

Rand Paul's absurd Ronald Reagan amnesia: How he's distorting history to justify destroying Social Security

Rand Paul wants to gut Social Security, like his presidential hero would have. But history tells a different story

Conor Lynch
September 21, 2015 3:58PM (UTC)

It always makes for a good laugh when Reagan-worshipping Republicans decide to lecture Democrats and the nation about fiscal responsibility and the inevitable insolvency of Social Security, as Sen. Rand Paul did on Friday when he said that Sen. Bernie Sanders’ plan to expand the program (by extending the payroll tax to higher income levels) would be a “disservice” to the American people. Paul said:

“There is no free lunch, that just means somebody else is paying for it and they’re not showing you who’s paying for it instead. If Social Security is short of money, you can’t promise people more of it, you have to figure out how to do it with less money.”

Rand Paul and his GOP cohorts appear to suffer from a kind of collective amnesia when it comes to economic and foreign policy issues and the myth of Ronald Reagan. It is a kind cult of personality worship, if we’re being totally honest, where facts become unimportant and reason is wholly conquered by mythology. Indeed, last Wednesday, as all of Ronald Reagan’s biggest fans gathered at the Reagan Library, overwhelmed by the aura of their political master, there was nothing but good words for the 40th president, especially from Paul. The Kentucky Senator said that he would lead as a “Reagan conservative,” and has previously invoked the Gipper when talking about the current Iran nuclear deal:


“I believe in applying Ronald Reagan’s approach to foreign policy to the Iran issue. Successful negotiations with untrustworthy adversaries are only achieved from a position of strength.”

I have to wonder, by successful negotiations does he mean negotiating with terrorists? Paul obviously chooses not to recall the Reagan administration selling arms to the Iranian government in exchange for hostages, while using the profit to fund the Contras, a Nicaraguan terrorist organization, after Congress had banned it from doing so. Negotiating with terrorists and then funding other terrorists (let us also not forget about the Mujahideen) does not exactly seem like “peace through strength.”

Of course, Reagan-Republicans suffer from amnesia the most when it comes to the economy and “fiscal responsibility,” as I noted above. It was Reagan, after all, who “proved deficits don’t matter,” as Dick Cheney declared back in 2002.

The main goals under Reagan was to cut taxes, which did happen, and “starve the beast,” which didn’t happen. Under his administration, the federal debt nearly tripled from $1 trillion to $2.9 trillion. (For those counting, national debt under President Obama increased 70 percent in his first six year -- after inheriting the worst economic crisis in eighty years.)


Rand Paul discussing how Social Security is short of money is rather infuriating when considering how the Reagan administration pulled off one of the greatest heists in political history, from Social Security (and the working class). In 1983, after income tax cuts had drained revenue, the government decided to raise the regressive payroll tax for Social Security -- but instead of keeping the new revenue invested in U.S. treasury bonds, where it should have been, Reagan used it to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy, military spending, and other purposes. While the payroll increase generated $2.7 trillion in surplus for Social Security, it was all spent elsewhere. In other words, the Reagan administration (and later administrations that followed suit) stole from working class people and redistributed their little wealth to the rich. No wonder Republicans love this man.

Today, the largest holder of our national debt is not China, as Donald Trump would have everyone believe, but the Social Security trust fund -- which was owed a whopping $2.783 trillion as of September 30, 2014. Compare this to the largest foreign debt holder, China, which as of July 2015 owns about $1.240 trillion.

The pillaging of the trust fund was a great disservice to this country and its people. Making the wealthy pay their fair share is certainly not a disservice, as Paul claims, and this is exactly what Bernie Sanders' expansion plan would do. As is written on Sanders website:


“Under current law, the amount of income subject to the payroll tax is capped at $118,500. That means someone making millions of dollars a year pays the same amount in payroll taxes as some making $118,500 a year. The legislation would subject all income over $250,000 to the payroll tax.  Doing so would impact only the top 1.5 percent of wage earners, the Center for Economic Policy Research has estimated.”

Rand Paul’s political hero stole hard earned money from America’s middle class so that the rich could enjoy a tax cut, and now he believes that making the wealthy pay their share is a disservice to American people. The GOP candidate has predictably decided that fear-mongering is necessary to stop this: “We’re going to destroy the country if we [expand social security],” he said. But forty years of neoliberalism has already done a good job of that. With wealth inequality in America at its highest rate since before the Great Depression, maybe it’s time for Paul to give up his tainted supply-side worldview.

Conor Lynch

Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.

MORE FROM Conor Lynch

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Elections 2016 Gop Primary Rand Paul Ronald Reagan Social Security The Republican Party The Safety Net

Fearless journalism
in your inbox every day

Sign up for our free newsletter

• • •