Byline: Burt Constable
Historians recall a time, back in the days when George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were avoiding Vietnam, when a Republican president actually balanced the budget.
Credit for that 1969 feat belongs to Bob Mayo of Bartlett, Richard Nixon's first budget director.
"Economics is 75 percent psychology and 25 percent real economics," Mayo, who died last January, explained to me a few years back.
It's also 100 percent politics.
Willing to do anything to win re-election in 1972, Nixon bid farewell to Mayo, embraced price-fixing and abandoned the GOP call for fiscal restraint, says historian Allen J. Matusow in his critically acclaimed book "Nixon's Economy: Booms, Busts, Dollars & Votes."
Nixon's short-sighted and all-encompassing political aspirations set the groundwork for runaway inflation and a crippling recession, says Matusow, a much-honored history professor at Rice University. One-term presidents Ford and Carter struggled with the damage Nixon wrought.
"We must have a balanced budget if we are to achieve a stable, productive national economy," Ronald Reagan declared during his 1980 election campaign, making that a cornerstone of the GOP platform.
Instead, the Reagan Administration "ran up more debt in eight years than the government had run up in the previous 200," Matusow says.
Republican apologists blame the Democrats in Congress for those whopping deficits, but "the leadership of the president is crucial," Matusow counters. "That Democratic Congress followed Reagan's lead. They were his collaborators."
The Reagan-ravaged economy he inherited did in one-term President George H.W. Bush, who labeled Reaganomics as "voodoo economics" before he embraced the plan to become Reagan's vice- president.
Republican purists such as Bob Dole and Tom DeLay once again called for fiscal responsibility.
"By the year 2002, we can have a federal government with a balanced budget or we can continue down the present path towards total fiscal catastrophe," DeLay, now the House majority leader, said in 1995. …