Tags: Scott Walker | Scott Walker | Ronald Reagan | PATCO | Soviet Union | foreign policy

Experts Debate Scott Walker Remarks on Reagan, Organized Labor

Image: Experts Debate Scott Walker Remarks on Reagan, Organized Labor
(Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

By    |   Tuesday, 07 Apr 2015 03:51 PM

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is considering a White House run, has made little effort to conceal his admiration for President Ronald Reagan, Mediaite reported.

The Wisconsin Republican has likened his clashes with Wisconsin public sector unions to Reagan’s breaking of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) after it staged an illegal strike during Reagan's first year in office.

Walker, the website observed, has termed Reagan's decision to take on PATCO and fire the strikers the "most significant foreign policy decision" of his lifetime.

His website features a prominently displayed quote from Reagan, and Walker got married on Reagan's birthday.

But The New York Times talked to Reagan biographer Lou Cannon, who criticized Walker for comparing himself to Reagan.

Cannon, who covered Reagan as governor of California for the San Jose Mercury News and as president for The Washington Post, said Walker's continued comparisons of his policies to Reagan are based on a "caricature."

According to Cannon, reality was more complicated. As governor, Reagan signed an abortion-rights bill and tax increases, Cannon said, while as president he found common ground with Moscow and did not relish firing the air traffic controllers, Cannon said.

"He never made his bones on trying to break the back of labor the way Walker has," Cannon said. "Walker is borrowing from Reagan’s mystique more than any other Republican eyeing the presidency, but Ronald Reagan he ain't."

Wall Street Journal columnist and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, however, provided a more nuanced even positive assessment of Walker's comments about Reagan and the air traffic controllers.

Noonan wrote recently that while conducting research and interviewing people in the 1990s for her biography of Reagan, "When Character Was King," she looked at the PATCO case and found that Reagan offered the unions 17,000 workers an 11 percent increase in salary at a time when his administration was looking for every possible way to reduce domestic spending.

But the union demanded a 100 percent increase, which the president rejected. He instructed Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis to tell the head of the controllers union that he would not accept an illegal strike or negotiate a contract while the strike was continuing.

Reagan's tough line was difficult for him, Noonan said, in part because PATCO was one of the few unions that backed him in his 1980 White House bid.

Eventually, the workers went out on strike and were fired.

It was a huge international story, Noonan says, with the government of France, among others, pressing the administration to make a deal with the controllers. Reagan's secretary of state for most of his presidency, George Shultz, said it was the most important foreign policy decision Reagan ever made because the Soviet Union learned that tough rhetoric would be backed up by action.

According to Noonan, Walker was correct in his comments about the foreign-policy implications of the PATCO strike but she added a few caveats.

The most important had to do with the Wisconsin governor's claim in January that documents released by Moscow show that the Soviet Union behaved differently toward the United States after the PATCO decision.

Noonan expressed doubt that such documents exist, adding: "If Walker got it wrong, he should say so."

But she said the existence of the documents probably didn't matter much anyway.

"Of course [the Soviets] would factor it in," Noonan wrote. "They had eyes. They didn't have to write it down."

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is considering a White House run, has made little effort to conceal his admiration for President Ronald Reagan, Mediaite reported.
Scott Walker, Ronald Reagan, PATCO, Soviet Union, foreign policy
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2015-51-07
Tuesday, 07 Apr 2015 03:51 PM
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