Hello Bloggers - I thought I would try an experiment today. I was talking to a friend yesterday about the stimulus package and the Republican opposition, and something interesting happened during the debate. I found myself saying that I used to love to believe what the Republicans preach - smaller government and lower taxes - until I found out it doesn't work. So, what changed my mind?
I wanted to remember, so I began to recall my political past, and how I wasn't always what Republicans like to call a "liberal" Democrat. (I personally like the term "progressive," because it describes our thinking better.) I was a Democrat, just not the same kind. I was misguided.
Growing up in New Orleans, I campaigned and worked for Representative and later Senator John Breaux (D-LA) in the mid-eighties. He was a moderate "Blue Dog" Democrat, believing in many Republican issues at the time. Smaller government and lower taxes were high on the list. I supported many of the same positions, and even voted for George H. W. Bush after leaving the Senate.
I was young and foolish, and like so many Americans believed their stories about how smaller government and lower taxes would create a fantastic economy and society where success would trickle-down to everybody willing to reach for it. Reagan was a GREAT salesman, and charlatan. After the first Bush presidency, it all started to smell like old, rotten fish.
For those of us who were paying attention, the Lee Atwater movement under the first Bush began to show the ugly side of Republicans. If anybody wants to learn more about that political period, I recommend watching "Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story." It's an excellent documentary about how Republican tactics evolved to create Karl Rove and George W. Bush. Be sure to have a friend nearby while watching - it's VERY SCARY!
Anyway, Republicans at that time started to look negative, racially divisive (their "Southern Strategy" was in full swing), and unconcerned about the economics that help ordinary people. They were looking great at getting people to vote against their best interests. It was weird. They started to divide and conquer the nation based on "wedge issues." It was also obvious nothing was "trickling down" to help Average Americans. If anything, they were shipping jobs overseas and destroying the middle-class.
Unfortunately, most Americans weren't paying attention. By and large most Americans hate politics, and would rather be spoon fed slogans than do their homework. They didn't want to know or understand Lee Atwater or Newt Gingrich during the first Bush recession; they only wanted a promise of better times.
That ignorance led to support priming the gears for the Republican revolution, but fortunately for Democrats they suffered a significant set-back when the "Man from Hope" - or Clinton - came along. He was the kind of salesman Americans love. Unfortunately, Americans eventually gave Newt Gingrich and his Republicans Capitol Hill.
Before they won the bulk of their power, Bill Clinton and the Democrats passed legislation to lower the debt and raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Republicans called it "job killer" legislation, just like they did with the stimulus this week, and voted against it en masse. Democrats called it responsible government. They focused on reducing the Reagan-Bush era debt and creating jobs.
They Republicans followed-up with their "Contract with America," and despite being bold at the time, it was pretty much ignored and dismissed in the end. They were more concerned with acquiring more power, and they knew they could if they turned their attention to wedge issues, creating a cult-like following, and impeaching the President.
The real political irony of the nineties is how the Republicans took credit for the work of the Democrats. Incredibly, they convinced their flock, and many independents, that the greatest economic boom in American history was the work of Bush and the Republicans in Congress. Clinton's debt reduction initiatives and national stabilization programs were dismissed. Despite facts to the contrary, their ignorant, sheep-like constituents believed it.
Eventually, after creating a web of lies about their "success" and tactical wedge issues like gay marriage, the Republicans stole the 2000 election. Instead of Al Gore - who we voted for, we wound up with George Bush, Dick Cheney and more Republicans. It was a very sad day for the majority of Americans who actually voted to continue with the Democrats, and the well managed Clintonian economy.
The Republicans got to work on their "ill gotten gains" and focused immediately on castrating the government. In early 2001, George Bush and his team began installing incompetent, unqualified people into positions of power - EVERYWHERE in government. They were mostly loyalists it turns out; people they could count on to shrink what they saw as a bloated, inefficient and ineffective government. Unfortunately for them, it turned out to be the opposite. It turns out that less government led to less of everything!
Their version of the US government FAILED to prevent a massive attack on 9/11, FAILED to protect Americans from predatory lenders, FAILED to enforce financial regulations that created a housing bubble, FAILED to regulate Wall Street losing trillions in American savings, FAILED to provide assistance that led to the death of thousands after Katrina, FAILED to prevent war profiteering and incredible waste, and FAILED in just about every area of running the US government and helping the American people. The Republicans would later call it bad luck.
They pretty much FAILED everywhere, leading to the LOWEST APPROVAL RATINGS of any administration in history. They said they didn't care, but what else could they say. They were failures. Overall, the Republican principles that guided George Bush and Dick Cheney led to the worse government in American history, which contributed to some of the greatest disasters in American history.
At this unique time in American politics, listening to the Republicans continue to insist their principles of smaller government and lower taxes work best for the American people, it's important for us to assess what is right and what is wrong about their sales pitch.
So, let's try something we all do from time to time. Let's create a list of pros and cons, to help us visualize it. Let's explore whether our Republican friends should continue to believe their REPUBLICAN policies and beliefs. Here are just a few of my examples for now. Feel free to add your own.
PRO: Smaller government is better government.
CON: Republicans have proven smaller government is not better government. Size isn't the issue. It's about effective government, and the best value for money. Democrats like Obama support that idea.
PRO: Lower taxes help grow the economy and create jobs.
CON: Republicans proved that lower taxes are not enough. Most economists believe growth is encouraged by multiple factors, including government assistance related to education, health care, regulation/oversight, and all kinds of government stabilizing forces. Surgically applied tax cuts are good, but Republican efforts to simply lower taxes across the board have led to lower wages and bubble economies. It's also untrue that lowering taxes on the rich creates jobs - at least AMERICAN JOBS. The rich create some jobs, but how and where is debatable. It's also true that many hoard their money; the middle-class always spends it.
PRO: Less or no regulation is better for a free market.
CON: Republicans proved that reducing or eliminating regulations can lead to bubble economies and chaos. Republican-led deregulation has led to disruptions in every major area supporting the economy, including infrastructure, transportation, state and local economic development initiatives, health care, industrial safety/mining, industrial pollution, protecting the environment [for human health], urban planning/growth, executive compensation, investor protections, and much more. Deregulation has proven to be very dangerous to both the economy and people.
PRO: Transfer payments/social safety nets are harmful to the market and society.
CON: Republicans support transfer payments and social safety nets when it applies to saving large corporations or their own investments, but call it "socialism" and harmful when it's designed to protect individual, less affluent Americans. It's obvious to most Americans now that Republicans support the "privatization of profit and the socialization of risk." Republicans tolerate the "redistribution of wealth" as long as it benefits wealthy Americans. In the end, transfer payments like Social Security, Unemployment Insurance and Medicare stabilize the economy and society.
PRO: A strong defense is critical to American power and overall success.
CON: Just like Dwight D. Eisenhower predicted, the American military-industrial complex has become a behemoth that threatens to strangle the nation. Republicans are obsessed with American power. They have grown to believe in American unilateralism and hegemony. The truth is America must work with partners in today's multi-polar world, and those partners must be forced to share the burden. The industrial-military complex needs to be put on a diet, and Republicans need to accept that America cannot continue to go it alone. America needs to invest in a renewable economy, not just bombs and guns.
That's it for now. I hope you enjoyed my little list. Feel free to add your own.
So, based on this little journey through time, I now see why I left the Republican sales pitch behind. Smaller government and lower taxes SOUND AWESOME, but are really nothing but a pipe dream when you begin to see them applied in the real world. Republicans need to realize that Milton Friedman was wrong. Republican efforts at supply-side economists are a failure. Free trade over fair trade is a failure. American jobs have become CRAP!
We took a chance on Republican principles, and Americans are overwhelmingly throwing in the towel. We're ready to go back to the principles that work. The Democrats didn't invent those principles; Democrats simply embrace what works. I hope the American people understand that and support what is right.
Saturday's Political History/Perspective #1 - Michael