Republicans relentlessly attack Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and spending for nearly all purposes other than defense. It seems they will do and say anything, factual or otherwise, to kill these programs. Death through legislation has not worked, though, so a while back they switched their strategy starting with Ronald Reagan.
He could not have been more clear when he declared that, “Government isn’t the solution to our problem; government is the problem.“ His message was that getting rid of as much government as possible was the goal. But instead of moving to kill social programs through legislation, he and his Republican pals deviously began to spend as much money as possible.
Reagan took WW II battleships out of mothballs and did the same with other obsolete weaponry, all at fantastic cost. His run up in debt over the eight years of his presidency was staggering. In four of his eight years he set new debt records – that means record increases to the national debt – that eclipsed all former debt figures in US history. His spending was so massive that he managed to set those debt records even while increasing taxes six times.
As he spent mind-numbing sums of your money, Reagan forged ahead to deregulate the economy. Safeguards against such disasters as financial meltdown came under attack, with Reagan and his followers declaring that free market forces will always produce the best result and that government merely needed to get out of the way. All regulation, they told us, was bad.
George H.W. Bush came next and the amazing thing about him was that he put us under even higher piles of debt in two of his four years in office. In other words, in half of the twelve years of those two Republican presidents, from 1981 – 1993, the leaders who called themselves conservatives ran up the biggest debt ever seen in the United States. Actually, it was the biggest debt ever seen in the world. Clearly, there is nothing conservative about that, but there was far worse to come.
Starting in 2001, the unbridled spending mania of George W. Bush, coupled with huge, unwarranted tax reductions primarily benefitting the rich resulted in national debt increases that dwarfed all those that had preceded them. In all of US history, from 1776 to January 20, 2001, the total of all increases to the national debt was $5.6 trillion. In just eight years in office Bush ran up over $4 trillion on the government’s credit card. He did it with off budget, unfunded wars, an unfunded prescription drug plan, massive tax reductions and more. The resulting debt is so enormous that even if all debt increases were to end right now, our great- great- great-grandchildren will still be paying for Bush’s debt. That was supposed to be okay, though, because conservative Vice-President Dick Cheney told us confidently and boldly, that, “Deficits don’t matter.”
Bush left office, handing to President Obama a country mired in two wars and an economy in freefall as a result of decades of brainless adherence to Reagan’s polarized notion about free markets and deregulation. In addition, the new president inherited a congress that was intent upon stopping anything curative that he might propose, even if those same Republican legislators had promoted exactly the same things themselves. After thirty years of preparation, it was the perfect storm to eliminate all social programs and ensure long term Republican control of America.
The Republican strategy boils down to a simple mandate: Spend the country to the brink of bankruptcy so that there can be absolutely nothing we can do but to slash every government program, with the possible exception of mindless spending on defense.
How exquisitely simple and clear: Revolution through near-suicide.
This strategy is oddly compelling to Republicans and easy to enforce. Even normally sensible legislators can be brought to heel with simple, relatively cheap funding of their campaigns, along with the threat of that funding going elsewhere if they don’t comply with the near-suicide compact. That has become a self-sustaining program, with the government increasingly favoring the wealthy. Those wealthy people contribute to legislators who perpetuate the redistribution of wealth from poor and middle class people to the rich. That is to say, the wealthy fund their congressional lapdogs who create legislation to continue the reverse Robin Hood flow of money and to end anything that promotes the welfare of ordinary Americans.
All it took was the grand vision to spend America to near-suicide and leave us with no alternative but to go back to the dark days of robber barons and people suffering without medical care and dying in abject poverty.
Brilliant. And monstrously harmful.
Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
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