Last Thursday Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick sparked some commentary in the liberal blogosphere by penning a Washington Post op-ed in which he described attending his 25th college reunion back in 2003. The reunion also was attended by Grover Norquist, the GOP’s chief “no new taxes” enforcer and hatchetman, who apparently made some statements about how the Republicans intended to maintain a de facto permanent Republican majority in the federal government.
What surprised and saddened me is that Norquist’s statements 8 years ago would cause even the slightest stir today. Republicans have been pulling the scam Norquist described then for more than 30 years. What is more, they have been telling us that this is the scam they have been pulling. Have we just failed to pay attention?
Here is the money quote from Governor Patrick’s op-ed:
Grover Norquist – the brain and able spokesman for the radical right – and I, along with other classmates who had been in public or political life, participated in a lively panel discussion about politics. During his presentation, Norquist explained why he believed that there would be a permanent Republican majority in America.
One person interrupted, as I recall, and said, “C’mon, Grover, surely one day a Democrat will win the White House.”
Norquist immediately replied: “We will make it so that a Democrat cannot govern as a Democrat.”
As others have pointed out, Norquist certainly seems to have succeeded in his goal. At a time when reducing unemployment and jump-starting a sputtering economy should obviously be the first priority of the federal government, the GOP has successfully persuaded the Obama White House, the national media, and most Congressional Democrats that they should instead focus on reducing the national deficit. As a result, instead of jump-starting the economy the government wants to slash spending, with all the attendant recessionary consequences that implies. And at a time when more people than ever need some form of social safety net, that protection is the first thing on the chopping block.
(The only constituency the GOP has not been able to persuade is the actual, y’know, American people. Polls consistently show that for the American people getting back to work is the most significant issue facing the country, not reducing the deficit. Of course, as Larry Bartels’s research shows, the Congress doesn’t much care what the middle-class, the working-class or the poor want.)
But not only should this tactic have been predictable, it wasn’t even something that the GOP has tried to hide.
More than 30 years ago, back in May, 1980, before Ronald Reagan even won the presidential election, Irving Kristol (father of the odious and always-wrong Bill Kristol, and founding member of the neo-conservative movement) authored an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled “The Battle for Reagan’s Soul.” In it, Kristol argued the political logic of supply-side tax cuts, even though they would inevitably lead to huge budget deficits:
And what if the traditionalist-conservatives are right and a . . . tax cut, without corresponding cuts in expenditures, also leaves us with a fiscal problem? The neo-conservative is willing to leave those problems to be coped with by liberal interregnums. He wants to shape the future, and will leave it up to his opponents to tidy up afterwards. (emphasis added)
(H/t Jacob S. Hacker & Paul Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics.)
And the GOP has been pulling this scam ever since. As Bloomberg News reported even before Obama had won the election, the bond markets were poised to start insisting on cuts to social spending in order to protect the bond traders themselves. This, of course, was just a repeat of the scam that was pulled on Bill Clinton when he took office:
Clinton’s experience shows what such pressure can do to a president’s agenda. Promises of spending on education, public works and a middle-class tax cut fell by the wayside as advisers led by Robert Rubin, who later became Treasury Secretary, convinced the new president the best thing he could do for the economy was to show investors his resolve on fiscal discipline.
“You mean to tell me that the success of the economic program and my re-election hinges on the Federal Reserve and a bunch of fucking bond traders?” Clinton raged at aides, according to journalist Bob Woodward’s book, The Agenda.
Clinton’s deficit reduction policies resulted in a sustained economic boom that generated budget surpluses from his last four budgets and helped pull 10-year yields, which topped 8 percent in 1994, below 5 percent by the late 1990s.
But, of course, once Clinton had cleaned up the mess left over by the 12 year reign of Ronald Reagan and George Bush I – just as Irving Kristol predicted he or some other Democrat would – the dauphin swept into office. And suddenly, Dick Cheney was insisting that “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter,” and “We won the midterms. This [new round of tax cuts for the rich] is our due.”
Predictably, this blew up the federal budget and resulted in the worst record of job creation since at least World War II.
And now, with a Democrat in the White House, the GOP once again is insisting that the Democrats put their own policies on hold and clean up the mess left by Bush the Dumber. Of course, once the GOP takes the White House again – whether in 2012, 2016 or later – they will again be all too happy to blow up the budget and the economy with tax cuts for the wealthy and investment cuts for the rest of us. Rinse and repeat.
What is ultimately so maddening is that every time the Dems go along with this scam, they are simply being hoodwinked. Right now the nation is in the economic doldrums and we know – we know – from past experience that the way out of these doldrums is to increase government spending until the private sector can take over again. And we know – we know, because we can see what the yield on government issued debt is – that the rest of the world is more than willing to finance that additional government spending at amazingly low rates of interest. If there is any single thing we should be doing at this point, it is increasing – not decreasing – government spending.
But, of course, that would allow progressive economic policies to be enacted. It would allow investment in much needed infrastructure (our highways, bridges, electrical grid, even our telecommunications infrastructure), and would show the American people – many of whom seem to have forgotten – that a liberal economic form of government works.
And that would be bad, politically, for the party out of power. Can’t have that.
So despite explicitly telling us – over and over -- that this is just a scam to maintain power, despite a history of watching this scam play out before . . . the Dems are going to go along with it.
Political malpractice doesn’t even begin to describe this decision.