When George Bush Sr. was campaigning against Michael Dukakis I heard my father coin the term “Political Fairy Dust.”
It was his dismissal of a strategy that he noticed every election cycle; Republicans always promise “lower taxes,” and will “improve government by getting rid of wasteful spending” and they promise to re-design the programs that Americans consider important (like education, Social Security, Medicare), while de-regulating business to create economic growth.
They do this by using “conservative values” that apparently bolster everything from patriotism to solving a budget crisis. My father noted that they get elected on those promises- I mean who doesn’t want to pay less and get more??
What happens, though, is that there is no magical fairy dust to improve programs or to implement promises when budgets are cut or eliminated.
Taxes may get cut, as Reagan initiated, but a closer examination shows how he created a deficit that he compensated for by eliminating tax breaks for lower incomes. The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, increased burden on lower incomes and the Tax Reform Act of 1986 to “simplify” the tax code essentially raised the bottom tax rate by 4% while lowering the top another 22%.
In theory, he could say that they were tax cuts, since the total percentage was lower, but the burden fell to everyone but the wealthy.
Education isn’t improved when it isn’t well enough funded and government can’t effectively respond to disasters when emergency relief agencies have been dismantled to cut costs (as was the case under President Bush).
When watchdog agencies are eliminated because of de-regulation how are Americans protected from being swindled when the free market gets too ambitious (derivatives, toxic assets and loose restrictions on subprime lending)?
What then happens after years of neoliberal economics (Trickle Down) is that Americans get fed up when they see the investment class lining their pockets while the services that have helped many of them to survive are now less effective or have disappeared…and that’s when Americans puts Democrats in office.
But…the turnaround from the policies that created inequities never comes fast enough and Republicans immediately deploy their consistent spin: “Look at how the Democrats have lost your jobs!”
If taxes are proposed, for those who can afford them, to re-build the broken infrastructure or if stimulus is invested to create jobs, Republicans are ready and waiting. “Look! Now they’re raising taxes and spending more!!”
Bill Maher compared this maneuver to a Three Stooges short where they first sneak rats into a person’s house and then show up the next day as exterminators to take care of the problem.
Clinton was elected because George Bush Sr.’s false chestnut, “Read my lips, no new taxes” was exposed, but, Clinton bucked the trend because he was closer to conservative economic values than most Republicans.
I’ve always felt that he was hated by Republicans because he was more fiscally conservative than they were, yet as a moderate Democrat he kept government programs in place and shared the prosperity while balancing the budget and creating the surplus that George Jr. squandered by cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans and simultaneously entering two wars….but I digress…
Now, I don’t want to say that Americans aren’t wise, but we have a very short memory. We are witnessing today how many people don’t seem to remember how we got into a deep recession, and Iraq without a strategy, and so the drumbeat of “lower taxes” and “smaller government” resonates again.
There is a local race for the Iowa legislature and I went to the Republican candidate’s website to see what his positions were. They echoed the same rhetoric of every Republican for the past 30 years, and deafeningly so over the past 6.
He says that Republican leadership will improve education by attracting and retaining quality teachers. He believes that we must lower income taxes and eliminate corporate taxes; this will improve employment by encouraging new business and when it comes to entitlement programs he’s going to demand reform.
I am always struck by how education will improve when we don’t budget enough for it. Teachers, like everyone else, are attracted to better salaries and Iowa ranks 31st in beginning teacher salaries. That’s not very good.
There is a philosophical difference between the left and the right regarding education. On the right, education is a line item; on the left education is not viewed as spending, rather it is investment that ultimately innovates, creates and bolsters our economy.
The website offered: “Eliminating corporate taxes will bring new business to Iowa.”
What it will do, for sure, is decrease state revenue, but maybe that’s irrelevant if it attracts new business. Yet, South Dakota has no corporate income tax and ranks near the bottom in terms of attracting new business, so…maybe there are other factors.
Maybe businesses come for the services and quality of life a state can provide because of revenue. For the record, Iowa, when under a Democratic legislature, ranked 8th in the nation in terms of job creation during the worst recession in over 70 years according to the US Chamber of Commerce. And that was with a high corporate tax rate of 12%.
Lowering taxes to create jobs…makes sense, doesn’t it? The thinking is at least logical: If people have more money in their pockets, they’ll spend more, increasing demand and therefore increasing the need for production and the creation of jobs.
Lowering personal taxes does create an initial and temporary economic boost, but the ripple effect that leads to businesses expanding and thereby creating jobs is years out at best. Incremental private sector spending does not “stimulate” an economy out of a recession.
As for wealth creating jobs, any sentient human being understands that no one goes into business to create jobs; they go into business to make money. Fine. But hiring is the last resort.
Finally, what about entitlements? The truth is, Republicans, once elected, never actually change welfare because their constituents use it (and allegedly abuse it) as well as liberals and Democrats.
Furthermore, entitlements are not quite the burden that we’ve been led to believe. The number of Iowans that use, or have at one time used entitlement programs of one kind or another, is very high, yet those abusing the system are less than 2% according to government fraud agencies. Most recipients use them to bridge the gap to find work; to put food on the table during that time; to become rehabilitated; or to join work programs designed to improve their situation.
What may happen next is that this election cycle could follow the same old script…but the script could change if the electorate wakes up and calls out politicians for making false promises that lead us further down the rabbit hole. And by looking at history, even if it’s only from the past 30 years, to determine what really happens and what doesn’t.
We must start electing leaders based on concrete ideas forged from real information and not just the talking points from the “Handbook on How to Get Elected.”
First, however, they will have to prove it by elevating a sanitation truck…or by making Charlie Sheen enter the priesthood….all I ask is that it’s magical….their call.