Republicans have spent the better part of a century trying to legislate our government away in small bits and pieces. We’ve seen it in action: cutting taxes, eliminating regulations, squeezing social welfare programs, privatizing essential services, and blocking access to the ballot box. Always with a promise that we’ll be better off for it. And it wouldn’t be so bad if their policies proved that a rising tide lifts all boats, but unfortunately, by most assessments they haven’t brought the tide in at all.
Looking only at the economic angle, measurements over time—including data around job creation, economic growth and stock market returns—prove that a Democrat in the White House is significantly better for our back pockets than a Republican. The question is why?
Researchers have tried to figure it out. Their answers range from risk aversion to oil shocks to consumer confidence to good old-fashioned luck. All of these probably play a role, large or small, in moving the needle. And although many Republicans would disagree with me, success, on a personal or presidential level, is about much more than money.
The past 40 years have seen a parade of Republican presidents who promised much across a wide swath of issues but delivered very little. Again, the question is why? The answer isn’t economic, it’s psychological. There’s an inherent flaw in the way Republicans are beholden to a rigid political dogma that doesn’t flex with our own evolution as individuals or cultures. Whatever you want to call it—confirmation bias, ego or loyalty—the result is a fixed mindset in which any problem, no matter how big or small, can only be solved one way.
Allow me one historic example. When Herbert Hoover faced the opening acts of the Great Depression, he dithered, afraid to stray from his party’s strict rules around limited government. Instead of help, he offered stale platitudes, encouraging Americans to “tighten their belts” and make do through their “rugged individualism.” He opposed two bills that would have provided struggling Americans with relief in the way of food, clothing and housing support.
In a more agile approach, Franklin Roosevelt offered the New Deal, a kitchen-sink tactic to lift us out of our economic quagmire with aid packages, public works programs and financial reforms. Roosevelt was the first to admit that some of his policies were mistakes, but in his 1936 address to the Democratic National Convention, he said, “Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.”
Ronald Reagan took office with laser-like focus on implementing the newest Republican orthodoxy: trickle-down economics. The supply-side model promised that lower taxes on high-income earners would lead to a surge of investment and trigger more than enough economic growth to offset the initial loss in tax revenue. The problem? It was more trick than trickle, and it didn’t work.
After slashing estate and business taxes and reducing the top individual tax bracket from 70 percent to 28 percent, we were rewarded with a drop in federal tax receipts, a tripling of the federal debt, declining wages, increasing income inequality and a double dip recession. After positive proof that trickle down doesn’t go anywhere, George H. W. Bush, who at one time called the approach “voodoo economics,” stayed the course.
George W. Bush did the same, showering us with more tax cuts that led to huge deficits and ballooning national debt. But it was the failed war in Iraq that was his Waterloo. You may remember his vice president, Dick Cheney, promising us that “we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” It turns out that the Bush administration had ignored several pre-war analyses that promised just the opposite. We were so cocksure that when the insurgency in Iraq quickly took hold, we were caught flat-footed to the tune of countless lives lost. Lucky for those of us who were safely back home, Republicans salved our wounds with another tax cut just two months after the war started.
Pumping the economy for the sake of padding your presidential resumé is one thing; facing a once-in-a-lifetime test of leadership is something altogether different. Like Hoover, Donald Trump failed when it was his turn.
It’s easy to point out the ignorance and lies that informed Trump’s sloppy, even criminal, handling of the global pandemic that’s still ratcheting up the body count. But it’s the narrow-minded Republicans who have for years questioned the validity of scientific research and tried to excise it from the important role it plays in decision making who are responsible for our inability to control the virus and for the utter devastation of our economy.
And now, with unemployment soaring, business shuttering and everyday people struggling to pay their rent, these same Republicans toe the party line about the high cost of handouts. But don’t worry, I have a solution for the raft of new problems they’ve created. Another tax cut!
Amos Klausner is an art director and armchair political strategist who serves on the Lagunitas School board. He lives in San Geronimo.