Sunday, October 20, 2013

the abject failure of reaganomics


consortiumnews | In the decades that followed Reagan’s 1980 election, the Right has invested ever more heavily in media outlets, think tanks and attack groups that, collectively, changed the American political landscape. Because of Reagan’s sweeping tax cuts favoring the rich, right-wing billionaires, like the Koch Brothers and Richard Mellon Scaife, also had much more money to reinvest in the political/media process, including funding the faux-populist Tea Party.

That advantage was further exaggerated by the Left’s parallel failure to invest in its own media at anything close to the Right’s tens of billions of dollars. Thus, the Right’s outreach to average Americans has won over millions of middle-class voters to the Republican banner, even as the GOP enacted policies that devastated the middle class and concentrated the nation’s wealth at the top.
So, even as American workers struggled in the face of globalization and suffered under GOP hostility toward unions, the Right convinced many middle-class whites, in particular, that their real enemy was “big guv-mint.”

Though Obama won the presidency in 2008, the Republicans didn’t change their long-running strategy of using their media assets to portray the Democrats as un-American. The Right waged a relentless assault on Obama’s legitimacy (spreading rumors that he was born in Kenya, he was a secret socialist, he was a Muslim, etc.) while a solid wall of Republican opposition greeted his plans for addressing the national economic crisis that he inherited.

The Rise of the Tea Party
Like previous Democrats, Obama initially responded by offering olive branches across the aisle, but again and again, they were slapped down. In mid-2009, Obama wasted valuable time trying to woo supposed Republican “moderates” like Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine to support health-care reform. Meanwhile, Republicans filibustered endlessly in the Senate and whipped their right-wing “base” into angrier and angrier mobs.

Initially, the GOP strategy proved successful, as Republicans pummeled Democrats for increasing the debt with a $787 billion stimulus package to stanch the economic bleeding. The continued loss of jobs enabled the Republicans to paint the stimulus as a “failure.” There was also Obama’s confusing health-care law that pleased neither the Right nor the Left.

The foul mood of the nation translated into an angry Tea Party movement and Republican victories in the House and in many statehouses around the country. Gradually, however, a stabilized financial structure and a slow-healing economy began to generate jobs, albeit often with lower pay.
Obama could boast about sufficient progress to justify his reelection in 2012, with most voters also favoring Democrats for the Senate and the House. However, aggressive Republican gerrymandering of congressional districts helped the GOP retain a slim majority in the House despite losing the popular vote by around 1½ million ballots.

But the just-finished budget/debt showdown has shown that the Tea Party’s fight over America’s political/economic future is far from over. Through its ideological media and think tanks, the Right continues to hammer home the Reagan-esque theory that “government is the problem.”

Meanwhile, the Left still lacks comparable media resources to remind U.S. voters that it was the federal government that essentially created the Great American Middle Class – from the New Deal policies of the 1930s through other reforms of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, from Social Security to Wall Street regulation to labor rights to the GI Bill to the Interstate Highway System to the space program’s technological advances to Medicare and Medicaid to the minimum wage to civil rights.

Many Americans don’t like to admit it — they prefer to think of their families as reaching the middle class without government help — but the reality is that the Great American Middle Class was a phenomenon made possible by the intervention of the federal government beginning with Franklin Roosevelt and continuing into the 1970s. [For one telling example of this reality -- the Cheney family, which was lifted out of poverty by FDR's policies -- see Consortiumnews.com's "Dick Cheney: Son of the New Deal."]

Further, in the face of corporate globalization and business technology, two other forces making the middle-class work force increasingly obsolete, the only hope for a revival of the Great American Middle Class is for the government to increase taxes on the rich, the ones who have gained the most from cheap foreign labor and advances in computer technology, in order to fund projects to build and strengthen the nation, from infrastructure to education to research and development to care for the sick and elderly to environmental protections.

In other words, the only strategy that makes sense for the average American is to reject the theories of Ronald Reagan and the Right. Rather than seeing the government as “the problem” and higher taxes on the rich as “bad,” the American people must come to understand that, to a great extent, government has to be a big part of the solution.