To be clear, our national debt problem is due to revenues insufficient to cover expenditures. More than anything else, for the past 40 plus years, this accumulated deficit is due to Republican opposition to tax increases coupled with their eagerness to cut taxes on the wealthy given the opportunity to do so. Most, if indeed not all, currently serving Republican US Senators and Representatives, and State legislators have signed a pledge to never vote for any tax increase. This oath is not to their constituents; it is to someone named Grover Norquist.
Grover Norquist is of a spawn of 1980s College Republican groups. A spawn that included other notable Republican operatives such as Jack Abramoff and Ralph Reed. Via College Republican groups, the Leadership Institute, and the Reagan Administration, the three go way back together.
They were of a new breed of political entrepreneurs. These creative young men were going to make politics their livelihood; not as politicians, but as political operatives.
Reed chose delivery of the white christian vote for fee. Abramoff peddled his influence with Republican politicians for preferably cash. For the power of it, and a nominal fee, Norquist offered to facilitate tax cuts for the wealthy.
In 1985, Norquist founded Americans For Tax Reform (ATR). Says that he did so at the request of then-President Reagan. ATR is a conservative/libertarian advocacy group positing that — the government’s power to control one’s life derives from its power to tax; and that, that power should be minimized. Norquist had written, was singing, a song wealthy Republicans loved to hear. For years, ever since the Progressive Era, and especially since the New Deal, they had felt that their once almost total control of government was slipping away from them. Democracy was not good for capitalism, nor for capitalists.
Through a different pair of glasses; one might posit that taxes allow the government to better serve, to better represent the people; that taxes are indeed a bedrock of both government and democracy.
From the start, ATR was a success. From the start, Grover Norquist was a successful political entrepreneur. He quickly accumulated power; used that power to become more powerful. Came to be one of the most powerful people of the past fifty years. Did so to the extent that much of the current national debt is attributable to Mr. Norquist. That is a lot of applied power.
Norquist was peddling a fairly simple scheme to the country’s wealthy Republicans. He proposed starving the beast (the beast, of course, being the government), and doing so in the jingoistic name of ‘getting government off our backs’. Wealthy Republicans well understood what he was proposing; loved the sound. You can fool enough of the people most of the time. Starving the beast translated into distract them by screaming about big government and its expenditures while cutting taxes on the rich. Cut taxes for the rich; then blame the consequent deficits on spending that benefited those who needed help, spending that was essential to good governance. Distraction is at the heart of all magic acts. Just make sure that no one peeks behind the screen and sees the tax cuts being given the wealthy while we drown the people’s government. Genius!
Everyone hates taxes. But, what the damned beast was doing was what the people wanted; had voted for. That is, after all, how democracy works. “Democracy be damned,” they said. Power, is our entitle, “all is best if left to us,” the wealthy Republicans said. That is the natural order, the way it was meant to be.
It should be noted: The Powell Memo (1971) was prelude to Norquist’s siren song; Arthur Laffer’s curve another. And, the appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court (1991) was a powerful accompaniment to its performance(implementation). That power should reside with the rich and powerful is at the very core of Clarence Thomas’ judicial philosophy — likewise, for the other five conservative justices. None of the six believe in democracy; in the rights of the common man.
The hell to pay that followed was the cuts to regulatory agencies, social programs; and a national debt now rapidly approaching $32 trillion. Other unfunded wars and the pandemic, most of the $32T is attributable to Republican tax cuts. No thanks, Grover, thanks lots. And, Arthur; they didn’t pay for themselves; not even close. In fact, quite the opposite, as witness the $32T national debt.
Excepting Clarence, none of the six conservative Supreme Court Justices came from the working class (Clarence did, but he was raised by his middle-class grandparents). Nor did any one of these three political entrepreneurs. To a person: The six, and the three political entrepreneurs, all believe that power belongs to the powerful; not to the people; do not believe in democracy.
Norquist, Reed, and Abramoff saw possibilities for well-paying careers in politics that did not involve running for office. While Reed and Abramoff were both too slick by half; Norquist exhibited real genius (or, maybe he just didn’t miss much). Maybe taking cue from the National Rifle Association (NRA), Norquist made Republican politicians an offer they couldn’t refuse. Either they sign his no-tax pledge or his ATR would primary them out of office. Though most of their districts were gerrymandered safe to the hilt, the word primary struck fear into their hearts. The NRA had taught us all that primaries can turn on a handful of votes. They lined up, “Where do I sign?” Norquist has been richly rewarded for this delivering of politicians and associated tax cuts to the wealthy. He had chosen the rich bride. Norquist’s tax-cutting scheme is slick as hell; has worked well for him and his clientele.
Worked well, with more than a little help all along the way. These days, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida is one of a far-right-wing group of House Republicans declaring that their approval for raising the debt ceiling is contingent on having certain of their demands being met. A very beholding, much compromised, Gaetz demands that in order to be eligible for public assistance such as food stamps and Medicaid, able-bodied recipients must work at least 30 hours per month. Matt, who has never had to worry about having enough to pay the rent or buy food, is proposing imposing these conditions on those who have and do.
To be fair, Matt doesn’t know what the hell he is talking about; couldn’t care less. He does know the choir. Red states have long used this refrain to keep wages insufferably low. No one wants to see their hard earned tax money going to those too lazy to work (the part said out loud); and, cheap help stretches the budget, improves the bottom line (the part better left unsaid).
Food stamps and Medicaid are for those unable to afford these most basic of necessities. Most of the recipients of these programs cannot get a job that would pay enough to do so. This was what these programs were intended to do. Thousands upon thousands of Americans have died from the lack of enough food, enough healthcare.
For Norquist’s wealthy clients, it is the results that matter most. They get their tax cuts and too bad if the poor get the blame. Easier to do in a world where news is a market commodity scripted and directed at specific markets. Even if their name isn’t Fox, the other producers of the news fall for ATR’s line too often. They, too, willingly carry the water.
With the media, Norquist has been damnably effective. Newspaper editorial boards write of the need for spending cuts, but not of the need to raise taxes on the rich. Talking heads in TV Newsrooms seem to think that spending cuts are in order in order to get the debt ceiling raised. Only on occasion, and then in passing, mention is made of the impact of tax cuts for wealthy Republicans have had on the debt. The Fourth Estate owes the nation a fuller commentary on the matter of the national debt; how it is that we got here; a full explanation of Norquist’s scheme.
With very few exceptions, even Democratic members of the House and Senate avoid calling for tax increases for the very wealthy. To paraphrase Angry Bear’s own Joel Eissenberg’s quoting of Ronald Wright — maybe they do all see themselves as millionaires.
The nation’s $ 32 trillion debt is very much a consequence of starving the beast. One that will take significant political will and many years to rectify. A major consequence is the increase in economic disparity seen over the period. Tax cuts for the wealthy have meant lower wages, higher taxes, and less social safety net for the rest of us. Tax cuts for the very wealthy transfer wealth from the many to the very few. The beast being starved is us. Other major failures consequent include response to pandemics, to respond enough to Climate Change, a weakening of our democracy,… The price for this coddling of the very wealthy has been a high one.