As the 2012 election season heats up and we hear more and more about the economy and how best to fix it, we’re hearing, again, the same lines about tax cuts and this and that, and as I find myself talking about it with friends and various people I meet in bars and in line at Wal-Mart, I’m almost gobsmacked by the pure genius of the Republican design on the economy.
Even if you don’t have a degree in economics, it isn’t hard to see the likely ramifications of a multi-trillion dollar tax cut that happens at roughly the same time as launching a multi-trillion dollar war. Either one of those would end up in a pretty bad budgetary swing, but both at the same time is like losing your wallet on the day your tires get slashed. You’re losing money twice. Yet both were sold to us as good things. The tax cut would boost the economy and the war would pay for itself (remember that claim?).
Here we are, though, in 2011, having watched our economy decimated by three Republican presidents, and now we have to pay for it and the Democrats are getting blamed for the bad taste of the medicine. Taken as a whole, it’s brilliant.
Let me explain. If there’s one thing you can say about 21st century Americans, it’s that most of us have a short memory and are easy to sway with big shiny headlines as opposed to longwinded policy details and history lessons. That was what sunk John Kerry more than anything else. Supposed “gaffes” like when he said he voted for it before he voted against it made perfect sense in context, but that required more than just hearing a quote bleated ad nauseum. Many people are content to be swayed by being told that Bush gave us tax cuts, and Obama keeps talking about raising them again. Explaining the machinations of the tax code and the reason taxes need to go one way or the other is a surefire way to get people screaming “egghead! Nerd! Academic elite!”
People aren’t particularly good at accepting the idea that costs of things go up and down. Look at what happens with gas prices.
See, then we find ourselves with an amazing situation. Republicans can keep themselves electable by throwing outrageous tax cuts and gung-ho military actions during their terms, then when the Democrats are forced to clean up the mess, they look like the bad guys. Even better, when the policies work (which the bailouts and stimuli have, despite what Teabaggers will claim), the Republicans get the benefit of having fought against these disastrous policies even while secretly rejoicing the fact that they worked. That sets them up to win the next election and have the slate swept clean for the next round of budget-busters.
Isn’t that something? Even losing elections helps out in the long haul, since the Democrats get to do all the leg-work with fixing all the messes made and those undesirable policies are the basis of winning the next election. They lose battles but win the war (the metaphorical war, since not winning the actual war is part of the plan).
There’s a further benefit as well. Look at the situation we’re in. We have a couple wars going that we can’t easily get out of and a population that’s frothing at the mouth over the notion of bumping taxes to cover them. That gives the Republicans one of the best openings they’ve ever had: start fighting for slashing programs that they’ve hated for years. Rip apart Medicare and Social Security, cut funding to the arts, see if the federal government can stop giving money to any of those “liberal” institutions, get rid of public programming! Oh sure, most of those are much smaller slices of the pie than people realize, but it’s easy to spin as a major deal and start yanking the public behind the idiotic idea.
All the while, guess what? That’s right, push for even more tax cuts. Make the corporate backers happy. Tell the public that tax cuts are always the proper response. They reward us for a economic performance, kick-start a lagging economy, and help repair a bad one. It seems good on the surface, but knocking down the sound bytes requires resorting to those bugaboos “history lessons” and “dry policy discussion”. Say that if you raise taxes on a business they’ll lower prices and people cheer. Try to explain the idea of supply and demand and the fact that taxes are incidental in determining market prices when there are fifty other factors to worry about and people will snore, only to get swept up by your opponent demonizing you for “rationalizing a tax increase that’ll only hurt us.”
That’s the problem with our political climate. Republicans have taken charge. We’re fighting it all on their terms, taking their statements for granted and letting them frame the debate. We’re in enemy territory, and thanks to that we have a hell of a fight ahead of us if we don’t want disaster. I’m not being pessimistic or defeatist, not in the slightest, just finding myself in a moment of George Carlin-esque marveling at the monster the right has made, and how well it’s been serving them.