From the “heard it here first” dept…. the following comments were first posted online in February 2002. It is re-posted here at a time when the latest budget proposal has been unveiled, showing with more clarity than ever the nature of the agenda outlined here.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan ran for president promising that he would balance the budget and reduce taxes. His harshest words were aimed at “tax and spend” Democrats, who were responsible for the growth of Big Government and thus the rising federal deficits. Sure enough, within a few months of taking office a massive tax cut was pushed through Congress.
Hard on the heels of tax cuts came calls to cut spending in a large array of government programs, in the interests of balancing the budgets. On a Friday, the White House was heard to say that when it came to looking at things to cut from the budget, there could be no “sacred cows.” The following Monday, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger appeared before a congressional committee to argue that all of the (increased) spending for Defense in the president’s proposal was absolutely necessary. Obviously, the view that Big Government was evil did not extend to include a similar notion about Big Military. The budget, under Reagan, was never balanced; in fact the deficits grew significantly. As his term of office played out, it became evident that the anti-“tax and spend” rhetoric had been followed up by an actual “borrow-and-spend” policy. Much of that borrowing was from the hated Social Security system, whose annual revenue surpluses — enhanced by a payroll tax increase enacted early in Reagan’s first term — were brought on-budget for the first time, effectively hiding the massive scope of the deficits being generated.
To review, let’s outline the nuts and bolts of the Reagan Agenda at that time.
After that, the worst possible thing happened. Building on the bipartisan agreement that Bush signed onto, his evil successor worked with a Republican congress to continue to improve the economy, reduce the deficits, and actually came to the point of producing budget surpluses and beginning to pay down that massive debt — all without eliminating federal programs that help poor people eat, find jobs, go to school, pay their rent etc. The Reagan agenda had been derailed. What this country needed (and fast) was a good crisis; a recession, or a war, or, preferably, both.
Enter the scion of the disgraced Bush dynasty, white-horsed, armor gleaming, ready to redeem the family name and institutionalize the Reagan Revolution. Acting according to script, he began in true Reaganite fashion by pushing through a tax cut, designed first of all to eliminate the surpluses; for unless the country is in a fiscal crisis, how can he argue how necessary it is to stop wasting money on helping the undeserving poor? Anyway, check that one off the list.
Next thing is to get a good juicy crisis. Bush tried to create an energy crisis, or the perception of one, but his timing was bad; crude oil supplies were high, and prices decreasing, even as he went on the road to tell the country how bad things were getting. For a short time California came to his rescue, with its rolling electricity blackouts; but it was not an unvarnished success. And he still needed a credible enemy, to fill the hole in the American soul left by the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the Cold War — and to justify that massive military buildup which must displace, in real dollar terms, the disgusting tendency to want to use government funds to help humans.
Fortune smiled on him on a Tuesday in September. The rest is, so far, history.
Postscript: More than six years later, the successful creation of a new, amorphous permanent enemy has changed the landscape of our national discourse, cost the lives of thousands of our own, reduced our standing in the community of nations, deepened the deficits, and threatens to collapse the economy. Meanwhile the international criminal who masterminded the horrific events of that tragic Tuesday remains at large, while the rule of law falls into disrepute.