A Vicious Cycle?

Among the various articles I’ve been reading in the wake of the death of former President George H.W. Bush wasVox “explainer” that was provocative, to say the least.

The basic thrust of the article was that when H.W. broke his famous pledge (the oft-quoted one-liner at the 1988 Republican National Convention, “Read my lips. No new taxes.”), he turbocharged the GOP’s radical move to the fiscal right. That breach of promise quickly became the conventional explanation for his loss to Clinton, and explains (according to Vox) why virtually all GOP candidates for office subsequently abandoned pledges of prudence and fiscal sanity in favor of hysterical avoidance of anything resembling taxation.

Bush was a traditional “country club” Republican, whose relatively moderate economic and social beliefs contrasted with more right-wing conservatives who had supported Reagan. When Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992, Reaganites abandoned a moderate, bipartisan approach to politics, and the Republican Party has moved further to the right ever since.

I tend to be dubious of simple explanations for complex phenomenons, including election losses, but I’m willing to believe that H.W.’s principled decision to raise taxes when the situation required such a move– even though he had pledged not to do so– contributed significantly to his loss. I’m also willing to believe that later Republican candidates for office–already philosophically opposed to taxes (at least  taxes levied on their base)–then focused on that single element of Bush’s losing campaign, and cited it to justify the party’s increasingly strident opposition to raising taxes.

Any taxes, for any reasons.

It became a Republican article of faith that failure to be rigidly anti-tax would lead to failure at the ballot box.

The question for 2020 is whether that trope has lost its power.

The one and only undeniable service Donald Trump has rendered to the United States is the massive increase in civic and political participation triggered by his election. People who had previously not paid much attention to the country’s legal and economic structure (people who–in Jon Stewart’s memorable description–“have other shit to do”) were understandably horrified. Those people have become politically relevant in ways they haven’t been for a very long time, and a significant number of them want a government that does more than “get out of the way” of well-connected fat cats and special interests.

They want a government that solves the problems that only government can solve, and (unless I am missing something) they seem to understand that a properly operating and competent government requires resources. That recognition has shifted the political debate from “No new taxes” to the far more reasonable “who should be taxed, for what, and why?”

The current iteration of the GOP, which has more in common with a cult than a traditional political party, faces massive crises. Demography will ultimately be destiny, despite the party’s undeniable skill in gerrymandering and vote suppression. Increased turnout by young people not in thrall to a “small government” mythology is a bad omen. The party’s base of White Christian (mostly) males is dwindling, and legions of moderate business Republicans–already repelled by the party’s culture war bigotries– know snake-oil when they see it, and are abandoning the Grand Old Party in droves.

“No new taxes”  won’t cut it anymore, if it ever did. That downward spiral has hit bottom.


  1. The phobia about raising taxes has led to the phenomenon known as TIFs – Tax Increment Financing. Indy’s elected political officials might not understand how a TIF works, but they do understand it represents purchase of goodies today w/o a direct increase in taxes. Unfortunately, TIFs kick the financial can down the road. People should be aware of what TIFs are. They were created in California in the 1950s – and now are illegal there.

  2. All this talk about lowering taxes on the base of the modern GOP is confusing to me, untrained in taxation. Aren’t there 2 bases of the current GOP: those who show up at MAGA rallies, and the oligarchs who fund the lackies who reduced their tax burden from 90% to 25%. The MAGAs are estimated to be 20+% of the population, and the oligarchs are 1%. Result: inadequate funding for education, infrastructure,, health care, other such necessities of life. What happened to “life, liberty, and the PURSUIT of happiness?”

  3. You are correct Wayne. But it’s by design…this comment about: “the party’s increasingly strident opposition to raising taxes.”

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Thomas Piketty pinpointed the move to the right economically and tagged it to Art Laffer, an academician, who was Ronald Reagan’s economic advisor. Also, Roger Ailes was on Reagan’s staff and later headed Fox News. Laffer is now on staff with the Koch funded ALEC which works with politicians and CEO’s to devise policies beneficial for corporations.

    Last I checked, they’ve been winning since Reagan regardless of who’s in the White House or Congress. All the political pundits keep us entertained by using the GOP/DNC rhetoric. It’s a show for the gullible and there are many millions in that category.

    David Sirota, a journalist in Colorado, pointed out that Beto O’Rourke is an oil company operative who acts progressively. Many dem operatives are jumping on the Biden/O’Rourke carnival for 2020. Sirota pointed out Beto’s oil company backing and a Bloomberg journalist hammered him for “attacking a politician.”

    Think about that for a minute.

    Since the 80’s our government and media has been neutered, so washed down of all it’s power, that journalists are attacking other journalists for connecting the dots between politicians and who funds them. At Bloomberg and all the other major media outlets, campaign finance discussions are off limits. You’ll never see a Mainstream media outlet forcing themselves into a Koch funded ALEC event because it’s “private”. Sorry, but when our elected representatives gather to discuss policy, it’s a PUBLIC event.

    This is why world leaders and strategists have been using the term, Fascism to describe the USA.

    Our delicate balance of power relies heavily on a strong government and free press. Without those two, we are not a democratic republic. Princeton calls us an Oligarchy and I think that is being kind when you peek behind the curtain.

    p.s. There was talk from Washington insiders yesterday that Pence may be dropped from Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.

  4. Is raising or lowering taxes the basis of the problem or is what those tax dollars are spent on the problem. We (using the general term “we”) are currently spending millions of our already lowered tax dollars to house secret service members and Trump’s guests in Trump’s 5 star hotels, feeding them in his 5 star restaurants and paying for their golf cart rental to follow his fat ass around his privately owned golf courses. Has everyone forgotten that Trump has NEVER divested himself from all of his mega-million dollar income sources? He has cut a major portion of our tax base by lowering taxes on the wealthy, including himself, many of whom are already not paying taxes on much of their income by banking in offshore banks. The deficit has to be made up from somewhere; you on the blog who are still working and paying income taxes will find your exemption list on your IRS form shortened in January. We on Social Security and Disability are waiting for our annual December notice from Social Security Administration to see what they have in store for us in 2019. Have any of you recently looked closely at the list of taxes on your utility and cable bills and investments in the banking system?

    Republicans seem to come from monied backgrounds and know NOT what it is like to struggle daily to keep up with rising costs; many of those who are among the self-made wealthy (or newly rich) quickly forget “where” they came from.

    “The current iteration of the GOP, which has more in common with a cult than a traditional political party, faces massive crises.”

    In my limited view of all of this tax mess and the overall situation; “the current interation of the GOP” will, as Trump claimed about himself, NOT be here when the recession hits. We will be left to deal with cleaning up the mess and finding a source of money to do the job. Republicans at state levels are passing restrictive bills to control incoming Democrats and they still have three weeks left in this month to find new ways of preventing progress. If Trump carries out his threat of a government shutdown; how deep will it go into all levels of government?

  5. H.W. lost that election because he was hopelessly out of touch with the bulk of the voting public, as evidenced by his comments about the grocery store checkout. Then during the debate, Clinton spoke about how the recession impacted his friends and neighbors, while H.W. didn’t seem to know anyone who had been impacted. He came off looking like an elitist and Americans don’t like elitists.

    The “tax thing” became a thing when Walter Mondale admitted publicly that taxes would have to be raised to do the things the people wanted done. He was excoriated for that remark and he lost big to Mr. Trickle Down (Reagan).

  6. Todd – Ditto. Right after Trump signed the infamous tax bill in December, 2017, he flew down to Mar-a-Lago and told assembled billionaire members “I made you a lot of money today.” Of course, “you” included Trump. He’s right; he did, and though the effective rate corporations pay in taxes is much less, the drop from 35% to 21% is huge down the road as corporate accountants play with deductions, credits etc. to further reduce the effective rate paid.
    The idea that taxes for whatever purpose are bad is itself bad. As a for instance, I was in Stockholm in 1975 (when Sweden was more socialistic than today) and talked at length with a Swedish lawyer (a relative by marriage to my wife) about Swedish taxes. I played right wing Republican and asked him how their then near 50% income tax rate could be justified, and his reply spoke volumes. He said to me: “Well, Gerald, that depends on what you get for your money.” He then identified a litany of areas in which the government paid for costs that individuals then and now pay here on their own, ranging from childcare, single payer, unemployment compensation etc. After doing the math, I determined that we were at that time as measured by what we get for our money paying a higher tax rate than the Swedes (and still are). About all the ordinary Swede had to pay for at the time were groceries and housing (and there was even help on housing).
    The no tax crowd has the best of both worlds in this country. They only talk about higher taxes and put down what others in the world expect of government as “socialism” and somehow unAmerican, meanwhile having their own taxes cut by their lackeys in Congress while the long term debt is exploding and our current account deficit for this fiscal year is (per CBO) headed for a first-ever one trillion dollars! With interest alone set (per CBO) to exceed our defense budget by 2024, it is plain that we have to either have the rich pay their fair share of the load or raise taxes and cut social services on the poor and middle class. Piketty has written that this situation could bring about civil commotion in democracies, but other than the results of the recent election, I see little indication that we are taking to the streets just yet.

  7. The Reactionary Right Wing Republicans were committed to “starving the government” this meant eliminating regulations on the environment and on Wall Street. A happy marriage happened between Reactionary Right Wing Republicans and the bible thumping Evangelicals. The bible thumper’s viewed the government as the enemy also but for different reasons. The Federal Government was enforcing Civil Rights and Gender Equality Rights, the courts were tossing the bible out of public schools.

    De-regulation has had a series of failures – Savings and Loan crisis in the 1980’s, the unraveling of the big corporate players in 2008, and the concentration of media into the McMega-Media.

    The idea that somehow the Reactionary Right Wing Evangelical base is dying out and not being replaced is bogus. Look at the complete and total rout of the Indiana Democratic Party in 2018 at the top of the ticket.

    In Wisconsin and Michigan the Republicans are doing what they can in the lame duck sessions to limit the power of the incoming Democratic Governors recently elected.

    Voter fraud is a popular fear tactic of the Reactionary Republicans and President Agent Orange. It seems down in North Carolina there was voter fraud, but it was on behalf of the Republican Party. The North Carolina board of elections — a bipartisan board with four Republicans, four Democrats and one Independent – all unanimously voted not to certify the election, making it almost inevitable that a new election will have to be held in order to fill the seat.

    Far-right Southern Baptist pastor Mark Harris beat GOP incumbent Representative Robert Pittenger in the party primary. >> Harris — who believes that the earth was created just 10,000 years ago and that wives need to submit to their husbands because the Bible says so — barely eked out his alleged November victory, coming just 905 votes ahead of McCready out of more than 200,000 votes cast.
    It boggles my mind that someone who believes the earth was created 10,000 years ago and wives should submit to their husbands could gather in so many votes.

  8. Actually, G.H.W. had it right when he called Reagan’s embrace of supply-side economics as “Voodoo Economics”. Since his constituents wanted everything world class when he was elected, he had to raise taxes to pay for it. He actually had a fiscal conscience…unlike any of today’s Republicans. They only get fiscally responsible when a Democrat is in charge.

    The Rogue’s Gallery of Republican destroyers of democracy is long and fetid. Beginning with the Milton Friedman school of economics and his University of Chicago acolytes, the Republicans saw a way to forever curry favor with the donor class forever. The pathetic Koch brothers exploited those would-be politicians and their tiny, greedy brains for political gain…as oligarchs are wont to do.

    So, here we are, hemorrhaging cash, jobs and strength on a daily basis so 400 rich bastards can have it all. And yet…. And yet, having it all isn’t enough. Now some of the more egregious bastards among them are trying to steal elections (North Carolina) and block the peoples’ choices in government from doing the right things (Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania).

    Voting for Republicans of any stripe seems to be like voting for one’s own self-destruction. Well played, strategists.

  9. Gerald @ 9:30 am, your story about Sweden echos a conversation I had with a group of Danes a couple of years ago on Monument Circle here in Indianapolis. I was at a demonstration for Enhanced Medicare For All. The Danes were amazed we had no free Universal Health Care Plan in force.

    If I recall right child care and higher education was “free” to the recipients. Like you I did the math. You can have good heath care, child care and a higher education if and only if you can afford it. There is a difference in attitude with Socialism, i.e., we are all part of a greater whole and the goal is to help one another.

    The Steroid Capitalistic System, we have determines life’s outcomes based upon what you as an individual or family can afford. The Prosperity Gospel is fully on board the Steroid Capitalism ship, with a religious twist.

  10. Today’s conclusion from recent history is that:
    ” The downward spiral has hit bottom.”

    I am more inclined to agree with Rene Girard that politics has lost its power to contain conflict, and ultimately violence.

    “Now more than ever, I am convinced that history has a meaning, and that its meaning is terrifying.”

  11. People all around the world are opposed to new taxes. It is only because they’re being lied to about the application of taxes that they agree to the political structures that are going to be put up on them. Most people do not understand that taxes which support socialist type of structure for a country are very very regressive. Look at Swedens 25% consumption tax.
    Here’s an article from a right wing website spells out a conspiracy theory about the media . https://www.newsbusters.org/blogs/nb/nicholas-fondacaro/2018/12/04/abc-nbc-hide-how-paris-burning-opposition-climate-change
    You can take it for what it’s worth but most importantly is the struggle of the populace after the change.
    Prof Kennedy is correct while the youth view socialism as popular 43-32% over capitalism.

  12. There are two kinds of people in the world (and I know that typically what follows that opening is gross oversimplification), naysayers and problem solvers. Both groups are well represented here.

    Naysayers propose victimhood, and problem solvers just don’t give up on knocking off problems one by one until order is restored. (An opus of problem solving was the movie “The Martian” wherein Matt Damon learned how to live on Mars by solving problems one at a time.)

    I made a living solving problems though of a technical not political nature but it’s in my DNA so I have no choice but to believe that we can avoid becoming victims of these days.

    We have already solved a couple. Mueller is in place and the House is solidly D. Fortunately or unfortunately 2019 will add to the problems being solved by a new record economic crash but that will become both a hardship and a political solution.

    One thing about problem solving is that it must be grounded in reality not hopeful dreams. 2019 will be the year that nature slaps us upside the head and reminds us that just because we can solve problems doesn’t mean we are in charge of the Universe.

    2020 of course will be another big year for problem solving and by the end of the year the ratio of really angry disappointed people to satisfied people won’t have changed but they will be different people than there were in 2016.

  13. I agree with Peggy Hannon; when President Bush was amazed at the scanners in a grocery store, I was struck by how different his world was from my own. Oh, the luxury of having your food provided without ever lugging a bag or cutting a coupon or culling your cart to fit your budget (along with constant planning and preparation.) He never got to experience the triumph of making a dinner for three from $1.76.

  14. We get what we pay, or don’t pay, for. Or, in the words of my college history professor, Dr. Bowers, the pendulum of time (societies of the world) constantly swings from one side to the other. The only variation is in the degree of its movements.

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