The Boogeyman is dead, and Santa is dying.
The Republicans have been, since the 1930s, the party of the Boogeyman. They led the fear-based crusades against Communists, first with the Blacklist, then Joe McCarthy's hearings, then the twin fears of Communist Mao and the Communist USSR. With the death of the Soviet Union, and the corporate embrace of still-Communist China, 9/11 let them turn their fears to "radical Islam."
But when President Obama killed Bin Laden, it took the steam out of their movement. And to make matters worse, Obama had earlier gone to Egypt and said, in essence, "Tear down these dictators!" -- helping spark the Arab Spring and totally deflating the Republican fear machine, which now sputters along on the fringes trembling about Bachmann's gays, Santorum's fertilized eggs, and Perry's immigrants. The likelihood of Mormon Romney's presidential candidacy means they can't even add "God" to their traditional "Gays, Guns, and God" trinity of GOP fears.
Without something or someone to be afraid of, the Republicans are truly lost, wandering in the wilderness. And no matter how hard they try to gin up fear of the "dreaded deficit bomb," it just doesn't make Americans jump the way the USSR's nukes did two generations ago, or 9/11 did a decade ago. So now they're trying to whip up fear of the Occupy Wall Street folks, but so far OWS has the sympathy of average Americans; it's just not working for the Republicans.
OWS boogeymen or young people, out of work, at Zuccoti Park? photo by rob Kall
But the Democrats aren't doing much better.
Back in 1976, Republican strategist Jude Wanniski invented the phrase "supply side economics" and then proposed his famous "Two Santa Clauses theory" to sell it.
Democrats, he said, had always been the party of Santa -- bearing gifts to the American people like unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare, the 40-hour workweek, safe workplaces, clean air and water, and the minimum wage. What the American people needed, they got -- and they got it from the Democrats playing the role of Santa.
The Republicans, Wanniski pointed out, had always been the anti-Santa party, saying "No" to virtually every single "Santa gift" Democrats wanted to give to the American people, for over a century.
But, Wanniski reasoned, if the Republicans could become Santas themselves -- give the American people an annual gift -- and at the same time could force the Democrats to stop being Santas (in Wanniski's words, "force the Democrats to shoot Santa"), then the Democrats would be neutralized and Republicans could win elections.
His strategy was simple, and picked up virtually from Day One by the Reagan administration in 1981: When Republicans are in the White House, cut taxes dramatically (particularly on the rich, but talk about the tax cuts to working people), while also jacking up spending to bubble-stimulate the economy and make it look like the good times are flowing. And when Democrats are in the White House, block all tax increase and spending measures while screaming hysterically about the "debt bomb," forcing austerity and economic pain for everyday Americans.
Reagan dutifully ran up more debt in 8 years than every president from George Washington to Jimmy Carter -- combined. And he spent those borrowed trillions, which bubble-pumped the economy and made people think he had some wonder-cure economic patent-medicine.
Herbert Walker Bush followed Reagan's lead, adding trillions more to the debt and throwing in a war for good effort.