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The Reagan Revolution Redux

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The Right Wing plan to drown government in a bathtub is coming to fruition right before our eyes, especially here in Washington State. Here's how conservatives did it, with help from the feckless Democrats.

Conservatives are about to realize their wildest dreams. For years they've wanted to destroy government, and now they're succeeding -- especially here in Washington State.

With the Democrats in power!

The failure of the income tax initiative, I-1098, and the passage of Tim Eyman's I-1053, requiring a 2/3 super-majority for legislators to raise taxes or eliminate tax breaks, represent the culmination, locally, of the Reagan Revolution's vision of smaller government.

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Ronald Reagan
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They also represent the triumph of conservative marketing and the failure of the Left to market its vision of good government and fair taxation.

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The conservatives' cunning plan to drown government in a bathtub of debt, corruption and mismanagement has been stunningly effective. Cut taxes for the rich. Deregulate recklessly. Privatize, corrupt, and mismanage government agencies. Rouse voters' anger at government waste, at taxation, at the underpaid and outgunned bureaucrats, and at the so-called liberal elite. Start a phony war. Wrap yourself in the flag and in the Bible. Concentrate media power in as few hands as possible. Promote fear, bigotry, and disinformation. Provoke crises. Cause a devastating recession. Ship jobs overseas. Underfund domestic crime prevention. Then when the Democrats take over, blame them for the mess and use the resulting chaos and deficits to dismantle the New Deal and hand government over to the super-rich.

Amazingly, President Obama, the Democrats and the voters are letting conservatives get away with it.

Apparently, a majority of voters believe conservative talking points about government and Democrats being the problem. (When conservatives rule, government is the problem, as documented in The Wrecking Crew, by Thomas Frank.) At the very least, voters don't think that government is the solution to their problems. Again and again, the middle class supports candidates and initiatives that transfer wealth and power to the super-rich.

Most Americans seem unaware that

  • The concentration of wealth has increased dramatically in recent years. In 1976 the wealthiest 1% of Americans had about 20% of the national wealth. Now they have about 35%. The wealthiest 10% of Americans have about 73% of all wealth. (See Wealth, Income, and Power.)
  • "From 1980 to 2005, more than 80 percent of total increase in Americans' income went to the top 1 percent." -- The Great Divergence, by Timothy Noah.
  • Tax rates are lower than they've been in decades. (Yet Republicans continue to shout "Taxed Enough Already!")
  • The government will recover most or all of the money devoted to the Troubled Assets Relief Program and may even make a profit.
  • The 2010 health care reform bill passed by Congress and signed by the President will reduce the deficit.
  • Social Security is fiscally sound and does not contribute to the deficit.
  • The Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy has called Washington's tax system the most regressive in the nation. About 60% of state revenues come from sales tax, which hits the poor the hardest. As reported here, "The institute estimates that the poorest 20 percent in Washington pays 17.3 percent of their income in state taxes while the top 1 percent pays 2.9 percent."
  • I-1098 would have lowered taxes on all but the richest 1 or 2 percent of taxpayers and would have begun to redress the unfairness of the current system. Extending the income tax downwards to the middle class would have been difficult.
  • The state's all-cuts budget next year will have devastating effects on the police, on the courts, on the schools, on health care, and on the poor and elderly.
  • Despite the populism of the Tea Party Movement, conservatives in Congress opposed efforts to regulate the Wall Street excesses that led to the sub-prime crash.
  • Government-run health care in many industrialized nations provides higher-quality care than America's market-based system, at a fraction of the cost.
  • Without government we'd be hunter-gatherers. See Bring on the Reagan Counterrevolution.

Conservatives are right about one thing. There's way too much socialism and redistribution of wealth in America. It's socialism for the rich and redistribution of wealth upwards from the middle class.

The Feckless Democrats

But the Democrats haven't been entirely innocent. President Clinton left budget surpluses and actually decreased the size of government (unlike his predecessor and successor), but he also deregulated banking and increased the power of corporate interests over the Democratic Party.

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Candidate Barack Obama promised real change, including less power for special interests. Instead, we got a continuation of bailouts for Wall Street, an escalation of the war in Afghanistan, and shady backroom deals with Big Pharma and Big Insurance -- to which Obama's health care plan funnels huge amounts of tax money. Though the health reform bill did extend coverage to millions of uninsured Americans and did reign in some of the worst abuses of the insurance companies, it represented the worst of both Big Government and corporatism, and it infuriated both conservatives and progressives, who were counting on the president to live up to his promise to support a public option.

Given President Obama's meek leadership style, his forgiving and compromising attitude towards Republicans, and his decision to surround himself with Bush-era economic, legal, and military advisers, it's no wonder that the Left was unable to convince the American people that the Republicans are mostly to blame for their problems.

Obama compromised again and again. Conservatives never compromised. Republican Senators voted unanimously against almost any bill that might have allowed Obama and the Democrats to achieve success. So, what Obama did get was a corrupted hodgepodge. And though Republicans threatened to filibuster, I don't believe they ever did.

Obama played into conservatives' hands, continually moving to the center and aiming for an incremental change that was "possible." The GOP kept steering further and further to the right. Obama kept following them to the right and didn't pull left.

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DFA organizer, Democratic Precinct Committee Officer, writer, and programmer. My op-ed pieces have appeared in the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and elsewhere. See http://WALiberals.org and http://TruthSite.org for my writing, my (more...)

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