Economy

Conservatives Ruined the Economy and Now They're Blaming Liberalism

Conservatives have been lamenting the death of liberalism for years, while proving that their philosophy leads to disastrous governance.

In his triumphalist Op-Ed piece in The Wall Street Journal last month, R. Emmett Tyrell Jr. gloats about the demise of Liberalism (“Liberalism: An autopsy. The heirs of the New Deal are down to 20 percentof the electorate.” Dec. 4, 2010) 

Tracing the political fortunes of liberals and conservatives, Tyrell borrows a quip:

“Jeane Kirkpatrick, Irving Kristol and, for a time, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, were in Kristol's words liberals "who were mugged by reality."

Talk about being 'mugged by reality' . . . look where that mugging has gotten us under conservative policies during 20 of the last 30 years

The rich have gotten superrich, the poor have become poorer and the middle classes have marked time, pursuing the American dream by piling up mountains of debt. The 'rising tide' that was supposed to 'lift all boats' has succeeded only in lifting the yachts of the wealthy. The middle classes are bailing out their leaking sloops while the poor are stranded in sinking dinghies. 

Does the fact that the U.S. now has the greatest inequality of wealth among major advanced nations register? 

Apparently not. Unfazed, Tyrell waxes sentimental:

"During his eight years in office, Reagan changed the political center for years to come. As the Old Cowboy headed back to California, the political center was center-right: vigilance about big government, balanced budgets, low taxes and peace through strength.” . . .

Really? Reagan and "vigilance about big government and balanced budgets" in the same sentence? Time for a reality check: 

Reagan made big government bigger; he never submitted a balanced budget; and his deficits piled up more government debt than in all the United States' prior history, due precisely to low taxes and the bloated defense budgets underpinning "peace through strength." Bottom line: conservatives' combination of "low taxes" and "strong defense" during the Reagan and Bush II administrations produced huge fiscal deficits to be passed on to future generations. Wait until they find out all those Reaganomics tax cuts were, in fact, future tax increases on them. To add insult to injury, the revenue hole left by the Reagan tax cuts was filled by loans from Asia and OPEC, suddenly prosperous thanks to huge trade surpluses. During Reagan's watch, therefore, the United States swung from being the world's largest creditor to the world's largest debtor nation, undermining America's financial sovereignty. "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?" 

The only budget surpluses we've had in 30 years were during Clinton's last four years, after he raised taxes early in his presidency, much to the horror of Reagan's supply-siders. But I digress. Tyrell takes a victory lap:

“The rest of Clinton's presidency was defined by his pronouncement that 'The era of big government is over.' The Reagan revolution was secured. In 2000, Clinton's vice president lost to the governor of Texas despite prosperity and peace.” . . . Conservatism has steadily spread through the country since its larval days in the 1950s, and the reason is that the vast majority of Americans favor free enterprise and personal liberty. Note the tea party movement.”

Why all the crowing? Connect the dots: The collapse of the house of cards built with debt during the conservative era created a financial meltdown in the final days of Junior Bush's watch, requiring hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars in bank bailouts (signed by Bush, lest we forget). The financial meltdown, in turn, created a deep recession causing soaring unemployment, plunging housing and stock prices, skyrocketing bankruptcies and foreclosures. 

But, silly me, these are just facts, and in the alternate reality of conservatives facts don't matter. It's the fantasy of "free-enterprise" "personal freedom" that count -- never mind that personal freedoms were trashed by Bush's Patriot Acts, and Bush's version of free enterprise consisted of privatizing bank profits and socializing their losses. 

On a roll, Tyrell really rubs it in:

“Over the past two years the Democrats showed their true colors. Faced with an entitlement crisis, they rang up trillion dollar deficits. We now face an entitlement crisis and a budget crisis—and liberals have no answer for it beyond tax and spend.”

That's rich -- claiming that Obama “ran up trillion-dollar deficits” in response to an “entitlement crisis” when in fact the deficits were incurred to rescue the economy from the financial and economic crises George W. Bush bequeathed us. None of it went to ‘entitlements.’ Au contraire, the Social Security and Medicare trust funds presently generate large surpluses conservatives insist on raiding to pay for their tax cuts and wars. The sudden epiphany about deficits from conservatives who bequeathed us the Panic of 2008 is akin to arsonists setting a building ablaze then deriding the fire department for wasting water. 

Conservative policies are gifts that keep on giving: We are up to our eyeballs in pointless, costly, destructive wars in the Middle East that simply breed terrorist hostility toward us. The wars serve only to fill the coffers of defense contractors whose plush existence depends on sending our young men and women into harm's way in unwinnable "Long Wars" playing into bin Laden's strategy to "spread them out and bleed them into bankruptcy." "Peace through strength” seems to have morphed into “weakness through war.”

Tyrell's parting shot:

“As a political movement liberalism is dead. They do not have the numbers. They do not have the policies. . . . Liberalism R.I.P.”

Well, if that's true, and conservatives regain full power if 2012, hang on to your hats. If you liked the Panic of 2008, you're gonna love the return to crony capitalism, corporations run wild, widening gap between rich and poor, systemic deficits, financial instability, economic calamity and endless war. Reports of the death of liberalism will prove to be 'highly exaggerated' when middle-class conservatives finally wake up to the fact that they are being played for dupes, tricked into voting against their own best interests by the rich and powerful elite selling snake oil in the guise of high-minded principles like "free enterprise," "personal freedom" and "fiscal responsibility" while delivering precisely the opposite. 

David L. Smith is the editor of David L. Smith’s Cassandra Chronicles (www.cassandra-chronicles.com) and author of the forthcoming book: “The Egyptian Solution – And Other Lessons of History to Get Us Out of This Mess.”