George Herbert Walker Bush denounced supply-side theories as “Voodoo economics.” And Dwight D. Eisenhower warned:
To attain any success it is quite clear that the Federal government cannot avoid or escape responsibilities which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken by it…. Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things…. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.
That’s “stupid,” as in dumb, brain-dead, idiotic… Ronald Reagan was among those who believed such things. Reagan hated programs designed to help the poor and the weak. He repeatedly tried to abolish social security and relentlessly attacked labor rights. (Among his achievements in office was breaking the air traffic controllers’ union.) Yet the ghost of “stupid” Ronald Reagan stalks the land today, spinning tall tales of a magical economy where cutting taxes increases wealth and where by enriching the richest the government provides employment for the rest of us. Few people seem to remember that we tried that approach more than once, with disastrous results every time. The mass of the people have gone hungry. The crumbs have not fallen from the rich man’s table.
But through the legerdemain of public relations, Reagan has been reinvented so that no one remembers he left a massive deficit for Bill Clinton to tame. It was Clinton who balanced the budget and left a hefty surplus for that other Bush. And we all know what havoc W’s “supply-side economics” created.
Lest we forget, most Americans were rather prosperous during the Clinton years. I recall having a good job, owning a small but thriving stock portfolio, eating out a couple of times a week, buying new suits and a new car, playing golf every weekend… Bill Clinton was good to me. And probably to you, too.
So why is Reagan being canonized? I suspect it’s because some right-wing zealots with very deep pockets invested heavily in public relations campaigns to achieve that end. They established “think tanks” (which in reality are propaganda machines), bought media outlets and intimidated reporters in a massive campaign to brainwash the American public.
The result is that today we have a “debate” over the effectiveness of tax cuts (as opposed to government spending) as the antidote to the worst economic mess the world has seen since Herbert Hoover. Tax cuts! To the rich! It’s deja vu all over again.