* This post originally appeared on QuietMike.org, republished with permission of the author
Taking a look at President Barack Obama’s latest budget proposal, you’ll find it trims Social Security benefits for millions and concentrates very heavily on deficit reduction. What you might not realize is that Obama is playing right into the hands of a decades old Republican strategy.
If you were paying attention during last year’s election, you may have heard several comments by conservatives referring to democrats as the party of Santa Claus. Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, even Mitt Romney made these references both before and after Obama’s victory.
Since the Great Depression, Democrats have given the American people Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare and other social programs to cut poverty. These programs (among other things) led to the rise of the middle class, a cut in poverty rates and a better American life in general.
There to fight them every step of the way were Republicans, who by opposing these programs became the party of Scrooge. Unfortunately for Republicans, their position was widely rejected by the majority of Americans who loved these programs.
Democrats were rewarded for deciding to give back to the American populace. They held on to a majority in the House of Representatives for fifty years and it got to a point where the only way Republicans could get elected to national office was to cheat (Nixon, Reagan, Bush Jr). It took a long time for Republicans to diagnose the problem correctly, particularly in Washington.
Along came conservative journalist and commentator Jude Wanniski who introduced the “Two Santa Claus Theory” to the Republican Party in 1976. Wanniski argued that the only way to beat the party of Santa Claus was to become old Saint Nick themselves.
Wanniski suggested to Republicans that they couldn’t fight democrats by cutting spending, it was a losing battle. Instead, he recommended Republicans become Santa as well by giving the gift of tax cuts.
At the time, these propositions were laughed at and dismissed by many in conservative circles; they knew you can’t balance the budget by giving out tax cuts without cuts in spending. However, Wanniski knew that this simple formula for Republican success would have a two pronged effect.
Four years after the introduction of the two Santa Claus theory and it appeared someone was paying attention. Ronald Reagan came into office and made Wanniski an advisor. Over his two terms in office, tax rates (for the wealthy in particular) fell drastically, but so did revenue. Reagan left office in 1988 after tripling the national debt and raising the debt as a percentage of GDP from 26% to 41%.
With low taxes now part of the conservative (and American) psyche, Reagan’s policies forced Bill Clinton to make cuts in welfare and other social programs in order to balance the budget. More importantly, Republicans knew they could use the deficit as a rallying cry. Whenever Democrats were in office, Republicans held them responsible for balancing the budget even though they were accountable for the ballooning deficit in the first place.
George W. Bush’s two terms in office was essentially a repeat of Reagan’s. Revenues rose by 35%, but spending rose by 65%. Tax cuts for the wealthy and two unfunded wars allowed Bush to take a balanced budget he inherited from Clinton and nearly double the national debt from $6 trillion to $10 trillion.
Just as they did with Clinton in the 1990s, President Obama has been pressured by Republicans to cut social spending for the past four plus years in order to reduce the debt. As I mentioned, Obama has signaled a willingness to give in to Republicans and make changes to social security, something no Democratic president has ever done.
Wanniski’s strategy has worked for the last thirty years. Not only have Republicans been allowed to present themselves as Santa Claus with the gift of tax cuts, but by refusing to cut spending, they have forced Democrats to shoot their own Santa Claus in the back upon taking office. Democrats can now be seen, particularly on the right, as the party of Scrooge, a complete role reversal.
The two Santa Claus strategies are different in more ways the one. Tax and spend liberals use the revenue to ease the burden on the poor and middle class and make the country a more equal society. They follow this principal to first and foremost make the country a better place, if they happen to get elected in the process, all the better.
On the other hand, tax cutting conservatives view their strategy simply as a way to get elected. If their policies destroy the economy or the working class that’s just fine, they’ll just blame it on the next Democratic President. You’ll notice conservatives never complain about spending when Republicans are in office.
Obama needs to open his eyes to the game that’s being played around him. He was elected on the promise of protecting the gifts that were given generations ago. By pushing for chained CPI social security and other program cuts, he’ll be playing right into Republican hands… again.
If Obama turns his back on the programs that have helped the country and his party, he’s not only allowing Republicans to kill the Democratic Santa Claus and the party identity, but the American middle class as well.
“Embrace the role of Scrooge, playing into the hands of the Democrats, who know the first rule of successful politics is Never Shoot Santa Claus. As long as Republicans have insisted on balanced budgets, their influence as a party has shrivelled.” – Jude Wanniski