On the day after the election, Rush Limbaugh blamed Santa Claus for Mitt Romney’s defeat.
“Conservativism did not lose last night,” Limbaugh said. “It’s just very difficult to beat Santa Claus. It is practically impossible to beat Santa Claus. People are not going to vote against Santa Claus,” Limbaugh concluded.
The night before, on Election Night, as the tide was turning against Romney, fellow Republican kingpin Bill O’Reilly said, “50% of the voting public wants stuff. They want things. Who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it and he ran on it.” In other words, President Obama won by playing Santa Claus.
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Even Mitt Romney himself blamed “Santa Claus” Obama. After his loss, Romney told donors, “The Obama campaign was following the old playbook of giving a lot of stuff to groups that they hoped they could get to vote for them and be motivated to go out to the polls, specifically the African American community, the Hispanic community and young people.” Referring to President Obama’s reforms that allowed young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans, Romney called it a “big gift to young people.”
These men, especially Rush Limbaugh, perfectly summed up the message the Republican establishment took from their election defeat, which is, “It is practically impossible to beat Santa Claus.”
But this is something Republicans have known for quite a long time.
They first learned this lesson in the 1930’s and 40’s after the New Deal, when Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt played the role of Santa Claus and gave the American people Social Security and unemployment insurance. At the time, Republicans played Scrooge arguing that we couldn’t afford it. They played the role of Scrooge in the 1960’s, too, as Democratic President Lyndon Johnson played Santa Claus as well, and gave the American people Medicare and other Great Society programs to cut poverty.
And what did Republicans get for playing Scrooge? Electoral defeat after electoral defeat. Starting with FDR’s big win in 1936, with the lone exception of the 2-year “Do-Nothing Congress” elected in 1946, Republicans never held a majority in the House of Representatives until 1995. And the way they were able to finally come out of this political slump was by listening to a Republican strategist/faux economist named Jude Wanniski who wrote a transformative article for the National Observer in 1976 that laid out the new Republican path to power.
Titled “Taxes and a Two-Santa Theory,” Wanniski warned that Republicans, “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.” He said, “As long as Republicans have insisted on balanced budgets, their influence as a party has shriveled.”
And since, as Limbaugh lamented, you can’t beat Santa Claus, then Wanniski said Republicans need to play Santa Claus themselves – the Santa Claus of tax cuts! Wanniski wrote, “The only thing wrong … is the failure of the Republican Party to play Santa Claus… The Two Santa Claus Theory holds that Republicans should concentrate on tax reduction.”
In other words, Democrats can give “gifts” like Social Security and Medicare and Republicans can counter with gifts like massive tax cuts, which is exactly what they did when Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 and picked Wanniski as an adviser.
But there was another dimension to Wanniski’s strategy that he doesn’t explicitly lay out in his article. And that’s this: If Republicans, by playing Santa Claus on their own, successfully pass their tax cuts (as Reagan and Bush 2 did) without cutting spending, then the government will be starved of revenue until eventually it can’t afford the Democratic Party’s social services like Social Security, unemployment insurance and Medicare; all things that Republicans have labeled as “gifts.” And if Republicans scream and yell enough about the deficit they’ve created with their tax cuts, then maybe – just maybe – it will force the Democrats to reverse roles, play Scrooge, and eventually shoot Santa Claus.
It was a brilliant political strategy that for more than 30 years has worked flawlessly.
Thanks to their tax cuts, Republican Presidents have added nearly $10 trillion in debt to the nation’s balance books since Reagan, which is far more than Democratic Presidents. And yet, it’s the Republican Party that pretends to be the most concerned about the national debt, devoting every breath to nightmare scenarios of what might happen if we don’t bring our annual deficits under control by cutting social spending.
And, unable to see through this blatant hypocrisy and recognize that Republicans deficit-hawks are just playing politics, Democratic Presidents have fallen right into Wanniski’s trap – they’re shooting Santa Claus.
Clinton pulled the trigger in 1996 when he blasted a hole in LBJ’s Great Society legislation and ended welfare as we know it. And earlier this year, President Obama did it when he signed on to legislation that cut emergency unemployment benefits down from 99 weeks to 74 weeks (depending on the state).
And today, with the so-called “fiscal cliff” looming, Republicans want Barack Obama and Democrats to fire the bloodiest shots of all against Santa Claus. They want Democrats to riddle Social Security and Medicare with bullets.
With the help of the corporate media, Republicans have managed to create this false equivalency that says if taxes go up on the wealthiest 2% of Americans, then the rest of the nation has to suffer from deep budget cuts to social welfare programs, the unemployed need to get by with fewer benefits, and senior citizens have to work longer before they can qualify for Medicare. To them, this is what a “balanced approach” looks like.
Despite claims from the White House that Social Security is off the negotiating table, both President Obama and Vice President Biden have thrown support behind a sort of “grand bargain” like Simpson-Bowles that will leave the Republican Santa Claus that delivered low tax rates nicked by paper-cuts, but leave the Democratic Santa Claus a shot-up bloodied mess.
Recognizing what might be on the horizon, Progressive Senator Bernie Sanders said after the election, “We’re going to send a loud message to the leadership in the House, in the Senate and President Obama. Do not cut Social Security, do not cut Medicare, do not cut Medicaid. Deficit reduction is a serious issue but it must be done in a way that is fair. We must not balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children or the poor.” In other words, don’t shoot the Democrat’s Santa Claus to reduce the deficit.
What Bernie Sanders and other Progressives understand is Democrats haven’t been playing Santa Claus for the last 80 years just to win elections. They’ve been playing Santa Claus to save the nation and our economic system as we know it. Faced with a Great Depression and Communist revolutions around the world, Roosevelt had to enact the New Deal just to save capitalism itself in America. Faced with the crisis of poverty in the 1960’s and the hardships senior citizens were facing upon retirement, LBJ enacted the Great Society and Medicare – not because the people wanted “gifts” from Santa Claus, but because people needed help – and providing for the “general welfare” is, according to our Constitution, one of the main purposes for which our government itself was created.
And, despite what Limbaugh, O’Reilly, and other Cons say, providing student loan relief isn’t a “gift,” it’s a necessity now that outstanding student loan debt has topped $1 trillion. Ensuring women have access to contraceptives isn’t a “gift,” it’s a right. Proving undocumented workers with a pathway to citizenship isn’t a “gift,” it’s the humane thing to do. And making sure impoverished children have healthcare isn’t a “gift,” it’s the moral thing to do.
Americans have handed Democrats electoral victories through the decades because they want the sort of America that the Democratic Santa Claus offers, which is a “we” society that allows for a strong middle class and basic protections from old age, sickness, and unemployment. In other words, “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Let’s hope Democrats understand this fast, and don’t fall for the Republican gimmick started by Jude Wanniski more than thirty years ago. Because right now, Santa Claus stands blindfolded before a firing squad and it’s the Democrats, led by President Obama, who have been maneuvered by Republicans into a position to pull the trigger.
And if they do, then not only does the Democratic Santa Claus die. So too, does the Democratic Party itself, and alongside it, the American middle class.