Americans are finally waking up to the biggest Republican con of them all: the small government con. Ever since the 1980s, Republicans have used a strategy former Reagan budget director David Stockman called “starving the beast.” The thinking behind this strategy is pretty simple.
First, you cut taxes to “starve the beast” (the government) of the revenue it needs to survive.
Then, when people start getting angry because the government can no longer afford to work the way it should, you propose a solution: cut spending. Instead of feeding the beast even more, you say, we should trim it down to size.
And so the cycle continues.
Now that the government physically can’t afford to do its job because you’ve cut most of its revenue sources, and because it doesn’t provide the services it used to provide because you’ve slashed away at budget after budget, the people get even angrier with the government and government employees.
The lines at the DMV and the Social Security office get longer and longer, schools disintegrate and people blame the government workers for it, not realizing it was Republicans who cut the workforce to the point where the government can barely do its job.
Eventually, they become so upset that they start thinking, like Reagan, that government is the problem, not the solution. And so what do they do?
They demand even more budget cuts and even more tax cuts until the “beast” – otherwise known as our government – is finally dead.
Our commons and government functions, from Social Security to education, can then be privatized and sold off to the highest bidder – usually whatever local billionaire has bankrolled the Republican Party in his area.
Pretty insidious strategy, right?
You bet, and it’s still being put to work to devastating effect in red states like Louisiana, where former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s massive tax cuts for the rich have left the state with a $940 million budget shortfall this year and put it on the path towards a $2 billion shortfall in 2017.
The situation is actually so bad in Louisiana right now that the state has started slashing away at everything – from the public school system, to sewage cleanup, and is even preparing to make massive cuts to the agency that investigates child abuse. That’s right, the agency that investigates child abuse!
Meanwhile, the supposed “economic benefits” of Jindal’s “starve the beast” economic plan are nowhere to be found. What’s going on in Louisiana is the equivalent of economic terrorism.
Today’s Republicans don’t believe in promoting the general welfare. They’re ideologues who’ve been running a gigantic scam on the American people for the past 30 years. They want to destroy government to enrich their wealthy friends and donors.
They’ve been successful in this endeavor in large part because they’ve used dog-whistle racism to make their billionaire-friendly economic policies more attractive to voters.
Reagan advisor Lee Atwater described this process in pretty blunt language back in the 1980s. “Small government” is simply code for “no more assistance to poor people, particularly poor people of color.” Meanwhile, they’re massively expanding government – particularly in the military and in subsidies to billionaires and wealthy industries like Big Pharma, Big Agriculture and fossil fuels.
This con worked for decades, but Americans are now starting to figure it out.