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There is a traditional German saying that warns the foolish not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  A wise person realizes the value of preservation and change.  Since the French Revolutionaries first took their seats in the National Assembly, politicians have divided themselves along this axis.  One party favored preservation, while the other advocated change.  Conservatives sat on the right, while liberals sat on the left.  A healthy political system balances the two, keeping the baby and throwing out the dirty bathwater.


Since the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, however, a new breed of American conservative has been gaining strength—the DestructoCons.  The DestructoCons took to heart Reagan’s Big Lie: “government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.”  Instead of removing the baby from the bathwater, DetructoCons foolishly throw it away.   Every social problem has the same solution, cutting government and cutting taxes.  In this Ayn Rand dystopia the best social solution is always to do nothing.  Individuals should struggle to survive with the strong rising to the top and the weak falling to the bottom--Social Darrwinism.

At the end of the Reagan Presidency, however, most DestructoCons were far from the corridors of power.  The traditional conservatives, who controlled the Republican Party, had left intact the great pillars of liberal America: Social Security, Medicare, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, unemployment benefits, food safety, work place safety and environmental protections.  Worse still, from a traditional conservative perspective, the financial health of the country was weaker than eight short years before.  Tax cuts and extravagant military spending meant the federal debt was rising at a faster pace than any time since the Great Depression.  It was painfully obvious that the country could not keep taxes low on the affluent and maintain vibrant social services that improved the lives of millions of Americans.


The DestructoCons saw this moment as an opportunity.  During the 1988 Republican primary, Grover Norquist used his newly organized Americans for Tax Reform to extract a “No New Taxes Pledge” from candidates.  He abandoned the traditional conservative goal of a balanced budget in favor of cutting taxes.  The goal became known as Starve the Beast.  “The idea is that if revenues are unilaterally reduced, this reduction will lead to a higher budget deficit, which will force legislators to enact spending cuts.”  It was the logical consequence of Reagan’s Big Lie.  If government is the problem, or a beast, then it was immoral to feed it and make it stronger.  It had to die.

Grassroot conservatives loved the idea and forced the 1988 Republican nominee to get on board.  Vice President George H. Bush had been a traditional northeastern Republican.  Before joining Reagan’s campaign in 1980, Bush had fought for the soul of the Grand Old Party, warning against the adoption of voodoo economics.  He knew that cutting taxes and increasing spending was a recipe for disaster.  He knew that government could play a positive role in society if leaders made rational decisions.  Just eight short years later and billions of dollars of new debt, Bush was ready to say the voodoo economic prayers.

Vice President Bush fought hard to win the Republican nomination.  Picking up his party’s standard, he told the Republican National Convention:

And I'm the one who will not raise taxes. My opponent now says he'll raise them as a last resort, or a third resort. But when a politician talks like that, you know that's one resort he'll be checking into. My opponent, my opponent won't rule out raising taxes. But I will. And the Congress will push me to raise taxes and I'll say no. And they'll push, and I'll say no, and they'll push again, and I'll say, to them, ‘Read my lips: no new taxes.’

He said the voodoo economic prayers, but, if elected, would the DestructoCons have a friend in the White House? Did George H. Bush just say the words to please his base as so many politicians do in primaries?  Would this traditional conservative really throw the baby out with the bathwater as the DestructoCons demanded?

Almost immediately the answer was clear.  President Bush the Elder believed the government could be a solution, not simply a problem.  During the 1980s, the Saving & Loans industry had successfully lobbied to deregulate its business, arguing that government regulation hurt opportunities to grow and serve customers.  Private businessmen, not public bureaucrats, should make economic decisions.  Free of New Deal era restrictions, they recklessly invested in commercial real estate, contributing to a bubble market.   When the predictable collapse occurred, the Federal government once again had to intervene to mitigate the damage to average Americans.  President Bush and Congress created the Resolution Trust Corporation, which had the authority to seize failed S&L, liquidate their assists and pay off depositors.

Rescuing the savings of average Americans was a relatively painless decision.  Bush, however, had won his election by promising, “Read my lips, no new taxes.”  While this made good politics, it was bad policy.  For the first time in American history, the deficit was growing without a major war or a severe economic crisis.  Congressional Democrats were not going to cut popular government programs without at least token tax increases.  

After negotiating throughout the summer and fall of 1990, President Bush reached a compromise with Congressional Democrats. In exchange for cuts in Medicare, Bush abandoned his no new taxes pledge.  The deal cut federal spending by $366 billion over five years while raising $134 billion in taxes on gasoline, tobacco and alcohol.  This represented a $500 billion step in the direction of a balanced budget.  Traditional conservatives had scored a victory.  They had cut spending and the deficit while only raising taxes on consumption, protecting income and investments.

For the DestructoCons it was a defeat.  In 1992 many Republican primary voters did not forgive Bush for compromising with Democrats and cast him as a Rhino (Republican in Name Only).  They preferred tax cuts over actual deficit reduction and voted for Pat Buchanan to express their sense of betrayal.  The Democratic nominee, Bill Clinton, was able to capitalize on the divide within the Republican Party when Ross Perot made an independent bid for the presidency.  At the center of the race was the budget deficit.  While Clinton won the election with less than 50% of the vote, Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress and promised to reduce the deficits.

Democrats set about solving the countries problems with constructive action, but Republicans in the House rallied around the DestructoCons.  During the 1980s, as a backbench Congressman from Georgia, Newt Gingrich had made a name for himself running against “Washington.”   Gingrich was the master of contrast.  The traditional tools of statesmen, negotiation and compromise, were thrown out the window.  Out went the baby with the bathwater.  In their place was language adopted from religious fundamentalism: a battle between good and evil.

From 1990 to 1996, Gingrich distributed a memo to his Republicans colleagues, teaching then to “speak like Newt."  He promised them a road map to electoral success.

Often we search hard for words to define our opponents. Sometimes we are hesitant to use contrast. Remember that creating a difference helps you. These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party.

Democrats weren’t simply wrong according to Gingrich; they were “shallow,” “self-serving,” “wasteful” and “traitors.”   He encouraged them to throw out baby and bathwater, compromise and big government.

The decision by Congressional Republicans to follow Gingrich’s lead meant Democrats had to craft a budget on their own. The Clinton deficit reduction plans in 1993 required higher taxes on the wealthiest 1% of Americans, but cut taxes for the small businesses and 15 million low income families.  Not a single Republican voted in favor, claiming the Clinton budget would kill jobs.  Those predictions were simply wrong.  Not only did Clinton set America on the path to fiscal responsibility for the first time since the Reagan Revolution, but the economy grew at annual 3.2 rate (adjusted for inflation) and 11.6 million new jobs.  The empirical lesson was clear.  Modest reductions in the rate of government growth and slight tax increase did more fiscal good than eight years of voodoo economics.

Clinton and his Vice President, Al Gore, also looked towards a new economy.  They had touted a new program during their election campaign called the “information superhighway.”  It was meant to remind Americans that government spending on infrastructure (Erie Canal, TVA, and the interstate highways) spurred economic development.  Clinton and Gore were right.  Like previous projects, public investments in the internet opened up new business opportunities for the private sector.  Unlike Reagan, Clinton knew that good government could be a solution and help America prosper.

Also, in 1993 the Clinton administration decided to tackle a perennial problem for working Americans, affordable, universal, comprehensive health insurance.  Working within the country’s tradition of employer provided health insurance, Clinton’s plan had six goals: security, simplicity, savings, choice, quality and responsibility.  The legislation relied on private insurance markets and required all employers to cover their employees, offering them a choice from at least three plans.  Each plan had to meet basic coverage requirements such as no denial for preexisting conditions, prenatal care and preventive care.  Clinton explained to the nation why everyone had to accept responsibility for healthcare.

And I want to tell you that I believe that all of us should have insurance. Why should the rest of us pick up the tab when a guy who doesn't think he needs insurance or says he can't afford it gets in an accident, winds up in an emergency room, gets good care, and everybody else pays? Why should the small business people who are struggling to keep afloat and take care of their employees have to pay to maintain this wonderful health care infrastructure for those who refuse to do anything? If we're going to produce a better health care system for every one of us, every one of us is going to have to do our part. There cannot be any such thing as a free ride. We have to pay for it. We have to pay for it.

Moderate Republicans responded with an alternative.  Instead of relying on an employer mandate, Senator Lincoln Chafee proposed an individual mandate.  To overcome the fact that individuals lack the purchasing power of large corporations, Chafee would have required each state to create insurance exchanges to hold down costs.  Any individual who could not afford to pay their premiums would receive a federal voucher to buy insurance on the state exchange.  Like Clinton’s plan, the Chafee plan would have also prohibit insurance companies from denying medical coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Any reasonable assessment of the competing plans would have found common ground for a compromise.  The DestructoCons were not happy; their faith in Reagan’s Big Lie was stronger than ever.  They knew “government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.”  Clinton, the Democrats and RHINOs were not wrong, they COULD NOT be right.  Together with the insurance industry, the DestructoCons rallied the public against “Big Government.”  Newt Gingrich falsely said any Clinton proposal would be "washed-over old-time bureaucratic liberalism, or centralized bureaucratic socialism." The health insurance industry reinforced Gingrich’s message and inflamed public opinion with two “Harry and Louise” ads.

The DestructoCons strategy worked.  Not only did they defeat all health insurance reform in 1994, but they capitalized on the anti-government fever and voters turned control of the House over to Speaker Newt Gingrich. The initial results of the “Gingrich Revolution” were disastrous.  Unwilling to compromise as the Constitution required, DestructoCons tried to bully Bill Clinton.  When he stood firm, Gingrich refused to pass a budget and shut down the government.  This experience taught him a lesson; Americans hate government in theory but like it in practice.  With egg on his face the Speaker backed down.

Unfortunately, Bill Clinton had already surrendered the rhetorical high ground, famously saying that the era of big government was over.  Clinton worked with Republicans on welfare reform, lower capital gains taxes, and banking reform.  Welfare reform and capital gains were relatively modest changes.  Banking reform did real long term damage.  Banking reform opened the door for mega banks to consolidate finance and insurance markets.

Wisely, President Clinton refused to compromise on Medicare.  The health care fight and the 1994 midterm elections motivated Gingrich and the DestructoCons to set their sights on this popular Great Society program.  In October 1995 he explained his goals.

So what we're trying to do, first of all, is say, O.K., here is a government monopoly plan. We're designing a free-market plan. Now, they're very different models. You know, we tell Boris Yeltsin, "Get rid of centralized command bureaucracies. Go to the marketplace." O.K., what do you think the Health Care Financing Administration is? It's a centralized command bureaucracy. It's everything we're telling Boris Yeltsin to get rid of. Now, we don't get rid of it in round one because we don't think that that's politically smart, and we don't think that's the right way to go through a transition. But we believe it's going to wither on the vine because we think people are voluntarily going to leave it -- voluntarily.

The only way to save Medicare was to kill it.  Gingrich wanted to replace Medicare with a voucher program.  Seniors would receive a set amount and then compete on the open market for coverage.  Neither Clinton nor the public accepted Gingrich’s argument and it was his privatization scheme that “withered on the vine,” not Medicare

At the end of the Clinton Presidency the country looked fiscally sound.  The budget deal George Bush had made in 1990 helped slow the rate of spending growth.  As new revenue came into the treasury from Clinton’s increased taxes and economic growth, the budget deficit began to shrink.   All federal revenue, including Social Security taxes, had actually produced a surplus.


In 2000 voters faced a clear choice when it came to fiscal responsibility.  Al Gore wanted to put the Social Security surplus in a lock box, effectively paying down the Reagan era debt.  George W. Bush wanted to emulate the mythical Reagan and redeem his family name after the treachery of his father.  Bush promised once again that tax cuts at the top would trickle down, producing even further deficit reduction.

When Americans went to the polls, the majority of voters rejected this newest incarnation of voodoo economics.  Most Americans weren’t willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  George Bush the Younger, however, was able to gather enough electoral votes to move into the White House.  More importantly, Republicans controlled the House and the Senate.  DestructoCons had a blank check to reprioritize the nation’s agenda.

Step one was to cut taxes, not once but twice without any reductions in spending.  In 2001 they called the plan the “Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act,” and in 2003 it was dubbed the “Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act.”  DestructoCons were simply wrong.  Not only did the budget deficit begin to balloon immediately but job prospects began to decline.  From 2000 to 2008 the employment-population ratio dropped from 64% to 59%.  This fact was masked by unemployment calculations which ignored people who gave up on the job market.  When asked about the rising deficit, Vice President Dick Cheney said, "deficits don't matter."

With the Social Security Trust Fund safely out of the “lock box” and in the hands of the top 2%, President Bush warned the nation about the impending Social Security crisis.  After winning reelection in 2004, he offered younger Americans an option.  They could divert part of their Social Security Taxes into a private investment account in exchange for a lower guaranteed benefit plan.  Voters knew better.  Privatization would not “save” Social Security; privatization would kill Social Security.  With the public behind them, a reenergized liberal coalition rallied opposition to the plan and save this popular social program from the DestructoCons.

Today, in 2011, we are back at square one, debating issues that were settled in the 1930s, because the DestructoCons promised a better solution.  Rejecting 100 years of economic and political experiences, which showed us what works and what doesn’t, the DestructoCons told us to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Cut taxes.  Destroy unions.  Eliminate environmental laws. Let the market place decide Civil Rights issues.  Why?  Because Reagan declared that “government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.”  

Insanity is doing things over and over, expecting different results.  Failed conservative policies are destroying the middle class.  Doubling down on them will not make things better.  They will make things worse, much worse.   American needs proven fiscal responsibility, not fairy dust.   Instead, the national narrative is dominated by DestructoCons.  They have proven time and time again that “deficits don’t matter” to them.  Common sense should tell us that a “destructive conservative” is an oxymoron, yet that is exactly the dominate ideology of the 2012 Republican presidential field.  

Originally posted to Glenn Melancon on Tue Nov 22, 2011 at 08:30 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The GOP base literally believes compromise is (6+ / 0-)

    impossible, even wicked.

    On a message board I just came from, I found this nugget of wisdom:

    Just as the Bible says there is no compromise between light and dark, good and evil, God and Satan, there is no compromise between Big Government/Big Spending liberalism/socialism/Marxism/communism and a small decentralized constitutional republic of the people, by the people and for the people. One wins and one loses, because there is no middle ground.

    The specific reference is to the breakdown of the Super Committee.

    Lea: "You're not going to fly into an asteroid field, are you?" Han Solo: "They'd be crazy to follow us, wouldn't they?"

    by Kimball Cross on Tue Nov 22, 2011 at 08:45:41 AM PST

    •  FA Hayek said somthing similiar. (6+ / 0-)

      “This does not mean that it is possible to find some ‘middle way’ between competition and central direction, through nothing seems at first more plausible, or is more likely to appeal to reasonable people.”

      •  another Third Way (0+ / 0-)

        As the diary highlights, the governing ideology of the Destructocons is a cruel work of fiction. (It might be helpful to number the instances in the diary where they were simply wrong on the most fundamental aspects of the macroeconomy).
        But the current democratic alternative has as its goal a return to the halcyon days of the '90s, and era of "growth" and "job creation".  Is that the best answer? the best we can do?
        Is it a good thing to "create jobs" with no regard to the effects of that activity on our environment, our resources, and other people around the world? Is economic growth, however measured, a consequence-free and necessarily good thing?

        I would say no to all of the above. Though still distant in the scale of the 24 hour news cycle, we are approaching the end phase of consumerism and capitalism, as well as resource depletion. In venue after venue, extracting 'wealth' is becoming more difficult and returns are diminishing. In many ways, the bulk of the human race is eating the last of its rations without any thought to what will replace them. As the crashes become more common and more severe, as resource wars start and escalate, as climate refugees swell in number, what has the capitalist system to offer as solutions? fucking tax cuts? A return to biblical values?
        We got nothin'.
        Well, not nuthin' actually. We still have a monster of a military, so we will hold on to our lead in the great game of gimmemine for a little bit longer than less aggressive nations. But, like the 1%, walls and armed guards are only effective for a while. Eventually they are overrun. Always. That's why sieges were so effective.

        It is high time we grow up as a society and as a species. We are operating as if we exist in an infinite system of time space and raw materials, and we are beginning to rub up against the reality that we are not.
        Hippy-dippy or not, we need to curb our insatiable appetites and truly, really acknowledge our interdependence with other species, with our planet, and with each other.
        If we do not, and all signs point this way, we are already into the last century of global civilization. We are looking at a new dark age.

        Class war has consequences, and we are living them.

        by kamarvt on Wed Nov 23, 2011 at 07:12:07 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thanks. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Americans do have a tradition of doing this well.  Teddy Roosevelt, for example, had the forsight to protect vast areas of wilderness from exploitation.  The Civil Conservation Corps replanted large areas clear cut by lumber companies and only made the trees avaiible to sustainable practices.  Both CAFE standards and clean air standards have improved the internal combustion engine.  The federal government  forced companies to remove harmful pollatants like CFCs and lead from their products.  

          Good government makes life better.

          How do we move forward?

          1) Use the purchasing power of the Federal government to buy "green technology."  For example, why don't we have solar panels on every Federal building and every school in America?  Why do we have to rely ONLY on a centralized power grid?  As companies compete to meet the federal demand, they will improve manufacturing techniques and rive down costs.

          2) ID and mitigate harmful practices or products.  For example, we all know that electronics generate a tremendous amout of hazardous waste.  Do we simply give up the benefits DailyKos, or do we PLAN for the waste stream, making sure it does not hurt or neighbors, human and animal?

  •  One Nitpicky Thing (8+ / 0-)

    One thing, please always point out that the 2009 deficit of $1.4 trillion was Bush's last budget fiscal year, ending in September of 2008, with Obama in office just months.

    Your chart doesn't make that point clearly.  I think it is such an important point politically.

    Seeing The Forest -- Who is our economy FOR, anyway? Twitter: @dcjohnson

    by davej on Tue Nov 22, 2011 at 04:04:51 PM PST

  •  Grover, that class act, called it (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Larsstephens, OleHippieChick

    date rape.  

  •  Thanks. This is about as clear an explanation of (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Larsstephens, Stwriley

    what happened and is happening as I've seen.  Minus lots of fun details, but I'm sending it to my G'daughter who is in APUSHistory.   She is the most savvy 15 year old I've run into in years.

    Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    by maybeeso in michigan on Tue Nov 22, 2011 at 08:24:12 PM PST

  •  Thanks for the promotion to the spot light. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Larsstephens, OleHippieChick
  •  we have a huge problem (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kurt, Stwriley

    in that we keep calling the Republicans nuts, they keep saying they're serious, and the media just splits the difference, which keeps moving the policy debate further to the right.  There have been plenty of Republicans from the Reagan and Bush administrations that have called the current GOP agenda insane, and then they just get marginalized in the media as being part of the "new left."  Fucking Reagan staffers, being called liberal activists...

    What can we possibly do, in this situation?

    I can't say I understand why anyone would vote Republican today.  It's crazy.  But tons of people still do vote Republican.  Enough to make the 2012 elections really scary.  So, what do we do?  

    •  Number 1 is stop pretending. (5+ / 0-)

      Stop pretending they are offering a public policy choice.  They have made it clear that they hate modern America and they want to destroy it.  That is why I have called them DestructoCons.  They are not offering compromise and negotiation, they simply want to delete the 19th and 20th century and pretend that the 18th century was better.  It wasn't.  

      America is a better place because of liberalism.  Be proud of the accomplishments of past activists, and then you should provide practical solutions that will make America better for future generations.  

      Finally, reject the false equivalence.  Both sides are not to blame.  Point fingers and tell the truth.  DestructoCons, like Newt, will point fingers and lie.  We saw it today when Romney proudly lied using the Presidents own voice.  

  •  Yeah, they're full of it (0+ / 0-)

    I've already said I think they're fucking nuts.  I'm really proud of past activists and their accomplishments.  I still don't know how to beat these assholes.

    •  There is a difference between saying they are nuts (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kamarvt, snazzzybird

      and saying they are wrong.  

      For example.

      Thei economic polices are destroying families.  My father's service in the US Army allowed him to raise his family with the security of knowing he had affordable housing, affordable healthcare and a guaranteed retirement.  The DestructoCons tell us all these things make a man soft and must be destroyed.  BS.  My dad was strong and our family was stronger because of good public policies.

      Another good example is the DestructoCon obsession with controlling a woman's uterus.  They call it Pro-Life, but what are they actual "for"?  They aren't FOR universal prenatal care.  They aren't FOR a strong, simple  and affordable adoption system. They aren't FOR universal health care.  They are not FOR clean air and clean water.  They are not FOR workplace safety rules.  In fact they are not FOR anything!  There is nothing PRO in the DestructoCon agenda.  The only they they are FOR is pure, unadulterated selfishness.

      They have had 30 years to create a language to destroy modern America.  It will take consistent, strong and direct language to expose the Big Lie.  

  •  T&R'd, bookmarked for community edu. (0+ / 0-)

    Thanks for putting this all together.

  •  To me, the most insidious part of Reagan's belief, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    was that "big government" was the problem completely overlooking the fact that the real much bigger problem was posed by "big business" and the control of most business activity by a small and ever decreasing  number of people. Without big government, effective government there is nothing at all to stop the ruthless rule of corporations dedicated to making money regardless of the long-term costs.

    ",,, the Political whorehouse that is Fox News." Keith Olbermann

    by irate on Wed Nov 23, 2011 at 03:32:19 AM PST

  •  Diary is a perfect (0+ / 0-)

    background and documented results of the destrocons governing philosophy.   Now how do you but this in sound bites where the information can be exposed and absorbed by the electorate?  

    The audience that  needs to comprehend this information is not going to go through the exercise of reading more than 3 bullet points.   My challenge to you Is to "luntz" it!  

    Quick succinct talking points

  •  The republicans (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Glenn Melancon

    put their hand under the hot water faucet and quickly take it away for it hurts. They sit down and think to themselves if they just make the water hotter maybe it will not hurt next time. They do not understand the destructiveness of their own ideas and policies.

    Voting for a Republican is like letting the fox in the hen house and expecting to have fried chicken for Sunday dinner- John Lucas

    by Jlukes on Wed Nov 23, 2011 at 06:20:20 AM PST

  •  If only (0+ / 0-)

    the public did not have such a short memory, reminders of conservative idealogical failures would net some true progressive results.  Then again, Faux news keeps retelling the lie so often.....

  •  Democrats And Progressives Need A Clear And (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Glenn Melancon

    consistent message and need to keep advertising it to the public - because the public has a very short memory, and the right wing noise machine is spouting lies 24/7.   I would like to see ads run around the country saying "government IS good, government DOES create jobs, etc. and then give examples - the Tennesse Valley Authority (that created jobs for the unemployed during the Depression), the GI bill (that helped servicemen and women get a college education after World War 2), the Marshall Plan (that rebuilt Europe and helped our own country's manufacturers), building the interstate highway system (it created jobs for millions of Americans), Social Security (it helped to lift millions of seniors out of poverty), etc.  Progressives have got to keep pounding this message into the nation's psyche EVERY DAY until people start to get it, and as a counter weight to the right wing noise machine. Democrats need to start doing this NOW.

    •  If only the government advertised (0+ / 0-)

      the big corporations advertise themselves and their good works all the time...the only part of the government that advertises now is the military, which is consistently well-regarded by the general public...

      "All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out." --I.F. Stone

      by Alice in Florida on Wed Nov 23, 2011 at 08:53:56 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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