I've tried a few times to write about pressing budget issues - from defense to SS/Medicare to unemployment benefits to infrastructure, etc. - but I stop because none of it makes any sense whatsoever if you don't acknowledge and discuss the larger Republican plan to "Starve the Beast" (in their words). As explained (and condemned) by Ronald Reagan's former economic advisor:
A prime reason why we have a budget deficit problem in this country is because Republicans almost universally believe in a nonsensical idea called starve the beast. By this theory, the one and only thing they need to do to be fiscally responsible is to cut taxes. They need not lift a finger to cut spending because it will magically come down, just as a child will reduce her spending if her allowance is cut — the precise analogy used by Ronald Reagan to defend this doctrine in a Feb. 5, 1981, address to the nation. -- Bruce Bartlett, Nov. 27, 2010
Aah! "Starve the Beast" - the crackpot economic theory obsessively followed by Republicans beginning in the late 1970's/early 80's, but rarely discussed in general reporting because . . well, no one knows why. And, let's be clear, "Starve the Beast" is not about cutting government spending; it is about starving
government spending for social programs that Republicans don't like. In that sense, wild defense spending is a feature, not a bug, because such favored spending "crowds out" unfavored spending such as scientific research, education spending, SEC enforcement or food stamps - - all under the faux mantra of "we're going broke!"
I've watched this nutty theory destructively progress with minimal commentary for close to 30 years. And, while it originally focussed on tax cutting as a tool, it has mutated to the larger "hostage crisis" Republican theory of governing that we see today where every mundane thing - a debt ceiling, an appropriations bill, hurricane relief, infrastructure spending - is seen by Republicans as a "hostage" in a zero-sum negotiation where dumb, politically unachievable goals have to be extracted as the price of any necessary government spending.
If this was the Republicans' openly acknowledged view, and it worked, so be it. But why the hell is it not reported, and why aren't Republicans forced to defend it? I mean, I have Republican friends who vote lock-step for these policies, and they have never heard of "Starve the Beast," much less have to think it through. When - and why - did the press decide that this was just too awkward to acknowledge?
I had a personal moment with this dysfunction. In April 2011, I emailed Andrew Sullivan asking why he would not acknowledge that Paul Ryan's first budget plan was simply another, aggressive iteration of the Republican plan to "starve the beast,":
Ryan's budget plan is mostly a political, and not an economic, plan. Indeed, it is the culmination of about a thirty year Republican strategy called "starve the beast," by which Republicans have worked to reduce taxes and increase the national deficit as large as possible - all to create the supposed "deficit crisis" that we now face and to use that crisis to eliminate programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and a slew of other programs (EPA, SEC, Planned Parenthood, collective bargaining, etc.) that the Republican class has never been able to eliminate through the democratic process. This "starve the beast" Republican strategy has been openly acknowledged for years and I know you are well aware of it. And the Ryan "budget plan" is transparently an attempt to cash in on this long-standing political agenda.
So, frankly, why is there no acknowledgment by you of this?
My whole point was that the media refuses to acknowledge
"Starve the Beast." I don't want to confuse causation with correlation but that short "Starve the Beast" email went viral. It was trending on Twitter. It was quoted in a Forbes
piece. It was linked to on the CBS News site. It got linked on Republican sites, discussed by liberal bloggers, and serially mentioned in hundreds of comment sections. I won't claim random credit but that week Andrew Sullivan (briefly) acknowledged "Starve the Beast" on Chris Mathews' old Sunday show, and it also became the subject a Lawrence O'Donnell MSNBC segment (need to go to 4 minute mark):
Or, the relevant transcript is:
Which makes it all the more clear. That what their anti-tax strategy really is . . . is Starve the Beast. The Starve the Beast strategy that was started in the Reagan administration. The strategy that cutting government spending will be politically easier to do if you cut government's financing . . . by cutting taxes, by refusing ever to raise taxes - - under any circumstances, including war. Never, ever, ever raise taxes . . . make sure the government never has enough money. That is the key to the otherwise impossible Republican political trick. Of defunding the government programs that can Congressional Republicans hate. Programs they hate even though their voters support those programs . . and live on those programs. Indeed, survive on those programs. That's some trick.
That was heady, fun. And as one blogger got it exactly right at the time: "The first rule of Starving the Beast? Don't mention it,"
noting that "[w]hat makes Sullivan’s give-and-take even more interesting is a check of Google News for the term “Starve the Beast.” There are only 60 mentions of the term in U.S. media sources."
And then . . per predictions . . . all talk about "Starve the Beast" simply disappeared. Republicans were no longer deliberately refusing to fund government. No, they were concerned with "austerity," or worried "about the debt." None of this was a planned, multi-decade long strategy (which it was) - No, all of this cutting/sequester was about saving SS/Medicare - by privatizing it. And "prudent" fiscal management. Why should every bridge, tunnel and highway be privatized? Because the "broke" government - you know the government of the richest country in history - can't afford things.
It is a joke. All this debt/austerity/limitations talk that you hear on Sunday shows and read in newspapers is a gratuitous favor to political forces dedicated to screwing the 99%. And when one party openly subscribes to a loony philophshy (think Aayan Rand), the role of the press is to call it out and debate it.
Right now, we get the opposite. A head-in-the-sand, don't upset my rich boss, form of negligence.
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