The Two Santa Claus Theory
In keeping with the season, a couple of Christmas themed posts will light up your holidays, I hope. But this one isn’t what you may think.
Barry Goldwater’s shellacking by Lyndon Johnson in the Presidential election of 1964 rocked the Republican Party. They rebounded quickly, with Nixon winning in 1968, only to resign in disgrace five years later. The party was in disarray; they needed to regroup and develop a new winning strategy. Enter Jude Winniski, an attorney who in 1976 wrote an article in The New Republic titled “Taxes and the Two Santa Theory.”
Winniski wrote that in the public mind, the Democrats are always looked on as Santa Claus, with popular social programs primarily benefiting the middle class, like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, or food stamps. The Republicans opposition to spending on these programs made them look like Scrooge. They needed to be Santa Claus too, and Winniski said the way to do it was with tax cuts. Everybody likes tax cuts, especially those who need them the least. So when Republicans get into power, they should give more and bigger tax cuts to everyone. That generates less government revenue, which drives up debt. No worry, borrow and spend like drunken sailors, run that deficit as high as you can. You want proof? During the Bush years, the vampire Dick Cheney once said: “Reagan taught us deficits don’t matter.” And who does Republican Santa think are good little boys and girls every year? Why, it’s big gas & oil, agribusiness, big Pharma, and be sure not to forget the defense contractors. Billions in subsidies go to these guys, who are already making record profits while paying little or no federal income tax.
Politics is cyclical, like everything else, so eventually the Democrats will regain power. When they do, start screaming about the deficit. Oh, the poor, bloody deficit! Shriek about how government spending is out of control. Not just any spending, either. Republicans have hated the New Deal from its birth, and have spent most of their time and energy destroying it, unless they can privatize it, which is even better. The idea is to manipulate Democrats into cutting their own programs, or as Winniski wrote, “force the Democrats to be Scrooge, or even to shoot Santa Claus”. But first and foremost, always maintain the tax cuts, because they reduce government revenue.
That brings us to stubbly-faced, bespectacled, Grover Norquist, the most powerful man in America who no one ever cast a vote for. He’s famous for saying he wants to shrink government down to the size where you can drown it in the bathtub. He looks like he could do it too; the guy looks like an ax murderer. He is seemingly incapable of smiling, although I’ve seen him grimace a few times in the attempt. Grover runs an outfit called Americans for Tax Reform. He’s the one who pressures Republicans to sign a tax-payers pledge — to never, ever, ever vote to raise taxes for any reason. Now the Constitution says Congress has the power to lay and collect taxes, so this pledge would seem to run afoul of the oath taken when assuming political office. That doesn’t bother Grover, though. He’s got signatures of nearly every Republican in the House and Senate. If they don’t sign, they know they’ll be primaried right out of politics in the next election, so they almost always sign. And Grover has lots of money behind him, from the Koch brothers and other oligarchs. You don’t mess with Grover.
That’s how the two Santa Claus theory works, and it’s been working very well, all the way back to the Reagan years. These guys know how to play the long game. You can also see it in several of the Republican controlled state legislatures, in bills that would make it impossible for the state to raise taxes without a super majority. It’s all to cut off revenue to the government. Conservatives only want government around for the military, police, and the courts. The rest can better be handled by the private sector. The EPA, FDA, and other regulatory agencies also suffer from spending cuts imposed by the Republicans, and that’s just the way they want it. So what you end up with is government unable to spend on the social programs, and again the Democrats are forced to shoot Santa Claus.
We can see this scenario being played out right now, in negotiations to avoid the much hyped “fiscal cliff.” Republicans won’t consider raising taxes on the upper 2% unless the Democrats agree to pump a few rounds into their sacred social programs. We saw the same thing earlier this year in the unprecedented wrestling match over raising the debt ceiling. Finally the Republicans went along, after President Obama agreed to cut the federal unemployment insurance extension from 99 weeks down to 74. BANG! Another shot to Santa Claus.
We just heard this Santa Claus theme several times right after the election, when Mitt Romney complained that the reason Obama won was that he gave things to people. He mentioned contraceptives for college coeds, “Obamacare,” and other social spending programs, adding, “”Sure, if you give people things, they’re going to vote for you.” And Rush Limbaugh actually named it for us: “It’s nearly impossible to beat Santa Claus!
You’ll recall I said that when Democrats are in power, scream about spending. Just about daily, you can hear Speaker of the House John Boehner screeching about out of control spending, and the need for entitlement reform. You should remind yourself that the President can’t spend nuthin’. Only Congress can spend money, and all spending bills must arise in the House — the same one of which Boehner is Speaker. That’s in the Constitution. So it’s just more blather. Whenever they use the word reform, it always means one of two things; privatize or destroy. The top single on their hit parade is reforming entitlements, while NOT raising taxes on the “job creators.” That’s blather, too. Consumers are by far the biggest job creators; 70% of the economy is consumer spending, and when consumers have money, they demand goods. Demand is what creates jobs, nothing else.
While everyone is taking aim at the social programs which were gifts from the Democrats’ Santa, Republican Santa has more than ever to give away. They want to be the only Santa Claus coming to town. And he doesn’t have any gifts for your Christmas stocking or mine, just lumps of coal. But it’s clean coal!