Friday, October 17, 2008

30 years of the Republican Con Game” by Bill Honer, 2008

The Republican confidence game began with Ronald Reagan, whose disastrous administration redistributed the wealth in America in favor of the rich through the passage of three tax cuts that increased the wealth of the top 1% of Americans from 25% to 37% of the total wealth of the nation. 

Prior to his administration, the percentage of wealth controlled by the top 1% of the population had remained relatively constant since World War II.  However, by the time Reagan left office, the top 10% of Americans controlled more than 65% of the wealth, a higher level of inequality of wealth than in any advanced nation in the world. President Reagan retained the minimum wage at $3.35 an hour during his eight years in office. He then followed a policy of “borrow and spend” in order to pay for the costs of government rather than have his wealthy masters pay more of the current societal costs. As one observer noted about President Reagan, “he was bought and  never even knew it”.

When he left office, the federal deficit had ballooned to more than $200 billion. Similar large deficits occurred with George H. Bush and George W. Bush. In each case, the deficit at the time of their departure exceeded $200 billion. When the Democrat Bill Clinton left office, the treasury contained a surplus of $200 billion. That surplus was promptly squandered by President Bush through the 2001 tax cut of $1 trillion, of which $500 billion, or 50%, went to those with incomes in excess of $330,000 per year.

The rich had ample reason to vote for him, but their numbers have never been sizable enough to elect a president.  Reagan needed the votes of lower and middle income citizens. Given the fact that he was not prepared to offer them substantial benefits, how did he attract their vote? He did so by selling them on the deeply flawed idea that “Government isn’t the solution, government is the problem.”, while ignoring the numerous benefits, such as Social Security, unemployment benefits, educational support, and housing assistance that had helped millions of Americans during the 20th century.


Indeed, post-World War II housing and education programs created wealth and educational opportunities for the middle class that were previously unavailable. In the face of this myriad of services and benefits, how could he sell the American people on such an absurd notion that government per se was a problem? Of course, improving government services and responsiveness is a perennial problem, but not the presence of government itself, which the Constitution states exists “to promote the general welfare”?


The answer lies in part in the American experience during the 19th century that resulted in traditions of 

anti-intellectualism and rugged individualism that have continued to the present-day. The popularity of Sarah Palin, who publicly disgraced herself with the lack of knowledge of current events and a tacit admission that she doesn’t read newspapers, is strong evidence that anti-intellectualism remains alive and well in America. Geert Hofstede, a Dutch sociologist, has studied cross-cultural levels of individualism, the belief that citizens, not society, are primarily responsible for their well-being. He concluded that Americans demonstrated the highest level of individualism among the 70 nations studied.


Phrases that resonate with many lower and middle income American conservatives include “why should I send my money to Washington? or “why should I have to pay for someone else’s health care?”  In these questions, there is an implicit rejection by American conservatives of a shared society within America.

It is, by the standards of the advanced nations of the world, it is a rather crude and barbaric view of American Society. The Republican con game has continued to resonate with many Americans throughout subsequent administrations. Vice presidential candidate Palin has continued in this tradition in her campaign speeches.


 American conservatives are overwhelmingly white. Indeed the Republican Convention floor was  filled with so many white faces that one commentator noted it was a good place to play “Where’s Waldo?”, with Waldo being a person of color. However, the days of white domination of the electorate are clearly numbered.  According to the U.S. Census projections, 62% of Americans will be persons of color by 2042. Given the continued anti-intellectual and individualistic sensibilities of many white American conservatives, the Republican Party cannot survive without increased inclusiveness in its policies that extend beyond the colors of red, white and blue.



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