I find it alternately amazing, amusing, and annoying that the Republican Party has suddenly decided that deficit spending is bad. We’ve had Republican presidents for 20 of the last 29 years. During that time, they practiced Herbert Hoover’s trickle-down economics of helping the rich get richer. At the same time, they borrowed what was needed to run our national programs, ran up our national debt, and made paying the interest on that debt one of the largest programs – and certainly the most wasteful program – in our government.
Ronald Reagan cut taxes on the wealthy, borrowed and spent, and tripled the national debt within four years. It was “morning in America,” there was pie in the sky, and we could borrow forever. He sold our soul to Japanese banks and was reelected in one of the largest landslides in American history. The lesson the Republican Party learned from Mr. Reagan was that voters don’t care about deficits.
The first President Bush inherited the huge Reagan debt and the Savings and Loan Crisis. Eventually, to head off a complete economic collapse, he broke his popular but unrealistic campaign promise of “No new taxes.” As a result, he was voted out of office after one term. The Republican base deserted him, apparently believing that he should never have cared about deficits regardless of the consequences.
The second President Bush reinstated Reaganomics, cut taxes on the wealthy, borrowed and spent, went unnecessarily to war in Iraq on a credit card, sold our soul to Chinese banks, and doubled the national debt. His administration didn’t believe in government regulation and refused to deal with his huge deficits. Before he could get out of office, we had the biggest stock market crash since the Reagan Era, the biggest bank collapses since the Reagan Era and also in American history (Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual), and the near meltdown of the global economy.
Now that President Obama is using deficit spending to get us out of all these messes, the Republican extremists are stirring up their followers to protest the deficit! Where were all these people during the last eight years or during the twelve years of Reagan-Bush? Why didn’t they care when we needed them? They seem to have already forgotten that we are now in the Bush-Cheney Great Recession and that we need to avoid a second Great Depression.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Democrat) inherited the Great Depression from Herbert Hoover (Republican) and offered the people a New Deal. Relief, Recovery, and Reform were the three primary issues that he faced. His Relief and Reform efforts were so successful that they have saved us from disaster time and again when some of his successors practiced irresponsible policies. However, the New Deal was less successful in Recovery, and it would take World War II to restore the nation to full employment.
The biggest mistake that FDR made during the 1930’s was pulling back on deficit spending during his second term. It threw the country back into another economic downturn. President Obama should not make the same mistake. Deficits are bad when they are used at the wrong time and must be dealt with, but not now!
by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published September 18, 2009, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.