Few political activists have had a bigger impact on the direction of public opinion than Grover Nordquist. Over the past 30 years, he has successfully shifted public opinion—at least conservative perspectives—on two major topics. First, tax cuts. He has made tax cuts the sole conservative solution to the economy in whatever condition it may be in. If the economy is good, we need tax cuts; if the economy is bad, we need tax cuts. He joins others radical conservatives, such as Arthur Laffer, in promoting the idea that tax cut increase government revenue. Nordquist has famously convinced the majority of congress to sign his tax pledge not to raise taxes, which has made it very difficult to manage the deficit, especially during a tough economy.
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In a moment of honesty, Vice President Dick Cheney told a reporter, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter” (source). Yet, more often the Republicans and their fringe backers, Fox News and the Tea Party, have made the deficit a source a public anxiety and anger. The reality is that deficit spending is required for a healthy economy, and we have been in much more debt in the past (i.e., during WWII) and we experienced the greatest boom and largest middle-class in our history (source).
Conclusion: Don’t believe Republican fear-mongering about the deficit. They don’t cut spending (unless it helps the low-income/middle-class), they increase spending when they are in power (esp. military spending and corporate handouts, incorrectly thinking it will “trickle down”). Democrats are more likely to spend on domestic priorities that drive the economy. We are doing the right thing in spending—we may even need more spending to speed up the recovery. When the private sector stops spending, the government must spend to make up the difference to up-start the economy. In the current political atmosphere, Obama could only get so much included in the stimulus. But is has been enough to avoid catastrophe. The Republicans, who blocked further stimulus, blame Democrats for failing to fix the problem their party leaders helped create under Bush. When the smaller stimulus is slow to improve the situation, they blame the ineffective nature of the public sphere, and advocate a private industry fix through their typical policy prescription: tax cuts for the rich, which would significantly increase the deficit over time—which is more evidence that they are not serious about their deficit alarmist rhetoric. To get jobs moving again, why can’t both sides quite playing fear-politics, get together, and find some things to spend money on? With John Boehner pulling the strings, I won’t hold my breath.