Jonathan Chait

Conservative Economic Hysteria In 1993 And Today

By

One aspect of the current bout of right-wing economic hysteria that nobody seems to mention is that the exact same thing happened in 1993 when Bill Clinton passed a deficit reduction bill that raised the top tax rate. It was class warfare, socialism or worse. Publications like Forbes and Fortune wrote stories urging rich people to give up their citizenship or flee the country in order to spare themselves Clinton's punitive anti-rich policies. There were bumper stickers depicting the "C" in "Clinton" as a hammer and sickle.

Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith (h/t Eric Kleefeld) digs up a letter from Sharron Angle from that period that reflects the tenor of theĀ conservative worldview:

I and the majority of my fellow Nevadans are sickened by the passage of the recent huge tax increase bill. With YOUR help the quality of life in America has taken another step into the pit of economic collapse. Clinton's mother-of-all tax packages is the world's biggest tax increase ever. It increases government spending by $300 billion, increases the national debt by $1 trillion, it is retroactive to January 1, and probably the most offensive, it schedules 80 percent of the promised spending cuts to take place after the next Presidential election. ...

"Please take the following words of Professor Alexander Tyler to heart. He said, 'A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves a largess from the treasury. From that moment on, the majority will always vote for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy.'

A couple points. Obviously, none of these predictions came true -- the ballooning of the deficit, the collapse of the economy, the end of democracy. As I've noted before, the climate of opinion around Clinton's economic program is strikingly similar to the climate of opinion around the Affordable Care Act. In both cases, liberals were disappointed at what they considered a watered-down compromise, moderates were very cautious in their praise, and conservatives utterly hysterical in their opposition. The utter failure of the conservative doomsaying to come to pass -- any element of it at all, from the recession to the ballooning deficit and spending to economic collapse and dictatorship -- prompted no rethinking whatsoever on the right. It's just on to the next bout of hysteria with the old one forgotten.

Second, the quotation from "Alexander Tyler" appears to be fictitious. The quote seems to have originated sometime around the middle twentieth century on the American right, with the author's name and exact predictions undergoing numerous changes along the way. The durability of the line suggests a deep fear of economic democracy on the right. After all, in a democracy, people can vote to raise taxes on others and spend money on themselves. The most fundamental element of modern conservative belief is an abhorrence of economic redistribution, and the need to concoct an 18th century prophet to give voice to this fear is a reflection of the centrality of that fear.

Loading Related Articles...
Article Tools
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

Show all 9 comments

You must be a subscriber to post comments. Subscribe today.