Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson Explains “How the GOP Became the Party of the Rich”

Rolling Stone‘s Tim Dickinson wrote a brilliant article a few days ago with a simple, analogous title: “How the GOP Became the Party of the Rich.”

You cannot truly understand the modern Republican Party without understanding what happened in the late 20th century to the American economy and tax code. Historically, the Republican Party was the party of higher taxes. To pay for the many wars America entered into and investments in infrastructure, education and science, tax rates for the rich were pretty high. When John F. Kennedy (yes, that Catholic Democrat with good hair) cut taxes in the 1960s, the top rate was at 70 percent. In case you forgot, America’s Middle Class boomed in the mid 20th century.

When inflation pushed many Americans into higher tax brackets in the 1970s, fiscal conservatives like Ronald Reagan rose in popularity. Reagan’s image and message resonated with many who became disenchanted with the American Dream in the decade of anti-war riots, vast social change, Watergate and a frightening oil crisis. As Dickinson writes, Reagan “sold the country” on what was called an “across-the-board” tax cut that brought the top rate down to 50 percent.

The Reagan presidency was incredibly expensive to the American people. Defense spending went through the roof as taxes went down overall. Sure, Reagan raised taxes 11 times in eight years to help pay (somewhat) for his tax cuts for the rich and Cold War dominance. In 1980, the top marginal tax rate was 70 percent. By 1990, it was 28 percent. When President George H.W. Bush raised taxes to help close the deficit, he lost his second term, thanks to a man named Grover Norquist.

If it weren’t for the billionaire Koch brothers, who pretty much single-handedly funded the Tea Party movement, Grover Norquist would be the leader of the modern Republican Party. Norquist runs the ironically-named group “Americans For Tax Reform,” an organization dedicated to fighting any and all tax hikes by intimidating Republican politicians into never voting/acting to raise taxes. When President George H.W. Bush lapsed on his promise to never raise taxes, he paid for his N0rquist betrayal with his presidency.

Fast-forward to 2011, where the United States of America is suffering the effects of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. President George W. Bush led America into two wars and enacted expensive policies while at the same slashing taxes to historical lows. In the past, America would raise taxes to pay for things like wars, prescription drug and education programs. But thanks to the anti-tax likes of Norquist, taxes for the richest Americans are at historical lows while the rest of the country suffers through cuts in education, public safety and welfare. Some of the largest American corporations in the world didn’t even pay any taxes in 2010…we actually continue to pay them billions of dollars in tax breaks as they continue to cut jobs. The cost to the US has been trillions of dollars.

As Dickinson explains, tax breaks actually cost more than all that is taken in from taxes, $1.2 trillion to $1.1 trillion. During the last debt ceiling debacle in Congress, Republicans refused to budge in negotiations (thank you, Tea Party and Grover Norquist). Democrats were willing to cut spending and lower taxes for the Middle Class and poor in return for letting the Bush Tax Cuts expire, which would return the top marginal tax rate to what it was under President Clinton, 39.6 percent, and bring in much-needed revenue. Republicans refused because it would “hurt” job creation.

snapshot of Dickinson's Rolling Stone article

One wonders what Ronald Reagan would think of his own party today. GOP presidential candidates love invoking Reagan when talking about how cutting government is always a good thing. Even Reagan’s former budget director, David Stockman, thinks the modern Republican Party exists to service the rich:

“The Republican Party has totally abdicated its job in our democracy, which is to act as the guardian of fiscal discipline and responsibility. They’re on an anti-tax jihad – one that benefits the prosperous classes.”

Dickinson also quoted Bruce Bartlett, one of the architects of the 1981 tax cut (that brought the top rate down from 70 percent to 50):

“Taxes are ridiculously low! And yet the mantra of the Republican Party is ‘Tax cuts raise growth.’ So – where’s the fucking growth?”

Dickinson’s in-depth, brilliantly written article is on Rolling Stone‘s website. If you have the time to read it (it’s long), I highly recommend that you do.

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BREAKING: Ronald Reagan Was A Liberal Socialist Who Ate Children!

“We’re going to close the unproductive tax loopholes that allow some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share. Such tax loopholes sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary – and that’s crazy. Do you think the millionaire ought to pay more in taxes than the bus driver or less?”

The following quote comes from Saint Reagan, the GOP saint invoked to end arguments by simply saying, “That’s what Reagan did.”

Politics in this country have shifted so far to the right that what was once considered centrist, even center-right, is now considered “liberal.” *”liberal” said with disdain in the voice*

When an entire political party essentially advances the interests of the rich and declares war on everyone else economically, you know something is wrong. Too much Ayn Rand?

Rich/Poor Gap Widens, America Declines

Poverty in the United States is on the rise. According to the 2010 US Census, the poverty rate in the United States rose to 15.1 percent, the highest it’s been in 17 years. Obviously, this means the median annual income also dropped…by 2 percent and down to $49,445. In fact, during the past decade, the Middle Class saw rather mediocre income growth, the poor saw virtually none and the rich saw a steady rise (in the face of large tax cuts for America’s wealthy).

The 2001 Bush Tax cuts brought the highest marginal tax rate down from 39.6 percent to 35%. During President Bush’s term, America also entered two expensive wars….and did not raise taxes to help fund them. We lost several thousand American troops in the fight to weaken al-Qaeda and take out Osama Bin Laden. We’ve done that and yet the war(s) rages on. Rather than end the wars (or at least vastly reduce the number of service members),  Uncle Sam decided to cut services. Oh, we also [still] have service members in Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and South Korea. The last time I checked, WWII and the Korean War ended.

Had it not been for unemployment insurance, the poverty rate would undoubtedly be higher.

I am not trying to instigate a class war. To the contrary: I hope to be rich some day! The ability to reach one’s dreams through hard work and talent is one of the greatest things about this country. Millions flock to America for the chance at making it big. However, I am against policies and actions that make things better for the well-off at the expense of everyone else. That is the very definition of irresponsible.

It is irresponsible to maintain the status quo in healthcare availability, for example, while entire families go uninsured because they cannot afford even basic care. It is irresponsible to leave a person’s teeth to rot in their mouths because they cannot afford a procedure at the dentists’ office. It is irresponsible for intelligent and hard-working young people to have to drop out of college because they cannot afford it. I have personally witnessed all of these situations (and lived through the last one – thankfully, I’ll be returning to college this coming Spring 2012 semester).

I’m not an expert and I don’t have all the answers. However, I do wonder where our government’s priorities have gone. My simple proposal is this: return tax rates to what they were under President Clinton (39.6% as the highest marginal tax rate), end the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and actually bring the service members home and invest in extremely valuable things like education, jobs programs, infrastructure and science and technology. Poets and authors predicted that the 21st century would be golden. Let’s fulfill their prophecies.