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Two years ago I noticed (and wrote in these pages) that in modern times it has generally been Republican administrations that have been the budget-busters at the federal level. This was a startling discovery only because the conventional wisdom, or common trope, goes the other way: those crazy Dems want to spend all your money and we Republicans stand for fiscal control.

It’s nonsense, and anybody who wants to can look it up. (The Congressional Budget Office publishes the numbers.)

Eric Kuhn

It remains strange to me that this plain truth is not spoken by Democrats generally. Since Republicans still work the trope, why not point out that the emperor is basically naked? Maybe we should unplug the Democratic Party, plug it back in, and see if the little light comes on. Is there current to that outlet?

As to the pattern itself — the blooming deficits during Republican administrations — I am not a bit puzzled. Democrats believe in taxation, including taxation of people and entities that actually have money, and Republicans don’t. On the spending side, whatever (if anything) “small government” means, it has not meant Republicans restraining federal spending during the last 50 years.

In practice, there’s the tax-and-spend party and the borrow-and-spend party.

Along the way I noticed a remarkable thing about the Democratic Party in America: it held the majority in the House continuously from 1931, when Herbert Hoover was president, until 1995, when Bill Clinton was president, except the 80th Congress in 1947-8. This was a multi-generational hegemony. No more; since then, the shoe is mostly on the other foot. Of 15 Congresses starting in 1995, 11 have had Republican majorities. What happened?

[Eric Kuhn, musician, columnist]

One explanation of that multi-generational hegemony is, basically, labor versus management. The GOP was and is the party of capital, of management. In almost any business, laborers are more numerous than managers. If workers habitually voted their economic interest, that would explain a durable Democrat majority.

The inflection point came when Clinton was president. His big idea was moving the party to the right; after 12 years of Reagan/Bush, Clinton wanted to be “centrist.” This meant, among other things, foregoing the natural labor/capital advantage, distancing the party from the unions, and doing NAFTA instead. (Other features included “the end of welfare as we know it,” and really long prison sentences served disproportionately by Black Americans.) The party remains enamored of big free-market agreements, and remained enamored of the Clintons until Hillary lost to Trump.

When millions of voters were excited about a Bernie Sanders candidacy, the party apparatus was terrified. Part of that was understandable fear of losing: Is America ready for a Jewish guy with a pronounced New York accent and untidy hair? It’s a fair question, in a gutless sort of way. But beyond that, the man has the word “socialist’ attached to him, and it isn’t going to get detached. People out there in the USA know that our economic system isn’t working for them, but the Democratic Party’s kingmakers seem allergic to the idea that there’s any basic problem there. They’re still centrists, I guess, but at the center of what?

These days, a blue collar often means a red vote. It can certainly be argued that the worker’s true economic interest hasn’t relocated; it’s in red states that minimum wages stay low and in blue states that they rise. But at the national level, there’s a perception that the Democrats are about big money. Obama’s response to the financial crash he inherited included shoveling tens of billions of dollars to Wall Street firms; it worked, if the job was to restore the status quo ante. Regular people who didn’t love that status quo were left not loving that Democratic Party.

The Clintons are now worth some $280 million; the Obamas, around $180 million. Nice work if you can get it! It’s not that they’re “one percenters;” that would go without saying. These people reside in the upper reaches of that one percent. Good for them, I suppose, but as icons of the Democrat establishment, their super-wealth does not help the party appeal to regular Americans struggling to make ends meet.

What else has changed since 1995? Well, the Voting Rights Act has been gutted, and voter suppression is now rather overt where Republicans make the rules. In those locales, gerrymandering is now a science, complete with big data and practitioners who boast about their ability to arrange a lopsided majority of Republican seats in a state where the voters are evenly split.

The other big recent development is the rise of (1) distractions, (2) shameless lies, and (3) the crazy. I will consider them in turn:

1) Distractions. Back when the Republican party could never get a majority in the House, they were the party of business and people understood that. They’re still the party of business, but they’d rather talk about Hunter Biden’s laptop or the threat posed by drag shows. It seems to work better than affirming something true and relevant, like their affinity for business interests.

2) The big lie. The G.W. Bush administration spent 2002 telling us that Iraq was somehow involved with 9/11. Everybody who knew anything, including then-Senator Hillary Clinton, knew that was nonsense, but somehow neither she nor the rest of the Democratic establishment could manage to stammer out “But that’s not true.” Bush got his war, and a second term. It was a disaster for, among other things, our political culture; the clear moral was that The Big Lie can work in 21st century America. Republican strategists have never looked back.

3) The crazy. During the final weeks of the 2016 presidential race, someone anonymously posted the laughable idea that Hillary Clinton was sex-trafficking children out of a D.C. eatery. By election day, some 40% of registered Republicans said they thought there might be something to Pizzagate, and things have only got weirder since. I have to end here because the Rothschilds aimed a laser from space at my back yard, which is now on fire. Wish me luck with the garden hose!

Eric Kuhn lives in Middletown.