Recently by Patrick J. Buchanan: The Fall of the House of Labor
“God put the Republican Party on earth to cut taxes. If they don’t do that, they have no useful function.”
Columnist Robert Novak was speaking of the party that embraced the revolution of Ronald Reagan, who had hung a portrait of Calvin Coolidge in his Cabinet Room and set about cutting income tax rates to 28 percent.
But, to be historically precise, the GOP was not put here to cut taxes. From infancy in the 1850s, its mission was to halt the spread of slavery. From 1865 to 1929, it was the party of high tariffs. Mission: Build the nation and protect U.S. industry and the wages of American workers.
And if the Deity commanded the GOP to cut taxes, the party has had an uneven record. Warren Harding and Coolidge cut Woodrow Wilson’s wartime tax rates by two-thirds, but Herbert Hoover nearly tripled the top rate.
Under Dwight Eisenhower, when the top tax rate was 91 percent, the GOP ratified the New Deal and provided the tax revenue to balance the budget at the elevated levels of spending 20 years of Democratic rule had established.
Richard Nixon followed suit. Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, aid to education, the Peace Corps, the arts and humanities endowments, all of the Great Society programs grew — with Nixon adding OSHA, EPA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Cancer Institute.
Reagan cut tax rates to 50-year lows, but also accepted new gasoline and payroll taxes. George H.W. Bush then raised the top rate back to 35 percent.
George W. cut tax rates, but put two wars, prescription drug benefits for seniors and No Child Left Behind on the Visa card. Speaker Boehner is about to sign on to higher tax rates.
Point of this recitation: Republicans may talk of reducing the size of government, cutting taxes and balancing budgets. But the history of the last century suggests the party has been driven into what may be described as an inexorable long retreat.
When Coolidge left the White House to “Wonder Boy,” as he called Hoover, federal spending was 3 percent of gross national product.
Today, it is around 23 percent. Add state, county and municipal government spending, and we are at 38 percent. Anyone think this figure is going down in our lifetimes?
Can anyone say the GOP, if it is the party of small government and low taxes, has over the past 80 years been a successful party? Or does the America of today look more like the country Socialist Norman Thomas had in mind in 1932?
How, conceivably, can spending go down when, from 2012 to 2030, 75 million baby boomers will be retiring and going on Social Security and Medicare at a rate of 10,000 every day?
How can spending go down when a million legal immigrants arrive annually, 85 percent from the Third World, and most lacking the academic and linguistic abilities or the work skills of Americans?
These immigrants — and, with “immigration reform,” 11 million to 12 million illegals, as well — will be eligible for welfare, earned income tax credits, food stamps, rent supplements, Medicaid, Head Start, free schooling K-12 with two or three free meals a day at school, Pell Grants and student loans at graduation, job training and unemployment checks for 99 weeks.
Under Bush and Barack Obama both, these programs have exploded. And with 40 percent of all babies now born to single moms in America, does anyone believe these programs will shrink?
When the Great Wave of immigrants came between 1890 and 1920, these programs did not exist. In the 1930s, welfare was seen even by FDR as a temporary necessity to get through the hard times.
Our gargantuan welfare state of today, however, is permanent, as are the millions of government employees who milk and manage it.
Consider our largest government expenditures.
They would be, at the national level, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, defense, homeland security and interest on the debt. At the state and local level, education, transportation — streets, highways, subways — and public safety.
If God put the Republican Party on this earth to cut taxes, how do we do his work in the face of these inexorable forces for increased spending? Do we ignore the surging deficits and soaring debt?
Mitt Romney said cutting tax rates would lead to a balanced budget. But when? The Bush tax cuts never did. His were the largest deficits of all, until the coming of Obama.
If we would see our future, we should look to Europe. There, the governments consume more than 40 percent of GDP and, in countries like France, almost 60 percent.
In Europe, the militaries have been hollowed out. Political parties face repudiation. Taxes in France have hit 75 percent. The wealthy flee. Pension promises are reneged upon. Government salaries are cut; employees laid off. Unemployment is astronomical for the young. The divisions deepen; the protests grow. Now, Europe’s banks, fearing social unrest, have started to emulate the Fed and buy up regime debt.
Looking at the West over the last century, the arc of history bends toward socialism and insolvency.
Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail] is co-founder and editor of The American Conservative. He is also the author of seven books, including Where the Right Went Wrong, and Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War. His latest book is Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025? See his website.