After graduating as a mining engineer from the University of Idaho, he departed for the Yukon Gold Rush in 1901, not to return to the lower 48 states until the outbreak of World War I. Having grown up well before the advent of radio or television, he had committed to memory thousands of poems and entertained my brother and I for hours with his recitation of song ditties and Robert Service’s descriptions of life in the Arctic. A special delight was The Cremation of Sam McGee. I mention all this because I was reminded of another of his favorites, which seems to capture the surreal quality of the current Republican presidential campaign.
Yesterday upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today.
Oh, how I wish that man would
As we listen to the debates, you would think Ronald Reagan was the last serving Republican President. But his election is now thirty years off. There is an entire generation of younger voters for whom Reagan and the Viet Nam war are now just as distant as the Civil War felt to me. The only thing they know for sure about the 60s is that some pretty fine music was written by the Beatles. Yes, there are boomers who can still recount tales of Watergate and the Iran-Contra fiasco, but even for them, the details are growing fuzzy. It’s George W. Bush we remember as the most recent Republican President. He is the phantom upon the stair.
No matter how poorly the economy has performed for the past three years, and no matter how slowly Barack Obama has corrected our course, it is unlikely that voters will measure his eventual opponent solely on this issue. They will peek over the President’s shoulder at that man on the stair and wonder how a return to Republican leadership would differ from the catastrophe that transpired the last time they were awarded the keys to the American economy. If the Republican candidate fails to clearly separate himself from this history, fails to clearly explain how a return to deregulation and laissez faire economics will produce a different result than it did in 2008, I suspect they will lose.
As a Democrat, that doesn’t greatly trouble me. But, it is troubling that Ron Paul seems the only Republican candidate willing to acknowledge there is plenty of blame to go around. Steven Hayward recently wrote an intriguing analysis of the conservative predicament in the Breakthrough Journal.
The “no new taxes,” “strangle the baby in the crib” approach to federal governance has demonstrably failed. Over the past thirty years our government has continued to grow and three-fourths of the national debt has been incurred during Republican presidencies. Deficits don’t seem to have scared anyone but the bond traders.
Hayward proposes the adoption of a fiscal strategy he terms “serving the check.” If Americans really want a government banquet that provides them with caviar and prime rib services, then they should expect to pay the full check for these programs in taxes. He argues that forcing balanced budgets through higher taxes would prove far more likely to curb government expansion than has the current “starve-the-beast” strategy. I suspect he’s right, and I would further speculate that there are Democrats who would join in such an effort. They abhor deficits just as much as most conservatives, but they believe voters are willing to pay for the services they receive. Why not put this conviction to the test?
It has to have a better result for all concerned than the calamitous course we are currently on.
Miller Hudson is a contributing columnist to The Colorado Statesman. He is a former telecommunications exec, state representative, lobbyist, mayoral candidate, president of a statewide trade organization, drama critic, historian and writer.