The secret history of GOP mythmaking: How the Republican Party abandoned facts in favor of propaganda

The economy does better under Democrats than Republicans. So why do so many Americans think otherwise?

Published November 13, 2015 10:57AM (EST)

  (AP/Bill Haber/Carolyn Kaster/Photo montage by Salon)
(AP/Bill Haber/Carolyn Kaster/Photo montage by Salon)

As Jonathan Cohn pointed out in the Huffington Post, there was one question during the fourth Republican debate earlier this week that candidates carefully avoided addressing, because, well, it was a question full of facts that contradict the Republican mythology when it comes to the economy. Directed at the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, Carly Fiorina, Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo asked the following:

“In seven years under President Obama, the U.S. has added an average of 107,000 jobs a month. Under President Clinton, the economy added about 240,000 jobs a month. Under George W. Bush, it was only 13,000 a month. If you win the nomination, you'll probably be facing a Democrat named Clinton. How are you going to respond to the claim that Democratic presidents are better at creating jobs than Republicans?”

Since the Reagan years, the notion that Republicans are somehow more fiscally responsible and better at creating jobs and economic growth than Democrats has proven to be as stubborn a myth as the idea that the founding fathers were Christian zealots like Ben Carson and Ted Cruz. (They certainly were not.) The economy is an extremely complicated subject, and there are countless variables that go into how it performs, but since the Second World War, the data is quite clear: The economy performs significantly better when a Democrat is president.

You would never know this if you just listened to Republican talking points about job-killing Democrats who want to give everything away for free and regulate the private sector until entire industries are strangled. In Grand Old Party folklore, whenever taxes are raised, the economy plunges into ruin, and when they are slashed (especially for the job-creators) -- as they were under Reagan and Bush Jr. -- the economy becomes so prosperous that government revenue actually increases! Sen. Rand Paul, R- Ky., said as much earlier this year:

“The last president we had was Ronald Reagan that said we’re going to dramatically cut tax rates. And guess what? More revenue came in, but tens of millions of jobs were created.”

The Washington Post did a good job in debunking this claim. First of all, fewer jobs were created per year under Reagan than under either Clinton -- who increased income taxes -- or Jimmy Carter. (Two million jobs were added per year under Reagan, compared to 2.6 million under Carter.) Second, revenue did not increase with Reagan’s tax cuts, but with his four subsequent tax increases (passed in 1982, 1983, 1984 and 1987). The first major income tax cut came in 1981, which slashed the top rate from 70 to 50 percent, and reduced — yes, reduced — revenue by $208 billion in its first four years. And, of course, the federal debt just about tripled under Reagan, who increased spending (especially on defense) while revenue decreased overall (when measured to the GDP).

But don’t expect any Republican candidates to learn from the Gipper’s mistakes. (Especially when they blindly refuse to acknowledge them.) Most of the Republican tax plans are downright silly. Ben Carson has proposed a flat tax based on the bible; Donald Trump’s plan, which includes massive cuts — disproportionately beneficial for the rich — would add over $10 trillion to the deficit; while Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, proposes a 10 percent flat tax on all incomes (including capital gains and dividends) and the abolition of the IRS.

Republicans may have been “fiscally responsible” at one point in history, but they have long since given up that title to serve the wealthiest of Americans. Or as David Stockman, the former budget director under Reagan, who later became a critic of Reaganomics, put it:

"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.”

It certainly does seem as if Republicans are fighting a holy war at times — for the rich and against everyone else. They have crafted a mythology, which can be easily discredited with a simple Google search, that they are better at handling the economy.

And people still believe it: According to polls done by the Pew Research Center, 44 vs. 40 percent of people believe Republicans do a better job at the economy, while 47 vs. 36 percent believe they do better with taxes. History clearly does not back this up, but the right-wing noise machine — from talk radio to Fox News to think tanks like Heritage Foundation  — have created this mythology over the years, and thanks to unlimited funding from special interests, it has stuck.

So when Maria Bartiromo laid out the facts — that the economy has indeed performed better under Democrats, when taxes were higher and more regulations were enforced — Fiorina and others quickly fell back on the same old folklore, i.e., lower taxes, fewer regulations, smaller government and so on will create growth and more jobs and Make Us Great Again! Facts have become unwelcome in Republican circles, and when they contradict a GOP talking point — as they often do — Republicans just double down on them uncritically or blame the liberal media. The party of Lincoln has abandoned truth, and in its holy war to dismantle the welfare state and set corporations free, the middle class has suffered the most.

By Conor Lynch

Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.

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