The prominent Republican economist Milton Friedman, in a 15 January 2003 Wall Street Journal op-ed "What Every American Wants," said: "I never met a tax cut I didn't like. ... How can we ever cut government down to size? I believe there is one and only one way: ... cutting taxes. Resulting deficits will be an effective - I would go so far as to say, the only effective - restraint on the spending." First, the debt soars, then the government shrinks. That's the strategy.
Late in 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney told Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, "You know, Paul, Reagan proved that deficits don't matter." President George W. Bush wanted huge tax cuts in 2002, but O'Neill wondered how they were going to be paid for, and so he asked questions about the deficits. He was soon fired and replaced, for that.
On 25 May 2001, the anti-tax radical Grover Norquist said on NPR's "Morning Edition": "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." He was referring only to taxes, not really to spending (which many naïves interpreted him to mean). Virtually every Republican congressional candidate thus signed Norquist's "No New Taxes Pledge," in order to qualify for Norquist's massive campaign-funding from corporate America.
On 21 June 2012, the Wall Street Journal headlined "Norquist: No-Tax Pledge at New Peak," and reported that 534 Republican congressmen and challengers had signed his pledge, compared with just 449 in 2010 (when Republicans retook control of the House).
In fact, soon after President Bush II came into office, this Republican strategy was further explained in Nicholas LeMann's "Bush's Trillions: How to Buy the Republican Majority of Tomorrow," in the New Yorker on 19 February 2001, in which a leading Republican Congressman, soon-to-become Senator, South Carolina's Jim DeMint, was quoted as saying, "Today, fewer and fewer people pay taxes, and more and more are dependent on government. ... Every day, the Republican Party is losing constituents, because every day more people vote themselves more benefits without paying for it."
The goal, therefore, is to loosen the bond between voters and government, by privatizing Social Security, Medicare, public schools, and other social programs. And the best way to force that to happen is to starve government of funds for such programs. It's called "Starve the Beast." If the public comes to hate government, for failing to provide essential services, that's good for the Republican Party: the public's disgust with government will cause more and more Republicans to replace Democrats in Congress, and the White House to become a virtually permanent Republican enclave, because the Republican Party favors "small government." (What a laugh!) As Ronald Reagan (who soared the debt) himself phrased it, in his first inaugural address, "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." So, his man, Norquist, wanted to "drown it in the bathtub."
The goal is thus to shrink government services, and the key to doing it is to drive the government so deeply into debt that slashing government spending will be forced. Deficits are thus an essential part of the Republican strategy, to win their ultimate one-party rule.
What Milton Friedman was saying was nothing else than the operative Republican strategy, and it's still working for them.
There is so much documentation on this, that the resistance that virtually all Republican voters display to acknowledging this key reality of their Party is amazing; it proves a massive disconnect between the Party's operatives, and its electorate. (This disconnect is intentional; Republican voters aren't supposed to know - and most don't.)
This disconnect was shown, for example, recently among the readers' comments that were posted after a news report by Joe Wiesenthal at businessinsider.com - a site whose readership tends to be extremely conservative. On 28 August 2012, Wiesenthal headlined there, "If You're Still Not Convinced That Mitt Romney Can Save The Economy, Look Who He Might Pick For Fed Chair," and Wiesenthal identified Romney's economic advisor Greg Mankiw, former chief economist to George W. Bush, as the likely pick. Mankiw expressed the view that the economy needed massive monetary "stimulus" from the Fed - the type of "stimulus" conservatives love, as opposed to fiscal "stimulus," from the government, which Democratic politicians prefer to use during a recession. Both types of "stimulus" add to deficits in the short term, but fiscal stimulus adds directly to both production and consumption, which monetary stimulus does not (that "stimulus" adds instead directly to Wall Street). (The monetary stimulus is preferred because the benefits don't go to Democratic constituencies.) The predominantly Republican readership didn't believe this news report, and they blamed the "liberal" website and reporter for trying to deceive them. After all: Romney/Ryan are promising to decrease the debt, not to make it soar even faster. Ha, ha, ha!
Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They're Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST'S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.