The political liberalism that emerged during Franklin Roosevelt presidency and after WWII was characterized by a generosity and a tendency to do good. In fact, liberals were derisively called "do gooders." This liberal philosophy did not rest on self-interest or individualism.
This idealism affected and pervaded domestic policy. The fruits of it were Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, programs to help farmers, minorities, arts and humanities, education, space exploration, etc.
This liberalism became the dominant philosophy. President Eisenhower, the only Republican president from 1933 to 1969, wrote a 1954 letter to his brother Edgar saying: "Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. ... Their number is negligible and they are stupid." This Republican president supported the highest tax rates in our history and warned of the power of our "military-industrial complex."
Liberalism's impact went beyond domestic policy. It had a profound impact in a second area: foreign policy. Liberal thought fostered and help create the United Nations, NATO, Peace Corps, Alliance for Progress, Organization of American States, etc. It promoted the notion that the US should be the undisputed world leader and have the very strongest military. This would allow the U.S. to shape the future of other nations and impose policies that we said would benefit them. Significantly, these were aims which the founders of this nation never aspired to or even imagined.
The Great Society of the Johnson Administration (1963-1969) was the zenith of liberalism; the economic pie was growing so fast that it was thought that government could contribute to innumerable projects.
In sum, liberalism spawned more expensive domestic and foreign policies than we had ever had in the 1800s. But trouble for liberalism came in the 1970s. Why? Liberalism was based on economic growth. After the big economic shocks of the mid-1970s, economic growth slowed and the U.S. has never again had the kind of strong and sustained economic growth that it had from 1950 to 1969 when liberalism was dominant. It's now clear that the growth of those years was based on factors which were temporary, unique and unrepeatable. No institution, even government, can maintain its previous level of generosity when its income growth is slowing. The 1970s posed critical questions: At what expense is the military-industrial complex maintained? As Eisenhower had warned, the money used for military purposes could be used for domestic needs. Above all, was the foreign or domestic aspect of liberalism most important?
Answers came after 1980, when Republicans took the lead in attempting to dismantle liberal domestic programs while maintaining a liberal internationalist foreign policy. Welfare recipients were labeled "welfare queens." The U.S. invasion of Vietnam, primarily undertaken to serve the interest of President Johnson's war on poverty, was abandoned and welfare recipients were used as proof by global capitalists that government can't do anything right and so should lessen its efforts to help the most vulnerable Americans.
The Reagan years offers dramatic proof that the Republican approach does not reduce deficits: Reagan's annual deficits averaged almost four times the size of his immediate predecessor, Jimmy Carter. President George W. Bush said Reagan was his favorite president, and undertook invasions which will cost taxpayers $4 trillion.
And, again savings from cuts to the poor were more than offset by tax cuts for the wealthy and military spending. It disingenuous that Republicans do not admit that they are going to hurt millions of Americans so that they can maintain a liberal internationalist foreign policy.
Today, when asked about helping the vulnerable Americans, Republicans respond: "Sorry, the government is broke."
Yet at the same time they promise a more belligerent and meddlesome foreign policy and big increases in military spending and possibly a war with Iran. They seem incapable of understanding that "small government" philosophy is utterly incompatible with global leadership and expanding the military- industrial complex.
In spite of their rhetoric, no one should believe Republicans are the party of small government. They have shown they can turn their back on the poor and middle class and still expand deficits.
Should the Republicans prevail, several predictions are safe: 1. There will be an increase in the suffering of the lower income and most vulnerable domestically.
2. U.S. foreign policy will be as internationalist as ever and the costs of our meddlesome foreign policy will more than offset the savings of domestic stinginess.
3. The deficit will worsen.
Jones lives in West Haven