The dictionary defines “revolution” as a complete change in something. Thus, when Republicans called the 1994 election results a Republican revolution, everyone naturally assumed that there was going to be a complete change in the nature of government in America.
In the euphoria of the ’94 election results, Republicans said that taxes and government spending were going to be slashed. They called for the end of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs. There was talk about abolishing a multitude of departments and agencies, including the Departments of Education and Commerce, and, of course, the National Endowment for the Arts. After all, this was a revolution – a complete change in the nature of the federal government.
Alas, with Republicans proudly endorsing another $1.7 trillion budget, it’s not hard to see that the revolution fizzled before it even got a good start.
What would a real revolution look like? Well, Franklin Roosevelt himself provided us a good example. But to gr the magnitude of that revolution, it is necessary to recognize the magnitude of the revolution it replaced – the revolution of 1776.
Imagine living in a society where the federal government imposed no income taxation; welfare; immigration controls; restrictions on foreign travel; and economic regulations. As a result of the American revolution, citizens of the United States in the 19th century were free to engage in businesses enterprises and enter into economic transactions without federal regulation. And they were once free to accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth and do whatever they wanted with it – spend, save, invest, donate, or hoard it.
Now, that was a revolution!
And the result of this revolution was the most prosperous (and charitable) period the world had ever seen. Penniless people, who otherwise would have died of starvation or sickness, as their ancestors had throughout the Middle Ages, flooded American shores throughout the 19th century to have the chance to survive. And not only did they survive, they prospered in a manner mankind had never before even imagined. And it was that accumulation of wealth that funded museums, schools, colleges, opera houses, and a multitude of other charitable activities — purely on a voluntary basis (and not because of an income-tax deduction because, again, there was no income tax).
Then came the revolution of 1932. The seed for it had been planted in 1913, with the enactment of the 16th Amendment – the income-tax amendment. More seeds were sown in the 1920s, with the advent of a few welfare-state programs.
But it was Franklin Roosevelt who completely changed the role of government in American society. For the first time in American history, the primary function of the federal government became to tax one group of people in order to deliver the money to others. Here was the advent of the welfare state in America.
That, indeed, was a revolution!
Harkening back to America’s 1776 ideological roots, Republicans still talk about the virtues of “private property, free markets, and limited government.” Unfortunately, however, it is all mere rhetoric. Republicans meekly surrendered to the Roosevelt revolution long ago. Eager to talk about private acts of immorality, Republicans shun any discussion of the political immorality in which they themselves are now engaged.
Taking a person’s property against his will in order to give it to someone else is no longer political theft. Republicans now call it charity and compassion. Governmental interference with economic activity is no longer tyranny. It is now called freedom. The income tax, the welfare state, and the regulated society are not an abandonment of the principles on which America was founded. They are a continuation of them.
And today, Republicans openly and proudly embrace and expand such New Deal and Great Society programs as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and federal aid to education.
It’s all what psychiatrists would call a “the life of the lie” – a life, to paraphrase Goethe, in which the slave is grateful to his masters because he falsely believes he is free.
With the most hobbled president in recent memory, Republicans had one of the greatest opportunities in political history to overturn the Roosevelt revolution and restore the revolution on which this nation was founded. The 1998 budget deal, entailing the taxing and spending of another $1.7 trillion of the hard-earned money of the American people, is proof positive that the 1994 Republican revolution was no revolution at all.