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img054 - 110 Politic by Other Means From Beneficiaries to...

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Unformatted text preview: 110 Politic: by Other Means From Beneficiaries to Taxpayers Middle—income suburbanites were a second group to which the Republicans appealed. The GOP attempted to convince these vot— ers to regard themselves less as beneficiaries of federal expenditure programs than as taxpayers. After World War 11 many suburban- ites were integrated into the political process and linked to the Democratic party by federal programs that subsidized mortgages, built arterial highways, and expanded access to higher education. By placating the poor and reducing working—class militancy, De- mocratic welfare and labor programs also promoted social peace. In exchange for the benefits they received, members of the middle class gave their support to the various expenditure programs through which the Democratic party channeled public funds to its other constituency groups: crop subsidies for farmers, maritime subsidies for the shipping industry, and so on. This system of in- terest group liberalism enabled the Democrats to accommodate the claims of a host of disparate groups in their electoral coalition.8 During the 1960s and 19705 many benefits that middle-income Americans had come to expect from federal programs and policies were sharply curtailed. For example, rising mortgage interest rates increased housing costs, affirmative action programs seemed to threaten the middle class’s privileged access to higher education, so— cial peace was disrupted by urban violence and riots, and above all, double-digit inflation during the late 19705 eroded the middle class’s real income and standard of living. The curtailment of these benefits undermined the political basis of the loyalty that many middle-income individuals had shown to the Democrats. This pro— vided the GOP with an opportunity to win their support.9 In wooing suburbanites, the GOP Chose not to promise new fed— eral benefits although, to be sure, it did not seek to repeal existing middle—class benefit programs. Instead it sought to link these in- dividuals to the Republican camp in their capacity as taxpayers. In 1980 Reagan declared tax relief to be a central political issue. The Republicans argued that taxation was linked to inflation and The Republican Offemive 1 11 blamed high rates of inflation on Democratic tax and spending policies. Indeed, Reagan called inflation the “cruelest tax of all.” After Reagan’s 1980 election his administration cooperated with Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker in a relentless attack on inflation.10 The Reagan—Volcker war on inflation was successful, albeit at the cost of a severe recession and high rates of unemployment for blue-collar workers. At the same time the Rea— gan administration provided middle- and upper-income groups with a sizable reduction in federal income tax rates. Reagan’s warn- ing to middle—income voters that the Democrats wanted to take their tax cuts away was a crucial element of his successful 1984 campaign against Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mon— dale. This theme was echoed by George Bush in 1988. Bush promised to oppose any efforts to raise federal income tax rates and heaped scorn on Michael Dukakis’s proposal to step up collection of delinquent federal taxes. Bush derided what he characterized as a Democratic plan to put an Internal Revenue Service auditor into every taxpayer’s home. In the 19805 the Republican party was successful in convincing middle-income Americans to focus on taxes. In 1976 only 2 per- cent of middle-class voters identified taxes and spending as im- portant national problems; by 1984, 23 percent of voters with above-average incomes did 50. Of these voters, 67 percent cast their ballots for the Republican presidential candidate.11 Republicans appealed to members of the middle class as taxpay- ers rather than as beneficiaries of spending programs chiefly because they hoped to erode middle-income support for domestic expendi— tures in general. Transforming middle-class Americans into taxpay- ers not only linked them to the Republican party but also helped undermine the entire apparatus of interest group liberalism through which the Democrats maintained their various constituencies’ alle- giances. This helped disorganize the Democrats’ political base. Republican tax policies also served to divide a politically im- portant middle-class group—college-educated professionals—that had given substantial support to the Democrats during the 19603 ...
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