The moment the word is used as a pejorative in economics one knows the speaker is a liberal. It was in fact a liberal favorite during the Reagan presidency. Indeed, the entire 1980s was labeled “The Decade of Greed” by the American left.
Listen to the left on this.
John Edwards: “Corporate power and greed have literally taken over the government.”
Barack Obama: “There was a time when the Christian Coalition determined that its number one legislative priority was tax cuts for the rich. I don’t know what Bible they’re reading, but it doesn’t jibe with my version.”
Al Gore: “I believe Bill Clinton and I were right to maintain in our 1992 campaign that we should fight for the ‘forgotten middle class’ against the ‘forces of greed.'”
John Kerry: “Our health care plan for America cracks down on the waste, greed, and abuse in our health care system…”
Hillary Clinton: “I want to take those oil company profits…”
What is greed? According to the dictionary, greed is “excessive desire to acquire or possess more (especially more material wealth) than one needs or deserves.” The goal in denigrating Ronald Reagan and Reaganomics, of course, was to portray both Reagan and his economic program of tax cuts as being on the side of the super-rich, of those who possessed multiples of fancy houses and cars and jewels and yachts, fanning the flames of class warfare and the idea that the President, his program and indeed capitalism itself was fundamentally mean spirited and unfair to the average American.
The solution to all of this in liberal eyes was — and remains, as the quotes above can attest — simply to just take wealth away from the wealthy on the premise that this will make the poor middle-class or at least lift them out of poverty. Take from the haves and give to the presumed have-nots. Raise taxes. Redistribute wealth by taking from Peter to pay off Paul.
From 1932 to 1980 this was essentially the driving idea behind the American economy as run by Democrats in the White House and the Congress. And by 1980, the American people had come face to face with the fundamental economic truth: socialism, however potent or watered-down, simply does not work. It is the politics of scarcity, high taxes and class warfare. It pits one group against another with the false implication that someone sitting in Washington can substitute their judgment for that of individual Americans and somehow create economic opportunity and wealth. The idea had been tried for five decades and it failed.
To most conservatives, the 1980s and Reaganomics proved beyond doubt the wisdom of both Reagan and free market economics. In Reagan’s two-terms alone a record shattering 21 million jobs were created. Well beyond his time in the White House Reaganomics, effectively still in place today, has created millions more good jobs through the presidencies of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.
So while it does not surprise that there are class warrior Democrats attacking the idea of economic opportunity as “greed” and promising all manner of ways to pit one group against another, it is startling indeed to hear the following from a Republican presidential front runner — former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
ONE OF THE LEADING proponents of Reaganomics these days is an outfit calling itself “The Club for Growth.” Founded by supporters of Reagan’s supply-side economics, Reaganites one and all, the group is currently headed by former Pennsylvania Congressman Pat Toomey, the conservative who came within an eyelash of upending liberal Republican Senator Arlen Specter in the 2004 Pennsylvania senatorial primary.
The Club is famous for delving into the records of GOP candidates for not just the presidency but other offices as well, carefully combing the fine print of their speeches, programs and votes as office-holder or candidate and matching them to the Reagan ideal. Mike Huckabee, it seems, has supported any number of taxes while governor, and the Club has inevitably zeroed in on his economic beliefs.
What disconcerts is Huckabee’s gut level response. Instead of either defending his record or admitting to a mistake or challenging the views of the Club he said this: “The Club for Greed, I call them. They hate that. Oh, they hate it. And I enjoy giggin’ them about it…”
Hello? Is the Republican Party seriously considering nominating a candidate whose instinctive response to criticism from Reaganites is to use the favorite code word of Reagan’s enemies? Does Huckabee really believe that Reaganomics represents a philosophy of greed? Does he agree that the 1980s was “The Decade of Greed”?
This is the rhetoric that is being religiously flogged on an hourly basis by Democrat John Edwards over on the class warfare side of the divide. Edwards, who conspicuously excludes wealthy trial lawyers from the greed label, is busy trying to convince Americans that they live not in the opportunity society of Reagan and supply-side champion and former GOP vice-presidential nominee Jack Kemp but rather in “two Americas.” One super-rich, the other poverty stricken, with the first group routinely exploiting the second. The Edwards world-view is decidedly far-distant from Reaganomics, and is almost never given voice without using the very word that Huckabee employed: greed.
If you think conservatives rebelled over President Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court because she was not seen as a serious conservative, you’ve seen nothing next to the reaction that would greet a President Huckabee as he abandoned Reaganomics in favor of some sort of Edwards-lite economic program.
One does not have to be a member of the Club for Growth (as, for the record, I am not) to understand the important work they are about. Both Toomey and his predecessor and founder of the Club, economist Stephen Moore, are, among other attributes, serious policy wonks who have devoted a good part of their respective careers to Reagan’s economic legacy. It is understandable that candidate Huckabee could be irritated with their criticism. The impression he leaves is that at a gut-check level he has contempt for their economics.
Ronald Reagan’s economics.
The economics that were the engine fueling the success of the Reagan Revolution from revitalizing the American economy to ending the Cold War.
Huckabee rival Mitt Romney has correctly said that the key to victory is the three-legged stool that is the coalition of economic conservatives, social conservatives and national security conservatives. All of Huckabee’s major competitors have eagerly sought the support of all three groups. With a single remark Huckabee has raised a major red flag to his candidacy. Worse still was his gleeful admission that pegging a group of Reaganites with the “greed” label was a “giggin'” that really brought him a personal level of enjoyment.
IN THE 1884 ELECTION, as Republican James G. Blaine was poised for victory over Democrat Grover Cleveland, a Blaine supporter cracked at a prominent dinner that Cleveland’s party was the party of “rum, Romanism and rebellion.” The remark backfired on the spot and cost Blaine the election.
Presumably no one is more aware of the implications of Huckabee’s expressed sentiments than Ed Rollins, Reagan’s 1984 campaign manager who piloted the Gipper to his 49-state win over Walter Mondale. Rollins recently signed on as Huckabee’s senior strategist. (Full disclosure; Rollins was my boss in the 1984 campaign and hired me to work at the White House. He is also a friend.) But as Rollins and every other adviser to a candidate knows, it is the candidate himself — or herself — who is ultimately responsible for delivering the central message of a campaign and, if elected, an administration. All of the five GOP frontrunners have prominent conservatives behind them, like Rollins first class people with first class conservative political minds. Yet all are dealing with principals who are making one group or another in the Reagan coalition nervous as to their intent on central issues like immigration, abortion, judicial appointments, tax cuts, or national security.
One hopes that for his part Huckabee can either seriously address the issues raised by the Club for Growth, or at a minimum try to undo the perception he is creating that he is some sort of GOP version of John Edwards. The fall election will be tough enough as it is. The idea troubles that the nominee of the conservative party could be someone who fails to understand that his apparent scorn for “Wall Street” could resonate negatively with the almost 50 percent of the American population who are now shareholders — because of Ronald Reagan. Does Huckabee really believe that all these millions of people are therefore “greedy”? That economic growth as exemplified by Reaganomics is nothing more than a show-stopping parade of excess by out of control Middle Americans? If in fact in his heart- of-hearts he has some sort of contempt for the Reagan agenda — and the Reagan economic accomplishments that restored America to its place as the shining city on a hill — Governor Huckabee will soon find himself doing his best to balance on a stool that is missing a leg.