Friday, July 01, 2011

killing the beast

For years, conservative politicians have used the metaphor, "starving the beast" to address what they have seen as the wrongful intrusion by government forming a safety net for American society. Social security, medicare, food stamps, and all those programs that were designed to lift the general level of human decency and express compassion through government action were seen as wrongful elements which must be starved and killed.

They have had two effective strategies that have brought us to a point of fiscal crisis (starving the beast), and some take pride in what they've done. The first was to lower taxes. If tax revenues are reduced, there is less money to spend on programs for the poor. The second strategy involves the opportunity costs of waging war. If you've spent all your resources on armament and warfare (which are seen by conservatives as the only legitimate government expenses), there will be little left for social programs like care for the elderly and healthcare for the poor that conservatives find offensive in the first place. This helps to explain why conservatives were happy to run up huge deficits to wage unnecessary war in Iraq, as those expenses pushed us toward the point at which budgetary crisis would force us curtail spending on the social programs they so strongly oppose. In other words, they would rather spend our children's future on war than secure our collective futures through health care and education.

If you review the 8 years of the George W. Bush presidency besides the destructive No Child Left Behind legislation, you see these two deliberate strategies in effect. First cut taxes, and then go to unnecessary war as a means through which to starve your own government to its knees. Get it? If the government shuts down as some hope, and as state government did this morning in Minnesota, you'd better be prepared to

make, fix and create.

In the photos above, you can see my finished white oak display cabinet, and Les Brandt demonstrating turning a hollow form in the ESSA summer workshops.


  1. Great article Doug, I have stated many times that the ongoing war combined with conservative bashing of socialism and government will be our downfall. It started today in Minnesota.

  2. Anonymous4:51 PM

    Total hogwash, Doug. Stick with the woodworking.

  3. Sorry, it's not hogwash. By modern conservative standards, Nixon would be a socialist and Eisenhower a commie. Conservatives have gone off the deep end. Even Reagan would be considered a liberal... or at least pragmatic.

  4. Anonymous5:23 PM

    And what was Kennedy by modern liberal standards?

  5. I don't think of Kennedy. He was murdered too soon to have much of an impact. He was no socialist. I wish he'd done a better job of understanding Viet Nam, and it is interesting that it took Nixon to open the doors to China and to end the war in Viet Nam, but Nixon was no socialist either.

    I talk about things other than woodworking often in the blog. What we have done to education by removing wood shop and failing to engage the hands has been a crime.

  6. Anonymous5:56 PM

    I just object to putting all conservatives in the same box. 90% of the conservatives that I know don't advocate the positions in your blog.

    I certainly don't judge all liberals by the extremist minority.

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  8. Certainly, I would like to think that most conservatives are not what I described, but there are many who have subscribed to the starve the beast idea, and have been quite willing to go for deficit spending even when they must have known it was against the best interests of our nation. The war in Iraq was a trumped up, poorly excused war, based on deliberate misinformation, that was allowed to pass because, I believe some saw it as justifiable precisely because it would diminish our capacity to engage in social programs by spending the money on other things. During the build up to war in Iraq, it would have been a time to ask the rich in America to step up to the plate and accept a temporary tax surcharge to cover the huge expense of going to war. We, as a nation did that in every other war in American history, and that tax would have been accepted for patriotic reasons... I would love to be wrong. But google the idea of starve the beast and you will find it to have been an important metaphor in the conservative approach to government. You can squeeze the government from both sides of the equation and that is just what they've done. Now back to the hands and what we can learn from them.

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  10. Well,
    I suppose if you don't feel any desire to leave comments posted that are a bit critical of your views, I don't feel much desire to read your blog. Please don't pose as an educator if you are unable or unwilling to critically analyze topics that require complex care and multidimensional perspectives.

  11. Justin, if you can make comments without being rude, I will engage in a dialog with you. But I see no point in responding if you choose to use the forum I provide to say things that are rude and deliberately insulting. You may read the blog, or choose not to.

  12. Doug,
    I have no intention of being rude, and my first comment was not. It simply stated that by this post you are putting forward an incredibly simplified, stereotypical view of 'conservatives' that is both wrong, on many counts, and also demonizing, at best. You can critique Bush all you want, but the fact remains that Obama spent more in his first 2 years in office than Bush did in his 8 years or war. I completely disagree with the war and the way conservatives handle many things. But, to accuse 'those evil republicans' of not caring for the poor or elderly is an outrageous caricature. As is the general case with most of our current political atmosphere (thank you media), your post has the feel of misplaced anger rather than critical thought.

    I apologize for any rudeness that I may have conveyed. However, I will not retract or change my belief that this type of approach to politics should not be modeled or taught to any of our children.


  13. Justin, I'm not sure which was your first comment. Was it the one you placed as anonymous? I don't believe I ever said anything about "evil republicans," so if anything you are the one who has unfairly caricatured me. I pointed out that the "starve the beast" idea is one that many conservatives have espoused and that it provided them rationale for opposing tax increases on the rich and on corporations, and a rationale for war spending while children in the US are living in poverty. If you want to read into that some anger on my part, that is your conjecture and not what I actually expressed.

    I get the impression that when someone attacks me and subsequently becomes rude about it, my remarks must have hit a nerve an that the person is responding in anger and fear that what I've stated is too close to the truth for their comfort. Your comments crossed that line.

    If Obama spent so much in his first two years, it was because the economy was in free fall due to the housing bubble and banking malfeasance and degregulation.

    best to you.