The Long Pedigree of “Trickle-Down Government”

When I heard Mitt Romney refer (several times, as it happened) to the supposed Obama creed of “trickle-down government” in the first presidential candidates’ debate in Denver, I figured some wordsmith had come up with it for Mitt’s proprietary use. I thought it was marginally clever as a counter-punching response to the many, accurate attacks on Romney’s belief in “trickle-down economics,” but didn’t think it merited the several additional uses of it last night at Hofstra.

But thanks to TNR’s Tim Noah, we now know “trickle-down government” has a pretty extensive history in top-level GOP rhetoric, including presidential and vice-presidential debates. It was originally used in 1984 as a favorable term for what amounts to “stimulus spending” by one of Mitt Romney’s Olympics Boss predecessors, Peter Ueberroth. Alan Keyes (running against Paul Sarbanes in Maryland) deployed it in 1988 as a general attack on government-centric liberals. Both Poppy Bush and Dan Quayle used it in the 1992 debates to parry Democratic “trickle-down economics” attack lines–and either ironically or characteristically, Bill Clinton used it himself in a 1992 speech to disclaim any support for government as a thing in itself. Another twist on its meaning was provided by Democrat Chuck Robb in 1991, who applied it to Republican schemes to devolve responsibilities to states and localities without the resources to fulfill them (you know, sort of like today’s block grant proposals).

At any rate, Mitt seems to think it’s a killer, and I suppose it’s appropriate for a party that is determined to find in Obama’s cautious policies a secret plan for Socialist World Domination.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.