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12/22/2009
GOP: OUT OF GAS, OUT OF IDEAS, OVER THE CLIFF

Jonathan Chait at The New Republic:

In reality, both parties have plenty of ideas that they would like to implement if given the political power to do so. Republicans’ policy ideas primarily involve cutting marginal tax rates and regulations. The question isn’t whether the Republican Party has any ideas. The question is whether the party has any relevant ideas.

In the days following the 2008 election, some Republicans predicted that the party would retool itself in response to reality–not just political reality but the actuality of policy challenges. “Republicans,” wrote conservative Ramesh Ponnuru in Time, “will have to devise an agenda that speaks to a country where more people feel the bite of payroll taxes than income taxes, where health-care costs eat up raises even in good times, where the length of the daily commute is a bigger irritant than are earmarks.” Nothing like that rethinking has happened or will happen.

Whatever the merits of President Obama’s agenda, it is clearly a response to objectively large problems facing the country. The administration has selected three main issues as the focus of its domestic agenda: the economic crisis, climate change, and health care reform. The issues themselves offer a stark contrast with Bush’s 2005 crusade to reshape Social Security. While sold as a response to the program’s long-term deficit, the privatization campaign was actually motivated by ideological opposition to Social Security’s redistributive role. (Bush refused Democratic offers to negotiate a fix to the program’s solvency without altering its social-insurance character.) By contrast, it is impossible to dismiss the problems Obama has chosen to address. In all three areas, the Republican Party has adopted a stance of total opposition, not merely because it disagrees with aspects of Obama’s solutions, but because it cannot come to grips with the very nature of the problems of modern American politics.

Yahtzee!

I would take issue with Chait over the reason for Social Security reform - something the Democrats will now have to face in the coming years if, as I fully expect, they maintain their majority for a decade or so. Yes, my liberal friends, there is an unfunded mandate for social security that works out to about $17.5 trillion by 2050. By that time, the entire federal budget could be comprised of payments for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Don’t sit there and tell me that the only reason Bush wanted to reform Social Security by privatizing some of it was due to “ideological opposition” to the program. It was Republicans, I will remind Chait, who reformed SS in 1986 while he and his Democratic friends took potshots from the sidelines. Democrats have always, shamelessly, used Social Security fear mongering with seniors as an electoral club. And Chait is proving that nothing has changed.

As for the rest of Chait’s thesis, he is spot on. The GOP cannot meet the basic definition of a political party; a repository for ideas and principles that advance a particular political philosophy. Cutting taxes when we’re staring at a deficit of $1.5 trillion a year is not only irrelevant, it is reckless, suicidal, irresponsible policy. Claiming that government spending would be cut an equal amount as any tax breaks is ludicrous, not to mention a horrible idea in the midst of a deep recession. The cuts that would be necessary in discretionary spending - only about 28% of the budget (most of that in the defense sector) - would gash programs that benefit the poor and the middle class. It won’t happen so why discuss it? Any tax cuts enacted would add to the deficit substantially.

So much for “fiscal responsibility.”

Tax cuts aren’t the only idea that the GOP wants to implement but it seems that way sometimes. Cutting spending is another basic notion being pushed by the GOP, but so far, specifics have been lacking. Not so with the base of the party who not only can’t “come to grips with the very nature of the problems of modern American politics,” but would have trouble “coming to grips” with 19th century American problems. This is where Chait’s ideological animus by the GOP to government truly resides (although eliminating Social Security and Medicare are ideas relegated to the fringe right). Entire swaths of the government would be on the chopping block if many in the base got their way. And I am not talking about some kind of “super-federalism” where many programs would be “transferred to the states.” There is a belief that much of what the federal government does, individuals should be able to do for themselves. I am not unsympathetic to this basic premise, but the scope and breadth of what many on the right would like to see eliminated are several bridges too far for most rational conservatives.

And this points up the major reason why the GOP is in the barren intellectual state that it is in; a stubborn, (I would say hysterical) refusal to see the world as it is and develop counter-proposals and ideas that reflect the realities of 21st century America.

What’s so hard about that? Well, for starters, perhaps admitting you have a problem dealing with reality in the first place might help:

The writers of The Daily Show, Colbert Report, and Saturday Night Live (although I’m not convinced they’ve even had writers lately) can have February 18-20, 2010, off. The hosts can handle it themselves. On those dates, the jokes will practically write themselves as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) takes place — co-sponsored by the John Birch Society. Every liberal commentator needs to send a thank-you note to CPAC’s organizers for that monumentally stupid decision.

By having the John Birch Society sponsor it, CPAC can guarantee that 90% of the coverage regarding the conference will relate to JBS’ oh-my-god-look-a-conspiracy attitude rather than the heavy-hitters and rising stars of conservatism and libertarianism that speak there. Instead of focusing on politics, reporters will ask attendees for their response to the JBS controversy and will ask organizers whether they are in such financial distress that they had to embrace a fringe group for support.

This is beyond the “nihilism” Chait writes about with regard to what the GOP has become. I think a more technical term is in order to describe what is happening with the base and hence, with much of the Republican party.

Loony tunes.

You have to live in a different reality (or perhaps spend most of your time on another planet) to accept the notion that the John Birch Society today is much different than the bunch who questioned whether General Dwight David Eisenhower - American hero - wasn’t “pink.” Or that John Foster Dulles wasn’t deliberately hiding Communists in the State Department. (Yes, there were commies at state and defense but the idea that Dulles knew they were there is lunacy).

The JBS “core principles” include this gem:

The Society also labors to warn against and expose the forces that seek to abolish U.S. independence, build a world government, or otherwise undermine our personal liberties and national independence.

The problem as I see it isn’t necessarily that the John Birth Society is filled with kooks who think Obama is part of an international conspiracy to enslave America to the Communist ideal, it’s that they are a perfect fit for CPAC and the paranoid righties who are pursuing the birther matter, believe the president and the Democrats are out to “destroy the country,” believe there’s nothing much wrong with our health care system, and are not sure if Obama isn’t the antichrist.

Yes, that last is hyperbole but it’s easy to go over the top when you are trying to describe people who have tossed aside reason and embraced a kind of collective madness that is being promoted on talk radio, and some venues on Fox News. The world - the country - simply is not as it is described by Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the cotton candy conservatives who are cleaning up by playing to the fears of the ignorant and uninformed.

And then there are those who ape the worst of these:

It isn’t too much to ask for Byrd to step off for that great klavern in the sky before the Senate vote that may force this nation to accept government-rationed health care. Even a nice coma would do.

Without his frail, Gollum-like body being wheeled into the Senate’s chambers to cast the deciding vote, the Senate cannot curse our children and grandchildren with crushing debt and rationed, substandard healthcare.

I suppose some will be shocked and appalled that I’d wish for the former kleagle to die on command. I’d remind them that the party wheeling in a near invalid to vote in favor of this unread monstrosity of a bill is the one that should feel shame.

Yes, the health care bill as it has been so cynically and maliciously drawn up by Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of the Democrats might easily be termed a “monstrosity.”

But it is grotesque, deformed thinking to wish for another human being to die for political gain. And not seeing that is a reflection not so much of Bob Owens, but of the casual, anti-reason, anti-rational thinking that has gripped the Republican party and made it an irrelevancy.

Can you govern without believing in the efficacy of government? I find it hard to imagine that, even if the Democrats and Obama screw things up so royally that the GOP wins a smashing victory and overturns both houses of Congress next year, that the Republicans are capable of doing anything to address the problems of 21st century America. Trying to reconstitute a nation that doesn’t exist anymore - a pastoral place where everyone was self-sufficient, went to church on Sunday, and dreamed the same dreams - does not equip a party or its members to deal with the complex, urbanized, less homogeneous country America has become.

To do that, one must actually live in the present rather than some ill-defined, half-imagined past that perhaps never was, but certainly will never be again.

By: Rick Moran at 11:00 am
19 Responses to “GOP: OUT OF GAS, OUT OF IDEAS, OVER THE CLIFF”
  1. 1
    Richard bottoms Said:
    12:56 pm 

    PolitiFact’s account leaves out. (I guess they figured they couldn’t include everything.) The provision to have Medicare cover voluntary end-of-life counseling between doctors and patients, which Palin described as a mandate for “death panels” and which then touched off a generalized Republican propaganda frenzy, was originally proposed by a Republican Senator from Georgia, Johnny Isakson. In an interview right after Palin’s “death panels” assertion hit the airwaves, Isakson expressed some bewilderment about how this common-sense proposal could possibly be twisted or misconstrued into a scheme for government-enforced euthanasia:

    How someone could take an end of life directive or a living will as that is nuts. You’re putting the authority in the individual rather than the government. I don’t know how that got so mixed up.

    After this interview was published, Isakson came under heavy pressure from the Republican leadership, who forced him to issue some follow-up statements trying to pretend that the measures he had been proposing for years were somehow significantly different from the one incorporated into the 2009 health care reform bill.

    The modern GOP in a nutshell. We may get shellacked in 2010, but come 2012 it’s over.

    Interesting that you’ve identified the problem, but I doubt seriously anyone will be willing to do anything about it, which is great news for Democrats. For that, you have my sincere thanks.

  2. 2
    funny man Said:
    2:02 pm 

    Health Care for example is a problem for which there are no soundbite answers. The problem really is that we can now technically do a lot that people 50 years ago couldn’t even imagine. If we can do it, should we always and then who will pay. Let’s say a 90 year old has cancer that if treated gives her another three month. It costs $500,000 so she would loose her house and life savings. Is this necessary? I’m really not quite sure what the conservative/liberal position would be. Do we want to be the party of ,well, tough luck’. On the other hand I’m also not in favor of the government (we the tax payers) footing the bill. Quo vadis?

  3. 3
    Jon Dough Said:
    2:13 pm 

    http://mises.org/etexts/ourenemy.pdf

    From Albert Jay Nock’s “Our Enemy - The State”:

    “There is also an impression that if actual recessions [Nock here is using "recession" to describe State power reverting to its former role as Societal power] do not come about by themselves, they may be brought about by the expedient of voting one party out and another one in. This idea rests upon certain assumptions that experience has shown to be unsound; the first one being that the power of the ballot is what republican political theory makes it out to be, and that therefore the electorate has an effective choice in the matter. It is a matter of open and notorious fact that nothing like this is true. Our nominally republican system is actually built on an imperial model, with our professional politicians standing in the place of the praetorian guards; they meet from time to time, decide what can be “got away with,” and how, and who is to do it; and the electorate votes according to their prescriptions. Under these conditions it is easy to provide the appearance of any desired concession of State power, without the reality; our history shows innumerable instances of very easy dealing with problems in practical politics much more difficult than that. One may remark that in this connexion also the notoriously baseless assumption that party-designations connote
    principles, and that party-pledges imply performance. Moreover, underlying these assumptions and all others that faith in “political action” contemplates, is the assumption that the interests of the State and the interests of society are, at least theoretically, identical; whereas in theory they are directly opposed, and this opposition invariably declares itself in practice to the precise extent that circumstances permit. However, without pursuing these matters further at the moment, it is probably enough to observe here that in the nature of things the exercise of personal government, the control of a huge and growing bureaucracy, and the management of an enormous mass of subsidized voting-power, are as agreeable to one stripe of politician as they are to another. Presumably they interest a Republican or a Progressive as much as they do a Democrat, Communist, Farmer- Labourite, Socialist, or whatever a politician may, for electioneering purposes, see fit to call himself. This was demonstrated in the local campaigns of 1934 by the practical attitude of politicians who represented nominal opposition parties. It is now being further demonstrated by the derisible haste that the leaders of the official opposition are making towards what they call reorganization” of their party. One may well be inattentive to their words; their actions, however, mean simply that the recent accretions of State power are here to stay, and that they are aware of it; and that, such being the case, they are preparing to dispose themselves most advantageously in a contest for their control and management. This is all that “reorganization” of the Republican party means, and all it is meant to mean; and this is in itself quite enough to show that any expectation of an essential change of regime through a change of party-administration is illusory. On the contrary, it is clear that whatever party-competition we shall see hereafter will be on the same terms as heretofore. It will be a competition for control and management, and it would naturally issue in still closer centralization, still further extension of the bureaucratic principle, and still larger concessions to subsidized voting-power. This course would be strictly historical, and is furthermore to be expected as lying in the nature of things, as it so obviously does.”

    A good read.

  4. 4
    Dave Miller Said:
    2:20 pm 

    Great read… thanks.

  5. 5
    Andy Said:
    3:57 pm 

    As usual, great and provocative post Rick.

  6. 6
    mannning Said:
    11:33 pm 

    I must agree that the nation is not at all the same one that existed before, say, 1955. The idea of our original Constitutional government has been so watered down and abused that it is unrecognizable. The law has been so perverted now that the very principle of separation of powers is failing. Assaults on virtually every “settled practice” of law have made a mockery of real justice. Tenured clowns from the Left appear to man about 90% of the education jobs and professorships, and the curriculum of our schools is written by union members with dubious pedigrees, thus producing a few idiot savants along with a herd of noodnicks, much to the woe of our future. The congress has become bribery central and knows not of fiscal common sense. Our President has opted out of any rational foreign policy at all, and has managed to strengthen our foes in the process. We have decided to abandon the development of much of the military hardware that we will need in a decade or so from now. We have just about decided to give the UN more money and more inroads into our sovereignty. To make things even more dire, we have created debts that will be impossible to repay, and squandered the taxpayer’s money on leftist projects of little economic worth, while unemployment has topped 17% in real terms. The moral fiber of the nation has been corrupted and weakened to the point that things that were totally unacceptable in 1955 are quite accepted today: elective abortions, same sex marriage, hookups, teen sex, filthy language, and on and on…

    This much is just for openers!

    I agree that the GOP would choke on this dinner, but so would any party, witness who got us so very much further into this entire mess in this year of 2009. It is apparent to me that the medicine needed to correct these ills cannot and will not be forthcoming from any party, left or right, and that nihilism and hedonism will reign in our future.

    Are we at the “tipping point” where our basic lives and our government’s structure have become impossible to change for the better? We are very close indeed now, and I fear for our beloved nation.
    No one seems to address the problems and then the tough-love cures we must install, or, they bemoan the current situation yet offer no help whatsoever to dig us the hell out from our pauperism and nihilism, least of all the Left.

  7. 7
    obamathered Said:
    3:18 am 

    Jump, Rick, jump.

    No one gives a fuck.

    But you waited too late. I know how it feels when stocks go up more than anticipated. The other Transparents, like Johnson and Sullivan, tried to sell at the last minute. Soon, both will be True Conservatives because they will ho the other side of the street when the market is up.

    Note to normal human sellers: you can only ho when there is a market.

    Prediction: GOP House 2010, Senate and White House 2012, and Moran lying about what he thought soon thereafter.

    Sweet. Then again, those who are attracted to this site like flies to decaying shit actually care.

  8. 8
    Tyranno Said:
    5:59 am 

    Having read Jon Chait over the years I question his objectivity in announcing the premature death of conservatism; the Republican Party perhaps, but then there is little conservative about the Grand Old Party these days. “Out of gas” “out of ideas” and “over the cliff” is an equally apt description for the democrat party and the modern progressive liberal ideas but alas, objective journalists like Chait never seem to find the time, ink, or inclination to do that analysis.

    Using the language and logic of those who wish you ill is never a smart place to start an argument but that is what Mr. Moran does asserting that “the GOP cannot meet the basic definition of a political party; a repository for ideas and principles that advance a particular political philosophy.” This has been, in various configurations, one of the perpetual talking points of the DNC. I guess beyond them telling me ad nauseum, I am missing the fresh “progressiveness” of the DNC offering their same solution set over and over for the last 70 years. I guess I am missing the obviousness of those fresh progressive solutions that require their candidated to pretend to be the exact opposite of a modern progressive liberal to get elected.

    Mr. Moran continues, “Cutting taxes when we’re staring at a deficit of $1.5 trillion a year is not only irrelevant, it is reckless, suicidal, irresponsible policy. Claiming that government spending would be cut an equal amount as any tax breaks is ludicrous, not to mention a horrible idea in the midst of a deep recession.”

    Is cutting taxes more or less “reckless, suicidal, and irresponsible” then adding approximately three trillion dollars to the debt … in the midst of a deep recession… in the first year in office? Is the current generation, the one that has allowed this situation to fester, the correct repository for the consequences of its own excess, or is it the responsibility of our kids and grand kids and great grand kids?

    Moran continues, “Any tax cuts enacted would add to the deficit substantially;” Which is simply an incorrect statement. In our lifetime, from JKF to RWR, it is an observable fact that tax cuts have increased the revenue flowing to the government. If that reality was not recorded in the bottom-line it is for one reason alone; a rapacious federal Congress engorges itself spending other people’s money faster than the increasing revenue stream.

    Is it at all surprising that spending cuts have not been any part of the democrat (or Republican) conversation? Is it at all surprising that TARP and Stimulus monies have flowed predominantly to political constituencies. Is it at all surprising that none of the traditional democrat interest groups are injured by/in/ or through any of these fresh progressive ideas? Frugality does not buy liberal votes and conversely, profligacy does not purchase conservative votes. But at the end of the day which is the more sustainable model and better for the country?

    I am not here to defend the clown show that is the current Republican Party. I have another “personalized survey” from Michael Steele sitting on my counter that I will again send back without a check enclosed and defaced with black magic marker pleading, “STAND FOR SOMETHING!”

    I do wish those from the right who are so critical would at least offer up more than re-worded DNC, lose~lose arguments. I wish those from the right who are so critical would at least apply the same due diligence, the same stink eye, the same critical analysis, to the other side as they do to their own. But alas, objective journalists like Chait (Moran?) never seem to find the time, ink, or inclination to do that.

    So as Mr. Moran says, So much for “fiscal responsibility,” and so much for objective journalistic responsibilities.

  9. 9
    Richard Bruce Cheney Said:
    7:13 am 

    Don’t sit there and tell me that the only reason Bush wanted to reform Social Security by privatizing some of it was due to “ideological opposition” to the program.

    Bush wanted to reform Social Security by privatizing some of it due to ideological opposition to the program.

    And I am sitting.

    And you are blindly partisan nincompoop.

    ed.

  10. 10
    cedarhill Said:
    8:01 am 

    Mark Steyn, in fewer words, summed it all up with the Democrats think “strategic” while the Republicans think “tactics”. ‘Tis why the war has been lost. Unless the GOP undergoes a fundamental change of approach we’re seeing the final endgame of the FDR strategy. The Long March is about over. If you have time this holiday season, give thanks for the freedoms you’ve enjoyed. The socialist will not make many mistakes in consolidating the battlespace and, yes, they’ll be back after 2010 or even 2012. It’s the strategery thing.

  11. 11
    cedarhill Said:
    8:04 am 

    Speaking of strategery. Consider the timing of these items:
    1. Bush tax cutes expire after the 2010 election and before the 2012 elections.
    2. Stimulus bill of 2008 targeting 2/3rds of money to be spent in 2010 which will give a boost to the economy.
    3. Nationalized health care not to really kick in until after the 2012 election.
    and the list goes on and on.

  12. 12
    busboy33 Said:
    8:48 am 

    “But it is grotesque, deformed thinking to wish for another human being to die for political gain. And not seeing that is a reflection not so much of Bob Owens, but of the casual, anti-reason, anti-rational thinking that has gripped the Republican party and made it an irrelevancy.”

    http://tpmlivewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/12/tea-partier-calls-c-span-worried-his-prayers-for-byrd-to-die-got-inhofe-instead.php?ref=fpblg

    I never understood the “God as Santa Claus” concept, but I find the comments more interesting. TPM is a pretty left site, and even there the commenters are split about whether the caller was genuine of a hoax. IMO, the caller’s anguish seemed genuine.

  13. 13
    funny man Said:
    9:43 am 

    Manning,

    I would disagree with you with your assessment ‘all was well before 1955′ (actually you didn’t say that). Just think of Teddy Roosevelt breaking up the monopolies, the Wall Street cesspool before the crash in 29, Jim Crow etc. Every time has their challenges.

    Busboy:
    that caller was a hoax. Come on..

  14. 14
    Shaun Said:
    10:41 am 

    You and I could not be more different in some key ideological respects, but I agree with you absolutely, Rick.

    I would like to make a modest suggestion for the New Year. Because I cannot imagine that the Republican Party and what remains of the conservative movement can do much more to emasculate itself (altho the JBS sponsorship is a nice touch), might you from time to time bring us word of worthy efforts to resuscitate the party and movement as they occur? Which I hope they will.

    And may you and your saner commenters have a great holiday.

  15. 15
    busboy33 Said:
    12:03 pm 

    @funny man:

    it was a hoax because the caller didn’t play the part convincingly, or it was a hoax because there is no way that anybody that crazy and stupid actually exists?

  16. 16
    busboy33 Said:
    11:47 am 

    @funny man:

    Looks like you are right — apparently the caller has pulled this stunt in the past.

    Maybe I’m naive. It was certainly one of the better-acted prank calls I’ve heard.

  17. 17
    TMLutas Said:
    2:51 pm 

    Here’s a simple GOP strategy that would work. Every year, let’s cut the dumbest stuff. Pick a percentage, 1%, 5%, 10%, it doesn’t matter what it is so long as you cut all expenditures below your cut off, cut all regulations below your cutoff.

    With socialism, it’s all dumb stuff. It’s just artfully hidden and the stupidity emerges over time. When it’s become obvious, that program, that regulation, that expenditure just gets cut. It’s a program for continuous improvement in government over the nitty gritty of expenditures and regulations. If some bureaucrat passes a dumb rule, the legislature eventually will catch it in its yearly review and cut it.

    Here’s a pro-freedom ratchet that the entire GOP coalition can get behind. Here’s a program that the left wingers will hate, but will be unable to explain to the broad middle of the country why getting rid of the least effective expenditures, the most destructive regulations, even stupid taxes that are woefully inefficient (some taxes actually cost more to administer than they collect) is a bad idea.

    The strategy can be translated into a legislative program easily. It can be made bipartisan via a BRAC like process to pick off moderate Dems and coopt them onto our side. It’s politically salable. What’s not to like?

  18. 18
    mannning Said:
    5:23 pm 

    funny man:

    It would be rather difficult for me to contrast and compare the relative simplicity, degrees of freedom, and morality of America in 1800, 1900 and 2000, but the social, political, commercial and technological changes are most certainly there for all to see.

    Perhaps one of the most telling shifts in the public mind in those 200 years is the attitude towards natural law as it is codified in our Constitution. The great respect formerly paid to the thrust of the Founders to create a God-fearing Republic of the Center between the tyranny of the Left and the anarchy of the Right has deteriorated considerably. Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin would be appalled at the state we have gotten ourselves into as of the end of 2009, I believe. As would Hamilton and Jay, to add a significant Federalist duo. As one person said, parties have become irrelevant, since both of them are forcing us down the wrong path—away from natural law and all that that implies. I think it was Judge Andy Nepolitano that voiced that thought, although several others have signed up to it. The thesis I have seen emerge recently is that our Constitution and the thinking behind it is just as relevant today as it was in 1800 or 1900: it is the diverse people and the less than knowledgeable governing bodies that have moved us away from the original ideas that have made us a great nation; thus, that is at the root of our problems. Yes, we now have a huge and diverse population, but, in itself, that should not change our commitment to the Constitution and the principles behind it, nor should it alter its relevancy in 2010.

    What I see is the enormous difficulty in returning the populace to the ideas and directions of the Constitution and its natural law basis, and, as well, the total rejection I and many others have to performing some kind of “loose, legal, non-natural accommodation” to the steadfast natural law principles we originally had, in order to satisfy this or that growing modern constituency that couldn’t care less about the Constitution. That is because these various constituencies have not been taught properly about the Constitution in our schools and homes, have been taught to reject it in large measure, or have been brought up in totally different nations and are not even close to understanding the under-girding principles of our nation. Nor do many truly sign up to our laws as being now superior in effect to their own prior laws or lack thereof.

    There needs to be a book on this subject!

  19. 19
    mannning Said:
    5:37 pm 

    I said “less than knowledgeable governing bodies”, but perhaps I should have added deliberately unwise,unjust, imprudent, and intemperate bodies to that.

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