Sunday, February 8, 2009

Pathological Governance

The number of commenters who, noting the GOP's continued insistence on clinging to a spending-free means of bracing the economy, question the sanity of that party is growing, and the figures reaching that point are becoming increasingly notable and respectable.

Words like "crazy," "irresponsible" and "mindless" are circulating about the Republican efforts in the House and Senate to produce stimulus through tax cuts. Meanwhile the GOP leadership is calling for party unity in opposing the administration's current plans - and so far they're getting it.

The voices opposing such a narrowly ideological approach are growing, and growing louder.

Paul Krugman:

Look at what just happened, we had a proposal I think it was McCain’s proposal for an economic recovery package, his version of it which was all tax cuts, a complete, let’s do exactly what Bush did, have another round of Bush-style policies. After eight years which that didn’t work and we got 36 out of 41 Republican senators voting for that which is completely crazy. So how much bipartisan outreach can you have when 36 out of 41 republican senators take their marching orders from Rush Limbaugh?

Dean Baker:

It's sort of like baseball being a type of sport. Some people may not like baseball, but that doesn't change the fact that it is a sport.

If the Republicans were to insist that baseball is not a sport then it would be reasonable to assume that they do not know what the word "sport" means. Similarly, if the Republicans do not understand that any spending that directly goes into the economy is stimulus, then it implies that they don't know what "stimulus" means.

John Cole:

I really don’t understand how bipartisanship is ever going to work when one of the parties is insane. Imagine trying to negotiate an agreement on dinner plans with your date, and you suggest Italian and she states her preference would be a meal of tire rims and anthrax. If you can figure out a way to split the difference there and find a meal you will both enjoy, you can probably figure out how bipartisanship is going to work the next few years.

Rachel Maddow (with an especially crisp take):

"Cutting food-stamp funding to attract Republican support is proof-positive that the Republicans are not trying to come up with an effective stimulus here. If your house is on fire, and you call your fire department, and your fire department tells you to pour gasoline on the flames, they're not actually making a good-faith effort to help you put out the fire. They're not a good fire department.

The GOP's proposals are certainly good for one vision of the United States - that of the United States circa 1790. When the economy is largely agrarian and communities are largely self-sufficient, lower taxes would help the citizenry as a whole - and if the few embryonic industrialists and the merchants in the big cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charleston and Charleston were hurt by lack of investment capital and market demand the impact to the entire nation was minimal. The country has advanced far beyond that model, however, and the federal government's funding comes from very different sources than it did in those days. Yet somehow the GOP either doesn't understand that - or doesn't care.

As if this isn't bad enough, the GOP is railing about the lack of bipartisanship. This after the administration bent over backwards to seek their input, incorporate their proposals and present a reasoned package for their review - a package they virtually uniformly rejected. Clearly their definition of "bipartisan" is "listening to us until we browbeat you into accepting our proposals without exception."

The only sane rationale I can find in the GOP position is this: the New Deal was a flawed, unnecessary response to economic crisis - now we have a new crisis we can put our approach to work and prove that.

Put mildly, that is a horrifically irresponsible approach to a very immediate emergency. It reeks of Social Darwinism: if the larger community survives it doesn't matter who's hurt in the process, and if some starve/emigrate/whatever it just weeds out the unfit.

The political aspects are no more savory. For far too long now we've seen Republican obstructionism to Democratic proposals. It's been couched officially in terms of fiscal responsibility, effectiveness and personal freedom. But consider this line from William Kristol in 1993 talking about another big Democratic agenda item:

"Healthcare," Kristol wrote, "is not, in fact, just another Democratic initiative ... . It will revive the reputation of the ... Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests."

As my Friend Mustang Bobby at Bark Bark Woof Woof would translate: "We Republicans can't let the Democrats pass this [insert Democratic agenda item here], because if we do, we'll make the Democrats look good."

Holding onto power in a democracy simply for the sake of holding onto power is not sane policy. Resisting a public infusion into an economy suffering from a lack of private resources just to resist public expenditure is not sane policy. Wilfully neglecting domestic infrastructure due to the expense while engaging in imperial nation-building at obscene and unmanaged cost is not sane policy. Opposing deficit spending in principle after eight years of the most profligate overspending by your own party is not sane policy.

There's a very apt phrase for the noisemaking the GOP is doing - and has been doing for the past several months (if not years) - "fiddling while Rome burns."

Yet somehow the GOP seems to think they can rationalise this approach as good for the US.

The Party of Lincoln - even the Party of Theodore Roosevelt - is obviously no more. Hooverian economics are the preferred solution for these people, on the premise that such policies were not allowed time to work the last time they were employed. But policies much like them have been tried: in the 1830s, the 1870s and the 1900s. And the GWB economic policies were more akin to Harding's and Coolidge's than Hoover's, while the economic situation during the last eight years more closely resembled the boom-and-bust cycles of the 19th century than the steady (if illusionary) growth of the 1920s. All this while, instead of following the isolationist non-interventionism of earlier administrations, Bush proceeded with the most costly elective global misadventure in US history, all on essentially borrowed funds.

The GOP wants to look to its own interrupted efforts at economic policy for solutions to today's crisis: a crisis very much of their own making. Larry Summers answered that approach best: "The people who presided over the last eight years ... [don't] seem to be in a strong position to lecture on history."

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the quote, and thanks for giving me the QotD over at BBWW.