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.
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.
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 Birch 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.