Failed Experiment Fails

Are you wondering what’s going on with fiscal cliff negotiations? I mean, most mass media talk about it as a scary horrible thing that Washington is having trouble negotiating because Obama might be socialist and the Republicans are protecting taxpayers. Whatever. 

So, read Krugman, who notes that there’s no debt crisis – borrowing costs are at historic lows – there is a political crisis

a word about the current state of budget “negotiations.”

Why the scare quotes? Because these aren’t normal negotiations in which each side presents specific proposals, and horse-trading proceeds until the two sides converge. By all accounts, Republicans have, so far, offered almost no specifics. They claim that they’re willing to raise $800 billion in revenue by closing loopholes, but they refuse to specify which loopholes they would close; they are demanding large cuts in spending, but the specific cuts they have been willing to lay out wouldn’t come close to delivering the savings they demand.

It’s a very peculiar situation. In effect, Republicans are saying to President Obama, “Come up with something that will make us happy.” He is, understandably, not willing to play that game. And so the talks are stuck.

Why won’t the Republicans get specific? Because they don’t know how. The truth is that, when it comes to spending, they’ve been faking it all along — not just in this election, but for decades. Which brings me to the nature of the current G.O.P. crisis.

Since the 1970s, the Republican Party has fallen increasingly under the influence of radical ideologues, whose goal is nothing less than the elimination of the welfare state — that is, the whole legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society. From the beginning, however, these ideologues have had a big problem: The programs they want to kill are very popular. Americans may nod their heads when you attack big government in the abstract, but they strongly support Social Security, Medicare, and even Medicaid. So what’s a radical to do?

Reminiscent of something? Maybe the Romney campaign? The Republican Party is about to become post-supply-side, and less hung up on social issues, or it will wither away. For years it has relied on the idea that it can rely on scaring easily frightened white people, and win elections. Not so much anymore. 

One is “starve the beast,” the idea of using tax cuts to reduce government revenue, then using the resulting lack of funds to force cuts in popular social programs. Whenever you see some Republican politician piously denouncing federal red ink, always remember that, for decades, the G.O.P. has seen budget deficits as a feature, not a bug.

Arguably more important in conservative thinking, however, was the notion that the G.O.P. could exploit other sources of strength — white resentment, working-class dislike of social change, tough talk on national security — to build overwhelming political dominance, at which point the dismantling of the welfare state could proceed freely. Just eight years ago, Grover Norquist, the antitax activist, looked forward cheerfully to the days when Democrats would be politically neutered: “Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they’ve been fixed, then they are happy and sedate.”

But it didn’t work out that way. Democrats didn’t roll over, and the things for which Democrats stand for have suddenly become more popular while the Republicans have completely run out of not only specifics, but any kind of ideas at all. The Romney campaign was set up to basically point to Obama and say, “f*ck this guy”. That’s not a winning strategy. 

And look at where we are now in terms of the welfare state: far from killing it, Republicans now have to watch as Mr. Obama implements the biggest expansion of social insurance since the creation of Medicare.

So Republicans have suffered more than an election defeat, they’ve seen the collapse of a decades-long project. And with their grandiose goals now out of reach, they literally have no idea what they want — hence their inability to make specific demands.

It’s a dangerous situation. The G.O.P. is lost and rudderless, bitter and angry, but it still controls the House and, therefore, retains the ability to do a lot of harm, as it lashes out in the death throes of the conservative dream.

Our best hope is that business interests will use their influence to limit the damage. But the odds are that the next few years will be very, very ugly.

People have been predicting the Republican Party re-orientation back to a reasonable political actor for years now, but you have to reach rockbottom before you admit you have a problem and get help. Get help, people. We like good ideas. 

While you’re at it, read this set of charts from the Atlantic that show a statistical round-up of income inequality. It’ll make you angry going into the weekend. HAPPY WEEKEND. 

6 comments

  • What a curious way of looking at things: Everything the Republican party has tried for the last 40 years (since the 70’s! Those wascally wadicals!), things like lower taxes and big deficits and scaring white people and overspending on the military… was all tried primarily to force the destruction of social programs.

    Then again, Krugman has been proven wrong on so many occasions (Hey! Let’s hope for an alien attack! That’ll break ALL KINDS of windows!) I’m surprised you’d link to him at all, Alan.

    • In the late 80s and early 90s, Eastern Europe realized that their experimentation with Leninism and Stalinism hadn’t worked, and they got rid of those systems. We’re now ending our experimentation with Reaganism, another economic fairy tale that has failed miserably. As for Krugman, he’s been consistently right about just about everything. HTH.

      • Lest we forget, economic Republicanism created liberty throughout the world.  It’s a very convenient fact that gets overlooked.  What I’m willing to admit to is that while looking fondly at the good old days is nice to do on the porch with a glass of lemonade, it’s not exactly a sound governing strategy. What worked once won’t always work.  If the only constant is change that a political party needs evolve without selling out.  I think my GOP isn’t exactly evolving right now.

        But I like the way Krugman glosses over Obama’s refusal to say what spending cuts  he’ll make.  He is doing the EXACT same thing on the spending side that the GOP is doing on the revenue side.

        • Both Obama and Boehner know that the spending cuts are going to piss off voters. Both want the political advantage. The only way for the cut side of this to work is for both sides to cede the political advantage. Go into closed doors. Hammer it out and be gentlemen that refuse to take the cuts offered by the other side and turn them into campaign commercials. That gonna happen soon? Probably not. OK, with me. Over the cliff and then start talking about tax cuts in the new year. No way the GOP will be able to survive saying, nope no tax cuts unless the big guys get their’s too. Let them try.

          And by the way, what Krugman says is dead on. Deprive the revenue through tax cuts to starve the social programs that they hate. Only this time, it’s going to affect the military as well. Which they love. Glad I left the GOP years ago and am not stuck with this conundrum.

        • No, Obama’s doing the exact same thing on the spending side that the GOP is doing on the spending side.  The GOP has yet to specify how they will reach their spending cut goal.  Why should he come up with their plan for them?  They’re the ones who get stiff nips at the idea of screwing over people who need help.

  • Krugman’s column is so right,  I’d expect a Pulitzer nomination.  He HAS been right, over and over again.  No false equivalencys. Trading tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires in exchange for cuts in Medicare or SS is bullshit.  Noooooo more false equivalencies, please.  Obama won the election on a platform of raising taxes on the 1%. Now its time to do it.  The “fiscal cliff” was the brainchild of the GOP Congress, not the Dems.  Of course the real castastrophe is not the ‘cliff”, but on holding the nation hostage on the debt ceiling. 

    Why so much catastrophic brinkmanship that could plunge the nation into a depression?  Many fundamentalist tea party congressmen believe in the Book of Revelations  and that the world will  soon end in a nuclear Armageddon.  Someday soon we need to face these questions and stop skating around it.

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