It wasn’t a great week for congressional Republicans, who ended up hurting themselves twice — they looked bad fighting to raise middle-class taxes, and then looked worse caving when the heat was on.
Jon Chait argued this week that GOP policymakers were so far around the bend, they looked politically “suicidal.”
The payroll tax debacle is now the third suicidal episode undertaken by the House Republicans since they took control of it at the beginning of the year. The first was when they voted almost unanimously for Paul Ryan’s budget, which was filled with grist for attack ads — huge cuts to Medicare, big tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulating Wall Street — despite it having no chance of passing this term.
The second was when they played chicken with the debt ceiling and turned a once-routine procedure into a white-knuckle game of chicken with the world economy.
And then this week, when they attempted to extract concessions in return for extending the payroll tax holiday, an anti-recessionary measure with strong support from economists, businesses, and voters. These are not just gestures. The right-wingers are really trying to off themselves.
I found all of this quite compelling, but it got me thinking about why Republicans, especially in the House, would be so cavalier about their own electoral futures. Usually, elected politicians want to win re-election, and take some steps while in office that voters will respect and appreciate. As part of the efforts that make it seem as if GOP officials “really trying to off themselves” politically, congressional Republicans appear to be making themselves less popular, almost on purpose.
Why on earth would they do this? I’ve been kicking around a few theories.
1. Republican lawmakers assume voters aren’t paying any attention. Politicians can get away with quite a bit if they think the public won’t know either way.
2. They assume Democrats, when faced with any pressure at all, will invariably surrender and give Republicans whatever they demand. That’s generally not a bad strategy, but it failed miserably in the fight over the payroll tax cut.
3. They assume the media will, under all possible circumstances, continue to tell the public “both sides” are always to blame for everything. This, too, is a pretty safe bet, but when even Republican media outlets turn against the GOP (take the Wall Street Journal editorial page, for example), this starts to fail.
4. They fear primary challengers. Under this model, Republicans know their extremism will offend the American mainstream, but if they’re defeated by even-more-conservative primary opponents, their careers are over anyway.
5. They figure major right-wing money — from the Koch Brothers, Crossroads GPS, assorted Super PACs, etc. — will come in before the election, destroy their Democratic challengers, and keep them in office no matter what they vote for.
6. They’re just nuts.
Why else would congressional Republicans take such breathtaking risks with their own electoral fortunes?
Update: Paul Krugman argues that I missed one: “reliable conservatives are assured of a safe landing even if they are defeated,” thanks to “wingnut welfare.” It’s a good point.
By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 24, 2011
At a moment when the nation wonders whether politicians can agree on anything, here is something that unites the Republican presidential candidates — and all of them with President Obama: Everyone agrees that the 2012 election will be a turning point involving one of the most momentous choices in U.S. history.
True, candidates (and columnists) regularly cast an impending election as the most important ever. Campaigning last week in Pella, Iowa, Republican Rick Santorum acknowledged as much. But he insisted that this time, the choice really was that fundamental. “The debate,” he said, “is about who we are.”
Speaking not far away, in Mount Pleasant, Newt Gingrich went even further, and was more specific. “This is the most important election since 1860,” he said, “because there’s such a dramatic difference between the best food-stamp president in history and the best paycheck candidate.” Thus did Gingrich combine historic sweep with a cheap and inaccurate attack. Nonetheless, it says a great deal that Gingrich chose to reach all the way back to the election that helped spark the Civil War.
Mitt Romney was on the same page in a speech in Bedford, N.H. “This is an election not to replace a president but to save a vision of America,” he declared. “It’s a choice between two destinies.” Sounding just like Santorum, he urged voters to ask: “Who are we as Americans, and what kind of America do we want for our children?”
Obama could not agree more. “This is not just another political debate,” the president said in his theme-setting speech in Osawatomie, Kan., earlier this month. “This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class.”
On this one, Santorum, Gingrich, Romney and Obama all have it right. For the first time since Barry Goldwater made the effort in 1964, the Republican Party is taking a run at overturning the consensus that has governed U.S. political life since the Progressive era.
Obama is defending a tradition that sees government as an essential actor in the nation’s economy, a guarantor of fair rules of competition, a countervailing force against excessive private power, a check on the inequalities that capitalism can produce, and an instrument that can open opportunity for those born without great advantages.
Today’s Republicans cast the federal government as an oppressive force, a drag on the economy and an enemy of private initiative. Texas Gov. Rick Perry continues to promise, as he did last week during a campaign stop in Davenport, Iowa, to be a president who would make “Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as he can make it.” That far-reaching word “inconsequential” implies a lot more than trims in budgets or taxes.
The GOP is engaged in a wholesale effort to redefine the government help that Americans take for granted as an effort to create a radically new, statist society. Consider Romney’s claim in his Bedford speech: “President Obama believes that government should create equal outcomes. In an entitlement society, everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to take risk. That which is earned by some is redistributed to the others. And the only people who truly enjoy any real rewards are those who do the redistributing — the government.”
Obama believes no such thing. If he did, why are so many continuing to make bundles on Wall Street? As my colleagues Greg Sargent and Paul Krugman have been insisting, Romney is saying things about the president that are flatly, grossly and shamefully untrue. But Romney’s sleight of hand is revealing: Republicans are increasingly inclined to argue that any redistribution (and Social Security, Medicare, student loans, veterans benefits and food stamps are all redistributive) is but a step down the road to some radically egalitarian dystopia.
Obama will thus be the conservative in 2012, in the truest sense of that word. He is the candidate defending the modestly redistributive and regulatory government the country has relied on since the New Deal, and that neither Ronald Reagan nor George W. Bush dismantled. The rhetoric of the 2012 Republicans suggests they want to go far beyond where Reagan or Bush ever went. And here’s the irony: By raising the stakes of 2012 so high, Republicans will be playing into Obama’s hands. The GOP might well win a referendum on the state of the economy. But if this is instead a larger-scale referendum on whether government should be “inconsequential,” Republicans will find the consequences to be very disappointing.
By: E. J. Dionne Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 25, 2011
Last week, I mentioned the racism charges against Ron Paul, involving the newsletter he used to publish and some of the vile and witless statements therein. The matter has subsequently become a bigger deal, especially since he of the ill-fitting suit appeared on CNN and endured some questions from Gloria Borger, or perhaps I should say failed to endure them, since he snapped off his lapel mic and walked off the set. Paul says he has answered the charges. He has not. If he really wanted to, there are two very simple things he could do, but he will not do them, for reasons that are themselves illuminating.
If you’re unfamiliar with the particulars, you should read James Kirchick’s original New Republic piece from 2008. These are not your run-of-the-mill euphemisms. These are blatantly racist comments by, I would hope, nearly any measure. Jews and gays get their moment in the sun, and there are code-word comments of the sort we’ve come to expect about matters like secession, the right of which “should be ingrained in a free society”; but all those are just warm-up acts for the race stuff. The “Special Issue on Racial Terrorism,” produced after the Los Angeles riots, offers many gems, including this advice: “I’ve urged everyone in my family to know how to use a gun in self defense. For the animals are coming.”
I invoke this quote because the “I” in the above sentence is problematic. It would seem, in the pages of something called the Ron Paul Political Report, that that “I” would represent, well, Ron Paul. But he denies authorship—and more. As he said to Borger: “I never read that stuff. I was probably aware of it 10 years after it was written and it’s been going on 20 years that people have pestered me about this…”
So here is the first thing Paul can do, which is to provide an answer to a simple question: If he didn’t write those sentences, who did? Why not say? If he genuinely disagrees with the statements and truly disavows them, there could be no good reason not to name names. He acknowledges that he’s been aware of the sentences for a decade. Well, did he look into the authorship question at the time, when he was made aware? It seems to me that if I were a member of the House of Representatives (as Paul was at the time) and not a racist, and I discovered that racist screeds had been issued under my name, I’d want to know who wrote them. I suppose one could argue that they were written by a friend, and Paul is honorably protecting that friend from scrutiny. I might counter by stating that (again) if I were not a racist and discovered that racist screeds had been penned under my name by someone, it’s not very likely that that someone would still be my friend, on grounds of both his dubious integrity and our incompatibility of world views.
The second thing Paul could do is give a speech, or at least an informal talk, about his actual racial views. Paul has said that he doesn’t hold those views, and that “anyone who knows me” can affirm this to be the case. Well, doctor: a) that’s awfully fuzzy and doesn’t fill in much of the canvas, and b) the vast majority of us don’t know you. So how about filling in that canvas? If his views are as advanced as he assures us they are, there can be no downside.
Or can’t there? Paul will of course take neither of these steps. He won’t do the first because—well, the first theory of the case, hardly discredited to this point, is that he is in fact the author, and he’s clearly not going to admit that. But even if it is someone else, he won’t. It could be someone he’s still close to, someone he’s praised recently, or a dozen other things. And he won’t do the second because among his core supporters, there is utterly no reason for him to answer these questions. Doing so—giving some Obama-style “race speech”—would constitute capitulation to the liberal media, and if he committed that mortal sin, he’d quickly find himself back in the single-digit rooming house where he has flopped down for so many years already. And so, the real reason the truth is likely to remain unexamined, stated directly: Among Republicans and conservatives, there simply aren’t enough people who care whether he’s a racist or not. If there were a demand for an explanation, he would supply one. But there is not.
I recognize that it was all 20 years ago. There should be a statute of limitations on some things. But I humbly suggest that there are some matters on which there should not a statute of limitations. Kind words for Nazis; sympathy for Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and certain other dark eminences of the left; defenses of slavery; I’d say that these matters are on the far side of the Rubicon. Calling a group of people—identifiable only by their race—“animals” belongs in that company. We lack proof that Paul did that, but at the very least we have proof that he has regarded this whole thing very casually. This might not disqualify Paul from serving in Congress. There are all kinds of loons there. But for president, surely we can all agree that we can do better than this.
By: Michael Tomasky, Special Correspondent, The Daily Beast, December 23, 2011