Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein recently wrote a column for the Washington Post with a provocative headline: “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.” Their thesis was that they had never, in 40 years of observing Congress, seen the institution behave in such a dysfunctional manner. They wrote that while they had long found reasons to be critical of both Democrats and Republicans, things have changed and our current crisis is solely the fault of a Republican Party that “has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”
The article went on to present extensive evidence to back their case. Nothing has signified these extreme tendencies more clearly than last summer’s debt ceiling fiasco, where the Republicans acted so irresponsibly that Standard & Poor’s felt compelled to downgrade America’s hitherto gold-plated credit rating. In their press release, the ratings agency implicitly accused the Republicans of “brinksmanship” and said they had caused American governance and policymaking to become “less stable, less effective, and less predictable that we previously believed.” They were particularly alarmed that the statutory debt ceiling had become a bargaining chip over fiscal policy.
Looking back at that debacle, Steve Benen recently wrote, “It was, to my mind, the worst thing an American major party has done, at least in domestic politics, since the Civil War.”
When I first read that, it struck me as a preposterous statement. What about the Jim Crow laws, or the Palmer raids, or the Japanese internment camps, or McCarthyism, or the Vietnam and Iraq wars? But when I started to think about it, I realized that many of the big mistakes our country has made since the Civil War were not really the result of one political party’s actions. The Jim Crow laws are, of course, associated with the Democratic Party. But only the Southern half of the Democratic Party. Wartime measures, like the Palmer Raids during World War I, the internment camps of World War II, COINTELPRO during Vietnam, or illegal surveillance and detainee abuse during the current War on Terror, have been instigated less by political parties than by particular administrations, or they have had significant bipartisan support. The same can be said for our country’s decisions to fight in Vietnam and Iraq. In these cases, the blame is both too narrow in one sense, and too broad in another, to lay all the blame on a single party. Even McCarthyism can’t be laid squarely on the GOP, since much of the Republican establishment, including the Eisenhower administration, wasn’t too pleased with it. The debt ceiling fiasco was different. Here’s how Benen described it:
It was a move without parallel. The entirety of a party threatened to deliberately hurt the country unless their rivals paid a hefty ransom — in this case, debt reduction. It didn’t matter that Republicans were largely responsible for the debt in the first place, and it didn’t matter that Republicans routinelyraised the debt ceiling dozens of times over the last several decades.This wasn’t just another partisan dispute; it was a scandal for the ages. This one radical scheme helped lead to the first-ever downgrade of U.S. debt; it riled financial markets and generated widespread uncertainty about the stability of the American system; and it severely undermined American credibility on the global stage. Indeed, in many parts of the world, observers didn’t just lose respect for us, they were actually laughing at us.
It’s the kind of thing that should have scarred the Republican Party for a generation. Not only did that never happen, the Republican hostage-takers are already vowing to create this identical crisis all over again, on purpose.
Benen is right. It’s not easy to identify other examples where an American political party acted with such reckless disregard for the good of the country. But when I really think about it, the Debt Ceiling Fiasco isn’t a stand-alone thing. It’s part of a continuum. You can’t just cherry-pick the Debt Ceiling Fiasco and forget about the politicization of the Department of Justice, or putting an Arabian horse trader in charge of New Orleans’ safety, or blowing off any planning and just declaring, “Fuck Saddam, we’re taking him out.” What’s the worst thing the GOP has done in the 17 years since they first took control of Congress? The Gingrich shutdowns of the federal government? Impeaching President Clinton? Using their majority on the Supreme Court to steal the 2000 election? Standing around like mute apes while the housing bubble inflated?
It’s not that the Debt Ceiling Fiasco was the worst or stupidest thing that any political party has imposed on America in 150 years. It’s that the Republican Party is the worst party we’ve had in 150 years. You might argue that they don’t have much competition. “So, they’re worse than the Democrats, big deal.” But parties don’t remain the same over time. In one sense, they change every two years following each federal election cycle. It’s best to think of iterations of our political parties.
For the GOP, there’s the abolitionist Lincoln iteration, the Reconstruction iteration, the McKinley/Taft iteration, the Teddy Roosevelt Era, the Roaring ’20s iteration, the FDR oppositional phase, the Eisenhower era, the Nixon/Ford iteration, the Reagan Revolution, the Gingrich Revolution, the Bush era, and finally the post-Bush era. And there’s no need to box things into tight little categories. It makes sense to talk about the post-Bush Republican Party, but we can also talk about the post-Nixon party or consider the contemporary GOP on a timeline beginning with its 1994 takeover of Congress.
I think it’s fair to say that the GOP that exists today, as expressed by both its behavior in Congress and its recent display in the presidential primaries, is worse than it has ever been. The Republicans of the 113th Congress are worse than the Republicans of the 112th, who were worse than the 111th, and so on.
There’s a scene in the movie Office Space in which the main character is talking to a psychologist. He complains that every day seems worse than the last. The psychologist says, “That means that every day is the worst day of your life.” The protagonist agrees, which leads the psychologist to observe impassively, “That’s messed up.” That’s a great metaphor for the modern Republican Party. The Debt Ceiling Fiasco, which is now set to be repeated, was merely a temporary nadir on an otherwise constant 45º downward slope.
A blogger who goes by the nom de guerre driftglass recently wrote about New York Times columnist David Brooks’ tendency to “waddle into the threshing blades.” I like that imagery. That’s what the Republicans have been doing to the country for a while now. Under Gingrich, they shut down the government and impeached the president after hounding him for six years with specious investigations. Then they disgraced the Supreme Court and stole the election away from its rightful winners. Then they dropped the ball on al-Qaeda. Next we wound up in Iraq with no plan.
From there it was on to Terri Schiavo and a drowned New Orleans and a failed attempt to privatize Social Security and a wrecked Department of Justice, and the Abramoff scandal. There was Guantanamo and black prisons and torture and murder and disaster in Afghanistan. When the stock market collapsed in September 2008, it might have seemed like the final culmination of a disastrous path embarked upon…when, exactly? 1964? 1980? 1994?
But the nightmare wasn’t over. In many ways, it was only starting. Yet to come were the Birthers and the Tea Party and the Tenthers and climate deniers. The party would begin a new Great Purge, sending Arlen Specter scurrying to the Democrats and defeating long-serving politicians like Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah, Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska (who survived on a write-in campaign), Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware, and a couple dozen “Establishment” picks. Those that have survived are now cowering in fear, completely unwilling to compromise with the Democrats or the president on anything, lest they become the next victim. They can’t address climate change because, despite the fact that John McCain and Sarah Palin campaigned on a cap-and-trade carbon plan, the party’s officeholders are now afraid to admit that climate change is even occurring.
And who could have predicted that the party would go after women’s access to contraception?
And what of the new crop of Republican governors. Grifters like Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Rick Scott in Florida surely represent a new breed (and a new low) of radical state executives. Governors in Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona and elsewhere are competing with each other to craft the most radical and unprecedented legislation. We have not seen a party this dangerous in any of our lifetimes. Not in this country, anyway. The last time things got this bad was about 150 years ago. The last time things got this bad, we needed a Civil War to resolve it.
By: Martin Longman, AlterNet, May 21, 2012
The Republican campaign has been relentlessly focused on the goal of making voters hold President Obama responsible for the aftereffects of the 2008 global economic crisis. (See, for instance, these ads on “the Obama economy.”) But the party intends to use its power, should it win election, not to focus on decreasing short-term unemployment but on implementing a dramatic long-term restructuring of the scope of government. Mike Allen reports that Mitt Romney, in meetings with campaign donors, is tying himself more tightly to the Paul Ryan plan.
Pull back for a moment and consider Ryan’s role within the party, which is really pivotal. For several months, Ryan has been imploring Republicans not only to support his plan but to embrace it. Why should they do so? Because, when they win, then they will be able to implement the full thing. At a high-profile speech at the sacred locale of the Reagan library yesterday, Ryan hammered home the theme again:
I believe boldness and clarity of the kind that Ronald Reagan displayed in 1980 offer us the greatest opportunity to create a winning coalition in 2012. We will not only win the next election, we have a unique opportunity to sweep and remake the political landscape. …
If we make the case effectively and win this November, then we will have the moral authority to enact the kind of fundamental reforms America has not seen since Ronald Reagan’s first year.
What Ryan is up to here, and what he’s been up to for more than two years, is this: He is trying to win an argument within the party that will occur after the 2012 election.
Should that happen, at least some of the more vulnerable Republicans will propose some measure of caution. They will believe the party won due to the poor state of the economy, not because of the Ryan plan (more accurately, even despite its embrace of the Ryan plan). Ryan wants to discredit that objection in advance.
The connecting thread of my last two print stories for the magazine — the first on the GOP’s almost panicked now-or-never focus on 2012, and the second on the rise of Paul Ryan — is that the Republicans, led by Ryan, have made a strategic decision that the economic crisis offers them an expiring window of opportunity to pass the agenda of their dreams. Should they win the election, it is vital that they use their majority immediately and to maximal effect. That’s why Ryan insisted on boxing the party in by getting his fellow Republicans to take dangerous votes on his budget in 2011 and again this year despite having no chance of signing into law under Obama. By making virtually all Republicans in Congress take the vote now, they will have a hard time claiming next year that voters don’t want such radical change.
I don’t think Ryan particularly cares whether Republicans actually win by running on his plan or merely can be persuaded that they have done so. He would probably be perfectly happy for Romney to win solely by focusing on the lingering effects of the economic crisis, as long as the party turns around and uses the win to pass his plan. The point is, Ryan has been setting up the big gamble for a long time — win the presidency, House, Senate trifecta in 2012 and pass his plan — and everything he’s doing is geared toward locking the rest of his party into it.
By: Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, May 24, 2012
One of this biggest economic stories of the past week was this:
The 17-country eurozone risks falling into a “severe recession,” the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned on Tuesday, as it called on governments and Europe’s central bank to act quickly to keep the slowdown from dragging down the global economy.
Just six months ago the OECD considered a 2 percent European contraction the worst-case scenario, but it now sees that as close to happening.
The report forecasts Europe falling further behind other countries, particularly the United States, whose economy is expected to grow 2.4 percent this year and 2.6 percent next.
Let me repeat: Europe’s economy is contracting, while the U.S. economy is growing. Europe’s economy is in imminent danger of contracting at the rate that just six months ago was considered the worst-case scenario, while the U.S. economy is expected to grow even more next year than this year. And just outside the Eurozone, this past week also saw England’s double-dip recession reported as even worsethan had been thought. In other words, as the world continues to attempt to dig itself out of the economic collapse that was caused by the banking meltdown, the United States is slowly recovering. Europe isn’t.
While Europe elected conservative governments at the worst possible moment, and then embraced the cruel stupidity that is economic austerity, the United States took a different path. The United States should have embraced a much more aggressive growth policy, but at least it didn’t slash and burn government spending the way Europe did. Europe’s economies and Europe’s people have been devastated by economic austerity while the tentative Obama stimulus package has stimulated tentative economic growth. Stimulus works, austerity doesn’t. Until the economy is fully back on its feet, more stimulus would be the best economic policy. Austerity would be the worst economic policy. So what do the Republicans want to do?
Mitt Romney would have let the auto industry go bankrupt. Mitt Romney thinks unemployment insurance is a disaster. Mitt Romney wants to cut Medicare and Social Security benefits. Mitt Romney wants to cut benefits on just about everyone who needs them in order to finance even more tax cuts for the extremely wealthy— people such as Mitt Romney. In other words, Mitt Romney wants to impose austerity on pretty much everyone other than the very few who are in the economic class of Mitt Romney. In fact, Mitt Romney’s economic program is so unfair, and it so favors the very few who are in the economic class of Mitt Romney, that he doesn’t even want us to know its details. And that gets to the core of why Mitt Romney is unfit to govern.
The problem with Mitt Romney is not only that he doesn’t want us to know the details of his economic agenda, which suggests that it’s even worse than what we do know, and what we do know is bad enough, but Mitt Romney also doesn’t want us to know any details about Mitt Romney. Breaking with the tradition that voters should know as much as is possible about presidential candidates, Mitt Romney won’t release his tax returns. What is he hiding? Breaking with the tradition that voters should have at least some idea about a presidential candidate’s positions on major issues, Mitt Romney has flip-flopped so many times on so many issues that even one of his top campaign advisors openly admitted that Romney’s stands can be erased and rewritten without notice. Does he even have any principles or values, or is that he doesn’t want us to know what they are? What is he hiding? Mitt Romney has taken so many stands on so many issues that even he can’t remember where he is supposed to stand on them on any given day. Maybe what Mitt Romney is hiding is that there is no Mitt Romney at all.
For their part, Republican congressional leaders want to repeal the Obama health care law, which would explode the national debt. Republican congressional leaders offer nothing to replace the Obama health care law. House Republicans voted to end Medicare. House Republicans want to decimate health care spending. House Republicans want to take away a million Pell Grants. House Republicans want to punish low income Americans. House Republicans want to punish senior citizens. House Republicans want to punish women. House Republicans want to drive even more Americans from some semblance of food security into poverty. The House Republican budget leader wants to drive even more children into poverty. Whatever they may say they want to do, the agenda of congressional Republicans would be devastating for tens of millions of Americans.
Unfortunately, being wrong— even stupidly wrong— is not in itself proof of unfitness to govern. As the Bush-Cheney team proved, it is in fact now a prerequisite for any Republican aspiring to national office. But the destructive policy agenda of congressional Republicans is not even remotely the worst of it, because in order to impose these policies they have resorted to tactics that are nothing more than political extortion, and government cannot function by extortion. It cannot function when hard fought agreements are blithely broken for the purpose of further extortion. And that’s what the Republicans now are about. They operate like criminal thugs and they cannot be trusted to keep their word. And it’s not merely a game of daring high stakes brinksmanship, for merely playing the game is itself dangerously destructive.
When the Republicans last summer broke bipartisan precedent by threatening the full faith and credit of the United States in order to force the sorts of budget cuts that have shattered the economies of Europe, they agreed to a deal that itself will damage the recovery, but by forcing that deal they also triggered the first ever downgrade in our national credit rating. The Standard & Poor’s downgrade was problematic in itself, but S&P was very carefully explicit in its rationale:
The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy.
That brinksmanship was wholly the fault of the Republicans. Under both Democratic and Republican presidents, and with both Democratic and Republican Congresses, no one previously had been so petty and unhinged as to play chicken with the debt ceiling. The Republicans last year broke all precedent. Ownership of the consequences is theirs alone. And beyond revealing how dangerous they are even to have attempted political extortion by holding the debt ceiling hostage, the specifics of the Republican approach to the national debt also was specifically mentioned.
Compared with previous projections, our revised base case scenario now assumes that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, due to expire by the end of 2012, remain in place. We have changed our assumption on this because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the act.
Both the Republican policy and the means of imposing the Republican policy were specifically cited. As our own Hunter explained:
Parsing the S&P statement from a partisan standpoint, there are a few things to note. As cited above, the Bush tax cuts appear to be the only non-entitlement-related government policy specifically called out by S&P in their rationale for downgrade, and “Republicans in Congress” were specifically called out for “continu[ing] to resist any measure that would raise revenues.” It seems S&P comes down squarely on the side of believing revenues doneed to be increased, though it pointedly shies away from suggesting any numbers.Couple this with their plain and prominent citation of debt ceiling hostage-taking as a prime reason for the downgrade, and it would be difficult to argue any position other than that S&P is blaming recent GOP actions directly for their downgrade decision
All of which would be bad enough. All of which would by itself reveal how dangerous it is to allow such people any means of asserting any level of control over the making of economic policy. But now House Speaker John Boehner wants to play the whole game over again:
In the meeting—a day after a high-profile speech by Boehner in which he called for spending cuts paired with any future debt-ceiling hikes—the speaker told the president that “I’m not going to allow a debt ceiling increase without doing something serious about the debt,” according to the Ohio Republican’s aides.
Which has even his Republican Senate counterpart unenthused. Of course that same Republican Senate counterpart last year said that his single most important goal was to deny President Obama a second term in office. Despite two wars, international terrorism, a still staggering economy, rising poverty and homelessness, an impending climate crisis and a host of other issues on which one would think a national political leader would want to focus, the single greatest priority of the most powerful Republican in the Senate was to ensure electoral victory. And continued Republican efforts to sabotage the economyproved the man’s words.
The Republicans don’t want to solve the nation’s problems, they only want to gain and maintain political power. And in pursuit of that goal they are openly and dangerously reckless. And their new presidential standard-bearer not only wants to impose policies similar to those that continue to devastate Europe, he is a deliberately dishonest cipher, not only about where he stands on issues but even about whether or not he actually has any stands on issues. He doesn’t merely disinform, he openly mocks even the concept of informing.
Differences in policy are one thing, and history tends to reveal who was right and who was wrong. For example, the New Deal worked, while austerity doesn’t. And it’s perfectly fair for Republicans to continue to try to gut the New Deal while promoting more disastrous austerity. That’s politics, and if American voters want to swap the current slow but steadily improving economic recovery for the type of economic implosion and social upheaval now crushing Europe, they have every right to vote for the Republicans. They have every right to vote for whomever they want for whatever reasons or lack of reason they choose. But when Republicans shatter precedent by attempting political extortion that by itself endangers the full faith and credit of the United States, when they threaten to crash the economy if they don’t get their way, when they consider winning more important than responsible governing, when they consciously attempt to undermine the very concept of an informed electorate, that isn’t politics, it’s the deliberate destruction of politics. It makes mere thuggery appear relatively benign in comparison. It reveals the Republicans as not only ideologically and intellectually incompetent, but also as dangerously unstable of temperament.
With the modern Republican Party, the danger isn’t merely that they will succeed in imposing more disastrous policies, the danger is that even allowing them to have any influence at all on the process of making policy can and will be abused, with potentially disastrous consequences. Modern Republicans are not merely lousy at governing, they are unfit to govern.
By: Laurence Lewis, Daily Kos, May 27, 2012
Progressives have yearned for President Obama to follow Harry Truman’s strategy from the 1948 campaign by giving his Republican opponents hell. Now that Obama is doing just that, his critics say he’s not looking presidential.
As a longtime advocate of the Truman approach (and a fan of Give ’Em Hell Harry and his way of doing politics), I think Obama is doing the right thing. Critics of the battling style miss what Obama needs to get done in this campaign and also ignore the extent to which so many of his foes refuse to treat him in a presidential way. Far better for him to be a fully engaged fighter with passion for what he’s saying than a distant, regal figure pretending that the other side is playing by a dainty set of rules.
But if 1948 is to be the model, what can we learn from Truman’s experience, and how does that election relate to the one we’re having in 2012?
The similarities are important. Truman in 1946, like Obama in 2010 (and, for that matter, Bill Clinton in 1994), suffered a severe setback in midterm elections that substantially strengthened the hands of his congressional adversaries. Truman’s opponent, Thomas E. Dewey, was a Northeastern Republican governor who, like Mitt Romney, was not a favorite of the most conservative wing of his party. But unlike Romney, Dewey was a genuine moderate trying hard not be ensnared in the agenda of the GOP Congress.
For Truman, tying the “do-nothing” Republican Congress around Dewey’s neck was essential to reminding the many New Dealers in the electorate of the identity of FDR’s true heir. Dewey spent the whole campaign in a box. If he danced away from congressional Republicans, he looked unprincipled. If he embraced them, he put himself right where Truman wanted him.
To the extent that Romney can be tied to an unpopular Republican House and an obstructionist minority in the Senate, their unpopularity will rub off on him. But unlike Dewey, Romney has largely endorsed his congressional colleagues’ agenda. Obama’s task is to argue that whatever moderate sounds Romney made during his career in Massachusetts politics, these are irrelevant to how he would govern with the GOP likely to be in the congressional saddle. Obama wants to paint Romney as someone who would be a pawn of a runaway right-wing Congress, thus challenging both Romney’s strength of conviction and his ideology. As Truman did with Dewey, Obama wants to offer Romney the unpalatable choice of offending his party or offending swing voters.
There is also an advantage in Obama directly taking on Romney’s background in private equity at Bain Capital. By raising these questions himself, Obama signaled that he would not let criticisms from such Democrats as Newark Mayor Cory Booker force him to back down from a challenge he knows he needs to lodge against Romney’s claims as a “job creator.” By the end of last week, Booker had eased off while the Bain issue was still alive, to the point that even Rush Limbaugh was forced to acknowledge that private equity was about profit-making, not job creation.
And if Republicans wish to argue that Obama’s vigorous anti-Romney campaigning is un-presidential, they have to answer for George W. Bush’s unashamed attacks against Democrat John Kerry in 2004. Sara Fagen, an adviser to Bush in that campaign, recently told Peter Baker of the New York Times that Bush “almost never mentioned” Kerry, “certainly not this early.”
The truth of this depends on what the meaning of the word “almost” is. In February 2004, for example, Bush mocked Kerry — he referred to him as “one senator from Massachusetts” — as being “for tax cuts and against them. For NAFTA and against NAFTA. For the Patriot Act and against the Patriot Act. In favor of liberating Iraq and opposed to it.” The next month, Bush accused Kerry by name of being “willing to gut the intelligence services” with a “deeply irresponsible” proposal to cut intelligence spending. There is no record of Republicans complaining that these political assaults were beneath a president.
Like Truman — and, for that matter, like Bush — Obama confronts a sharply divided country, the need to rally his own supporters and the imperative of convincing undecided voters that electing his opponent would be a dangerous risk. What Truman taught is that Americans would rather see a president with the strength to fight than a politician with such sensitive sensibilities that he leaves all the tough stuff to others.
BY: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 27, 2012