It’s been a good week for the intellectual cause of reforming the Republican Party. Ramesh Ponnuru has a sharp op-ed in the New York Times today arguing that Ronald Reagan’s economic program was well tailored to the conditions of 1980, but does not meet the needs of the present day. (Ponnuru could have noted that Reagan himself altered his own program in response to the massive structural deficits it created — the conservative liturgy defines the Reagan gospel as the pure 1981 version.) Bush administration veterans Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner have a longer piece in Commentary arguing along similar lines.
These are smart arguments and I devoutly hope for their success. Yet they contain the same flaws that seem to recur in all the efforts to reform the GOP from within: an unwillingness to identify or confront the forces within the party that prevent these reforms from succeeding.
Yesterday, for instance, Paul Ryan appeared on This Week to argue once again for why Republicans would not accept any new revenue as part of a deficit reduction plan:
But taking tax loophole, what we’ve always advocated is necessary for tax reform, means you’re going to close loopholes to fuel more spending not to reform the tax code. …
So if you take tax loopholes to fuel more spending, which is what they’re proposing, then you are preventing tax reform, which we think is necessary, to end crony capitalism and to grow the economy.
This is pure Republican orthodoxy. What’s remarkable about the ability of anti-tax zealots like Ryan to sustain their position is that it places them in direct opposition to conservative goals on both defense and spending. After all, Obama is offering to cut spending on retirement programs and to cancel out cuts to defense — two things large chunks of the GOP would like — in return for more revenue. He’s not even demanding higher rates. He’s merely asking to reduce tax deductions.
Ryan insists he won’t take the deal, because if he uses the revenue from reducing tax deductions to close the deficit, it won’t be available to reduce tax rates. Every other fiscal priority must give way for the overriding goal of reducing marginal tax rates.
But where are the Republicans speaking in opposition to Ryan and his allies? I haven’t seen a single one. Instead, they ignore the existing configurations altogether. Wehner had a blog post yesterday railing against “the refusal by Democrats to reform entitlement programs in general.” But Obama has been offering to reduce spending on Social Security and Medicare for two years now, in return for Republican agreement to spread the burden of the fiscal adjustment. They won’t take the deal.
Now, maybe Obama’s deal isn’t exactly what Ponnuru, Gerson, and Wehner would like. But if Republicans want to reform their party’s identity and make it into something other than absolutist advocacy of low taxes for the rich, they need to come up with some negotiating position on fiscal issues other than “no tax hikes for the rich of any kind no matter what we get in return.”
By: Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, February 18, 2013
It’s obviously premature to celebrate “victory” in Libya when no one knows what will happen next, or how difficult and bloody the process of state-building will be. (And Gadhafi is not yet actually gone.) But the news is good, and Obama’s strategic approach to the conflict — allowing France and NATO to take the lead to minimize the chance that America was seen as leading another Iraq-style war of aggression — seems to have been the right one. (Strategically. Not necessarily legally.) As Steve Kornacki wrote this morning, this should be the end of the “Obama is too weak to lead” talking point from the right. It should be, but … it isn’t.
Today’s Wall Street Journal editorial page takes a break from excusing the criminality of the executives in charge of its parent company to deliver an official house reaction to the developments in Tripoli that starts off cautious and then just descends right back into the exact same lame arguments it’s been using for the last six months:
Having helped to midwife the rebel advances with air power, intelligence and weapons, NATO will have some influence with the rebels in the days ahead. The shame is how much faster Gadhafi might have been defeated, how many fewer people might have been killed, and how much more influence the U.S. might now have, if America had led more forcefully from the beginning.
Planning for this moment is precisely why we and many others had urged the State Department to engage with the rebels from the earliest days of the revolt, but the U.S. was slow to do so and only formally recognized the opposition Transitional National Council in mid-July. The hesitation gave Gadhafi hope that he could hold out and force a stalemate.
Libyans will determine their own future, but the U.S. has a stake in showing the world that NATO’s intervention, however belated and ill-executed, succeeded in its goals of removing a dictator, saving lives, and promoting a new Libyan government that respects its people and doesn’t sponsor global terrorism.
I’m not sure how long the editors of the Wall Street Journal think your average revolution lasts, but assuming Gadhafi’s hold on power is as weak as it appears today, I would argue — as a layman, of course — that NATO’s intervention seems neither “belated” nor “ill-executed.” (I mean, it seems well-executed, in the sense that it seems to have accomplished its goal?)
But it’s the line about America leading “more forcefully from the beginning” that the neocons and GOP hawks will continue to cling to no matter what actually happens in Libya. It’s the same argument BFF Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham used in their joint response to this weekend’s developments: “Americans can be proud of the role our country has played in helping to defeat Qaddafi, but we regret that this success was so long in coming due to the failure of the United States to employ the full weight of our airpower.”
All-out war! From day one! With the full force of American airpower! One definite way to make a civil war faster and less bloody is for a foreign country to enter it fully, right? (It tends to unite the populace, for one thing!) And conflicts are always less bloody when America drops more American bombs. That’s how we won Vietnam!
There’s no point in countering McCain and the Journal’s arguments with reason, of course, because these are not actually fact-based responses to news, they’re just rote recitations of Republican dogma: Obama weak! (Except domestically, where he is an autocrat.)
And this is the “respectable” Republican talking point. The line from the real nuts — I’m guessing something along the lines of “radical Obama allows Muslim Brotherhood to seize control in Libya” — will begin bubbling up from the sewers to talk radio and Fox News and Michele Bachmann’s campaign soon enough.
By: Alex Pareene, Salon War Room, August 22, 2011