By the very nature of political journalism, the attention of those covering the 2012 Republican presidential nominating contest tends to be focused on areas of disagreement between the candidates, as well as on the policy positions and messages they are eager to use against Barack Obama. But there are a host of other issues where the Republican candidates are in too much agreement to create a lot of controversy during debates or gin up excitement in the popular media. Areas of agreement, after all, rarely provoke shock or drive readership. But the fact that the Republican Party has reached such a stable consensus on such a great number of far-right positions is in many ways a more shocking phenomenon than the rare topic on which they disagree. Here are just a few areas of consensus on which the rightward lurch of the GOP during the last few years has become remarkably apparent:
1. Hard money. With the exception of Ron Paul’s serial campaigns and a failed 1988 effort by Jack Kemp, it’s been a very long time since Republican presidential candidates flirted with the gold standard or even talked about currency polices. Recent assaults by 2012 candidates on Ben Bernanke and demands for audits of the Fed reflect a consensus in favor of deflationary monetary policies and elimination of any Fed mission other than preventing inflation. When combined with unconditional GOP hostility to stimulative fiscal policies—another new development—this position all but guarantees that a 2012 Republican victory will help usher in a longer and deeper recession than would otherwise be the case.
2. Anti-unionism. While national Republican candidates have always perceived the labor movement as a partisan enemy, they haven’t generally championed overtly anti-labor legislation. Last Thursday, however, they all backed legislation to strip the National Labor Relations Board of its power to prevent plant relocations designed to retaliate against legally protected union activities (power the NLRB is exercising in the famous Boeing case involving presidential primary hotspot South Carolina). Meanwhile, at least two major candidates, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, have endorsed a national right-to-work law, and Romney and Perry have also encouraged states like New Hampshire to adopt right-to-work laws.
3. Radical anti-environmentalism. Until quite recently, Republicans running for president paid lip service to environmental protection as a legitimate national priority, typically differentiating themselves from Democrats by favoring less regulatory enforcement approaches and more careful assessment of economic costs and market mechanisms. The new mood in the GOP is perhaps best exemplified by Herman Cain’s proposal at the most recent presidential debate that “victims” of the Environmental Protection Agency (apparently, energy industry or utility executives) should dominate a commission to review environmental regulations—an idea quickly endorsed by Rick Perry. In fact, this approach might represent the middle-of-the-road within the party, given the many calls by other Republicans (including presidential candidates Paul, Bachmann, and Gingrich) for the outright abolition of EPA.
4.Radical anti-abortion activism. Gone are the days when at least one major Republican candidate (e.g., Rudy Giuliani in 2008) could be counted on to appeal to pro-choice Republicans by expressing some reluctance to embrace an immediate abolition of abortion rights. Now the only real intramural controversy on abortion has mainly surrounded a sweeping pledge proffered to candidates by the Susan B. Anthony List—one that would bind their executive as well as judicial appointments, and require an effort to cut off federal funds to institutions only tangentially involved in abortions. Despite this fact, only Mitt Romney and Herman Cain have refused to sign. Both, however, have reiterated their support for the reversal of Roe v. Wade and a constitutional amendment to ban abortion forever (though Romney has said that’s not achievable at present).
5. No role for government in the economy. Most remarkably, the 2012 candidate field appears to agree that there is absolutely nothing the federal government can do to improve the economy—other than disabling itself as quickly as possible. Entirely missing are the kind of modest initiatives for job training, temporary income support, or fiscal relief for hard-pressed state and local governments that Republicans in the past have favored as a conservative alternative to big government counter-cyclical schemes. Also missing are any rhetorical gestures towards the public-sector role in fostering a good economic climate, whether through better schools, basic research, infrastructure projects, and other public investments (the very term has been demonized as synonymous with irresponsible spending).
Add all this up, and it’s apparent the Republican Party has become identified with a radically conservative world-view in which environmental regulations and collective bargaining by workers have strangled the economy; deregulation, federal spending cuts, and deflation of the currency are the only immediate remedies; and the path back to national righteousness will require restoration of the kinds of mores—including criminalization of abortion—that prevailed before things started going to hell in the 1960s. That Republicans hardly even argue about such things anymore makes the party’s transformation that much more striking—if less noticeable to the news media and the population at large.
By: Ed Kilgore, The New Republic, September 19, 2011
Gov. Paul LePage wants three million acres of North Woods forests opened to development. Weeks after he was sworn in as governor of Maine, Paul LePage, a Tea Party favorite, announced a 63-point plan to cut environmental regulations, including opening three million acres of the North Woods for development and suspending a law meant to monitor toxic chemicals that could be found in children’s products. Mr. LePage said workers’ and businesses’ interests should be defended “with the same vigor that we defend tree frogs.”
Another Tea Party ally, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, has proposed eliminating millions of dollars in annual outlays for land conservation as well as cutting to $17 million the $50 million allocated in last year’s budget for the restoration of the dwindling Everglades.
And in North Carolina, where Republicans won control of both houses of the Legislature for the first time in 140 years, leaders recently proposed a budget that would cut operating funds to the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources by 22 percent.
In the past month, the nation’s focus has been on the budget battle in Washington, where Republicans in Congress aligned with the Tea Party have fought hard for rollbacks to the Environmental Protection Agency, clean air and water regulations, renewable energy and other conservation programs. But similar efforts to make historically large cuts to environmental programs are also in play at the state level as legislatures and governors take aim at conservation and regulations they see as too burdensome to business interests.
Governor LePage summed up the animus while defending his program in a radio address. “Maine’s working families and small businesses are endangered,” he said. “It is time we start defending the interests of those who want to work and invest in Maine with the same vigor that we defend tree frogs and Canadian lynx.”
When Republicans wrested control across the country last November, they made clear that reducing all government was important, but that cutting environmental regulations was a particular priority. Almost all state environmental budgets have been in decline since the start of the recession, said R. Steven Brown, executive director of the Environmental Council of the States, which works with environmental agencies across the country. What has changed this budget season is the scope and ambition of the proposed cuts and the plans to dismantle the regulatory systems, say advocates who are already battle-hardened. “Historically, we’ve taken pride in being a leader in environmental quality in the Southeast,” said Molly Diggins of North Carolina, director of the state chapter of the Sierra Club. “But there is now such fervor to reduce the size of the environmental agency. The atmosphere is the most vitriolic it’s ever been.”
David Guest, the managing attorney for the Florida office of Earthjustice, a national environmental law firm, said Governor Scott’s budget was “the most radical anti-environmental budget” he had seen in two decades of environmental work. Comparing Mr. Scott’s proposed changes with those of Florida’s previous Republican governors, including Jeb Bush, he called them “a whole new world.”
The strategies have been similar across the affected states: cut budgets and personnel at regulatory agencies, prevent the issuing of new regulations, roll back land conservation and, if possible, eliminate planning boards that monitor, restrict or permit building development.
In New Jersey, for example, Gov. Chris Christie, another favorite among Tea Party loyalists, has said the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, which preserves more than 800,000 acres of open land that supplies drinking water to more than half of New Jersey’s residents, is an infringement on property rights. Mr. Christie has moved to shift power from planning boards and government agencies to administrative judges, political appointees who, environmentalists say, tend to rule more often in favor of developers’ interests.
In Florida, Governor Scott has asked to cut staff members to 40 from 358 at the Department of Community Affairs, which regulates land use and was created to be a control on unchecked urban sprawl. Lane Wright, a spokesman for Governor Scott, said the cuts would enable businesses to grow again in Florida. The governor “does care about the environment,” Mr. Wright said, “but feels it is more important to get people back to work.”
In the first round of federal budget fights, Republicans appear to have won some of what they sought: $1.6 billion in cuts from the E.P.A. and $49 million from programs related to climate change. But they fell short in other areas. Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington policy group, said that by his calculation the Republicans had sought nearly $10 billion in cuts related to efficiency and renewable energy but got less than $3.7 billion. “The Democrats successfully defended investments in clean energy,” Mr. Weiss said.
The eventual outcome at the state level is much less clear. Florida and North Carolina’s budget battles are in the early stages. In New Jersey, where Governor Christie has been in office since 2010, he has held up stricter drinking water standards, saying he is waiting for further research by the E.P.A. And yet, in Maine, Governor LePage’s agenda has engendered such an angry response that the newly elected Republican majority in the State Legislature seems to be backpedaling from many of its strongest components. Mr. LePage’s proposal to open the woodlands has not yet been introduced as a bill. And this month the Legislature made a point of enacting a ban on a chemical detected in sippy cups. All but three legislators voted for it. (Mr. LePage has questioned whether the science is strong enough to support such a ban.) Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s press secretary, acknowledged that Mr. LePage had not gotten everything he wanted, but pointed to some victories. The governor just signed a law that will reduce restrictions for building on sand dunes, and his proposal to provide incentives to businesses to police themselves on a variety of environmental regulations is still in the Legislature. “‘We will continue to move forward,” Ms. Bennett said.
By: Leslie Kaufman, The New York Times, April 15, 2011