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“A Massively Failed Experiment”: Why Conservatives Learned Nothing From Sam Brownback’s Failure

Kansas governor Sam Brownback had a plan when he got elected in 2010, and it was a plan that could only be enacted in a place like Kansas: Pass huge tax cuts, then watch the state transform into a kind of economic heaven on earth. Brownback surely could never have doubted it would work, since he and those in his party have been saying for decades that tax cuts deliver economic growth, rising tax revenues, general happiness, and shinier, more manageable hair.

You’ve probably heard the story: growth in Kansas did not, in fact, explode, but what did happen is that revenues plummeted, leading to severe cutbacks in education and other state services. Brownback nevertheless managed to get re-elected, because it was a non-presidential year and because it’s Kansas. So now he’s had a chance to reflect, and here’s how he’s looking at things, according to a Topeka newspaper:

As Gov. Sam Brownback’s first term comes to a close, the Republican governor has one regret — no, scratch that — one thing he would do differently.

“I probably would have chosen words better at different times, because you go through a campaign where you’ve got to eat the words you inartfully said,” Brownback said during a recent interview with The Topeka Capital-Journal.

The former U.S. senator — with the help of a Republican-controlled Legislature — slashed taxes, privatized portions of state government and pursued a staunchly conservative policy agenda during the past four years. And then Brownback fought off a competitive challenge from Democratic Rep. Paul Davis.

Atop the list of words and phrases that have proven controversial and given his opponents the greatest opportunity for mockery: predicting the Kansas tax cuts would act as a “shot of adrenaline” to the state’s economy and referring to the plan as an “experiment.”

In other words…

It’s obvious that he regrets calling it an “experiment” for no reason other than that word showed up in a bunch of Democratic attack ads. But as for the idea that tax cuts would give the Kansas economy a “shot of adrenaline”? Of course that’s what he said, because that’s what he believed. If you don’t believe that, you can’t call yourself a Republican.

It isn’t that there’s no truth to it—all else being equal, tax cuts put more money in people’s hands, so they can spend more, which will have some positive impact on the overall economy. The problem is that 1) the effect is never as large as Republicans expect it to be; 2) not only did Brownback’s tax cuts go mostly to the wealthy, who are less likely to spend the money, he actually raised taxes on poor people (there’s an explanation here), and 3) the benefits were swamped by the harm created by the inevitable cratering of state revenue.

But if you’re Sam Brownback, how do you account for such an outcome? It can’t possibly be that the theory on which the entirety of contemporary Republican economic policy rests is false. What’s he going to say—”It turns out that tax cuts don’t do much good”? Not in this universe.

It’s not just him. The failure of Brownback’s experiment may provide an effective rhetorical tool liberals can use against conservatives in economic debates, but it won’t actually change any conservatives’ thinking. The reason is that their belief in tax cuts doesn’t rest on the practical effects. That’s an argument that’s meant to appeal to everyone, since it concerns something (growth) that just about everyone thinks is good. But the real source of the conservative support for tax cuts is moral, not practical. They believe that taxes are inherently immoral — the government stealing from you the fruits of your labor (or inheritance or wise investments, as the case may be) to enact its nefarious schemes. Taxes should therefore be as low as possible. Conservatives also tend to believe that progressive taxation is doubly immoral, since it takes more from the most virtuous among us.

So my guess is that Brownback sees his experiment as a practical failure but a moral success, and other conservatives would agree. Not that he’d say so in quite those terms, because he knows how it would sound. But the only lesson he’s learned from his failure is to change the words he uses.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 23, 2014

December 27, 2014 Posted by | Republicans, Sam Brownback, Tax Cuts | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There Are Limits”: Yes, A Backlash To Conservative Extremism Is Possible

I think it’s safe to say that the single greatest source of frustration to progressives today is the relatively small price the Republican Party appears to be paying for the extremism that has gripped its ranks since (at least) 2009 (the second greatest source of frustration may be how Democrats have dealt with that phenomenon, but that’s a subject for another post). It seems that no matter what havoc the GOP has inflicted on the country before and during the administration of Barack Obama, the bulk of the blame will be assigned to the president and his party, rewarding the conservative wrecking crew for its irresponsibility.

But as Greg Sargent notes today, there are two places where Republican extremism is bearing surprisingly bitter fruit:

A new batch of NBC/Marist polls released over the weekend showed Democratic Senator Kay Hagan hanging on to a four point lead in North Carolina, while independent Greg Orman now leads incumbent Republican Senator Pat Roberts in Kansas by 10 points. The North Carolina finding is in sync with the average, while the Kansas one isn’t, though the Kansas average does show Orman leading.

It would have been awfully bold to predict six months ago that Republicans would be trailing in North Carolina and Kansas. But what’s notable here is that both these states are home to two of the nation’s leading experiments in conservative state-level governance.

Greg goes on to observe that Thom Tillis’ leadership role in what he himself proudly called a “conservative revolution” in state government is clearly an issue in the NC Senate campaign. And there’s little doubt that a revolt of moderate Republicans against KS Governor Sam Brownback has spilled over into the Senate race there, lifting independent Greg Orman into an otherwise inexplicable lead.

Suffice it to say it’s unusual for state-level politics to infect federal contests to this extent; usually it happens the other way around. But it should be a message to Republican pols, and to the right-wing oligarchs playing such a conspicuous role in these two states (the Koch Brothers in their native Kansas, and the most conspicuous Koch Lite, Art Pope, in NC) that there are limits to what they can inflict on subject populations.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 6, 2014

October 7, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP, Midterm Elections | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Not To Get Your Country Back”: Americans Who Want Their Country Back Should Follow Their Elders’ Example

The Tea Party mantra, “I want my country back,” resonates with many. The racial undertones can be ugly (as well as pointless). But the longing for an economically secure America centered on a strong middle class is on point and widely shared.

Older and mostly white members of the far right tend to see themselves as model Americans who worked hard, saved up and played by the rules. They may have done all the above, but many also have no idea of how easy they had it.

After World War II, Americans with no college could walk into a factory and obtain a job paying middle-class wages. Global competition was a future threat. Today’s retirees are among the last Americans to enjoy the most golden of benefits, including a defined pension check, guaranteed for the rest of their lives.

More troubling than the tunnel vision, though, is the right’s program for restoring the country it purports to miss. The ideological obsession with slashing taxes, shrinking government and keeping labor as cheap as possible is downright destructive.

The America of yore did not build its middle class that way.

When President Dwight Eisenhower backed the construction of the interstate highway system in 1956, the top marginal rate for individual income taxes was 91 percent. Older taxpayers bore their burdens more or less stoically (and there wasn’t Medicare to pay their parents’ doctor bills). Building America was the public-spirited thing to do.

Fast-forward to the economic crash of 2008. The infrastructure was in shambles and unemployment high. Robust stimulus spending was the ticket out of both dilemmas. But even though the top marginal rate was only 35 percent, fringe conservatives controlling the Republican Party fought against government intervention every inch of the way — lest Congress raise taxes one dime.

Kansas has become the patient on which to conduct this experiment at its most extreme, and the results are disastrous. Gov. Sam Brownback pushed through wild tax cuts, mainly benefiting the well-to-do, while placing Kansas classrooms, libraries and other public services on a starvation diet.

And what do Kansans have to show for it? The tax cuts drained their state of $300 million in expected revenues for the recent fiscal year. (Where’s that explosion of economic activity that the theorists said would make up the difference?) Meanwhile, earnings are falling faster and jobs growing more slowly than the national average.

The bond rating agencies remain unimpressed. Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have lowered Kansas’ credit rating, making it more expensive for the state to borrow.

Study after economic study shows the 21st-century spoils going to the educated. And here we have Kansas cannibalizing its schools just as competing states are restoring their education spending.

One wishes older conservatives opposed to raising the minimum wage, now $7.25 an hour, took an honest look at the wages government guaranteed them back when. The minimum wage in 1968 was the equivalent of $10.90 in today’s dollars.

A new study of the 20 major economies finds the U.S. minimum wage among the lowest relative to the country’s average wage. China, Brazil and Turkey did better.

The minimum wage helps less skilled workers but also influences the pay levels higher up the scale. Putting more money in the pockets of those likeliest to spend it fuels economic demand.

Tax policy does matter, and there is such a thing as government waste. But in the end, a middle class is nurtured on good schools, roads and other public services. They cost money.

Americans who want their middle-class country back should follow their elders’ example. A little gratitude would be nice, too.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, September 16, 2014

September 17, 2014 Posted by | Economy, Middle Class, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Moderates Fight Back”: Middle-Of-The-Road Republicans Are Now Attacking The GOP From The Outside

The missing component in the machinery of American politics has been moderate-to-liberal Republicanism, and the gears of government are grinding very loudly. You wonder if Kansas and Alaska have come up with a solution to this problem.

In Kansas, Democrat Chad Taylor shook up the Senate race by dropping out last week, giving an independent candidate, Greg Orman, a clean shot at the incumbent, Pat Roberts.

At least one poll showed Orman with a 10-point lead over the 78-year-old Roberts in a two-way race. Republicans are so afraid of Orman that Kansas’s Republican (and unabashedly ideological) secretary of state, Kris Kobach, used a technicality to keep Taylor’s name on the November ballot anyway. Taylor is challenging the decision.

In Alaska, Democrat Byron Mallott ended his candidacy for governor and chose instead to run for lieutenant governor on a ticket led by an independent candidate, Bill Walker. By combining forces, Walker and Mallott hope to oust Republican Gov. Sean Parnell.

Because of the revolution in Republican politics spearheaded by the tea party, these should not be treated as isolated episodes. They are both signs that moderates, particularly moderate Republicans, are fighting back.

The safe journalistic trope is that both of our major parties have become more “extreme.” This is simply not true. It’s the Republican Party that’s veered far off center. To deny the fact is to disrespect the hard work of conservatives in taking over the GOP.

By contrast, there are still plenty of moderates in the Democratic Party. They include Sens. Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Mark Begich in Alaska, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana and Kay Hagan in North Carolina. All of them are threatened in this fall’s elections by conservative or right-wing Republicans. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia is another moderate on the ballot this year, but so far, he seems safe.

On the other hand, outright liberals have been losing primaries in the Republican Party since the late 1960s, particularly in Senate races. In the House, the few remaining liberal Republicans (one thinks of Maryland’s Connie Morella and Iowa’s Jim Leach) were defeated because Democrats in their districts finally decided that electing even Republicans they liked only empowered the party’s increasingly conservative congressional leadership.

As for the Republican establishment, it may have overcome many tea party challenges this year, but it is increasingly captive to the right wing.

This summer, conservative writers Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru offered an insightful analysis of the tea party-establishment dynamic in an article in National Review appropriately titled “Establishment Tea.” Lowry and Ponnuru argued that the establishment candidates who triumphed did so largely on the tea party’s terms, though the authors put the matter somewhat more politely. “Candidates who make the case that they will fight for conservative ideas, and not just serve time,” they wrote, “can win tea-party support.”

What’s happening in Kansas is particularly revealing of the backlash against the right from moderate Republicans. Although Roberts is not a tea party candidate — indeed, he defeated a tea party challenger in last month’s primary — the Senate race could be influenced by the state’s contest for governor, one of the most important in the country.

Incumbent Republican Sam Brownback has championed an unapologetic tea party, tax-cutting agenda and has sought to purge moderate Republicans who opposed him from the state legislature. Many GOP moderates have responded by endorsing Brownback’s opponent, Democrat Paul Davis. A Brownback defeat would be a major blow to the right.

“The moderates have said, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,’ ” said Dan Glickman, a moderate Democrat who represented the area around Wichita in Congress for 18 years. In an interview, Glickman argued that the rightward tilt is antithetical to the GOP’s history in Kansas, a state that sent both Bob Dole and Nancy Landon Kassebaum, in her day a leading GOP moderate, to the ­Senate.

“The Republican Party in Kansas was always a heartland, common-sense, moderate or moderately conservative party,” Glickman said, adding that at times, it has had a strongly progressive contingent as well.

Orman has been almost maddeningly disciplined in not revealing which party he would caucus with if he defeated Roberts. With national Republican operatives pouring into the state to save the three-term incumbent’s floundering campaign, the battle will get a lot tougher.

But already, Republicans are learning that the cost of driving moderates away could get very high. What middle-of-the-roaders could not accomplish inside the party, they may achieve by attacking from outside the gates.

 

BY: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 7, 2014

September 8, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP, Moderate Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Don’t Be Fooled, The GOP Wants Impeachment”: A Litmus Test To Separate Constitutional Conservatives From RINO’s

In Washington, the conversation about impeachment is preceded by a conversation about a conversation about impeachment.

Democrats say Republicans are bring up the I-word to lay the groundwork for impeachment proceedings for high crimes and misdemeanors after the November elections; Republicans say this is nonsense—it is Democrats who are fanning these Clintonian flames in order to paint the GOP as out of touch and energize their base. “A scam,” House Speaker John Boehner called it. A ploy, Karl Rove labeled impeachment talk in his Wall Street Journal column, by a cynical president trying to distract from his failed agenda.

Rove and the Republicans do have a point. Congressional Democrats have used any chatter about impeaching President Obama as their own personal cash register, sending out a slew of fundraising emails warning of an imminent trial. Conservatives have noted a recent study that found that MSNBC mentioned impeachment 448 times in July—that’s once every 22 minutes—while the subject came up just 95 times on Fox News during the same time period.

But travel outside the Beltway, and the conversation about impeachment is far from abstract. In fact, in the remaining Republican primaries across the country, the issue is front-and-center, with GOP candidates signaling that they are more likely than their opponents to remove Obama from the Oval Office.

“I would certainly vote for impeachment,” said Joshua Joel Tucker, a computer systems analyst running for Congress in southeast Kansas against incumbent U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins in the August 5 primary. “If you look up the grounds for impeachment in the Constitution, one of them is malfeasance, which is basically not doing the job you are supposed to do. And I don’t think anybody could say that Obama is doing the job he is supposed to do.”

In the neighboring 4th District, incumbent Mike Pompeo and former Rep. Todd Tiahrt are locked in a fierce battle in which, according to one local newspaper, the need to impeach the president seems to be the only thing they can agree on.

At a recent forum, Pompeo said that the president had engaged in “absolute overreach.” “If such a bill were introduced, I would [vote to impeach]” he said, while Tiahrt said that Obama had broken the law” and proudly noted his votes during his previous turn in Congress to impeach President Bill Clinton.

And in the race for a U.S. Senate seat there, a spokesman for Milton Wolf, the Tea Party-backed doctor challenging longtime lawmaker Pat Roberts, refused to rule out the prospect of impeachment, saying that it would depend on which specific articles passed the House.

“If it is determined that the president violated his oath of office, that would certainly justify impeachment proceedings,” the spokesman said.

But it is not just in deep-red states like Kansas where impeachment talk is a campaign topic. Candidates up and down blue state Michigan have brought it up, and it has become something of a litmus test to separate “constitutional conservatives” from “RINO,” according to Matthew Shepard, a Tea Party leader from the central part of the state.

“True conservatives are mentioning it. And if Congress had any gumption they would have taken care of this by now.”

Indeed, Michigan’s 7th District, in the southern part of the state, is represented by Tim Walberg, who has been calling for Obama’s impeachment since back in 2010, when he said that such a move could force the president to release his birth certificate. His opponent in the August 5 primary, Tea Party-backed Douglas Radcliffe North, floated impeachment in his video announcing his candidacy.

Also in the Wolverine State, Kerry Bentivolio, a first-term congressman and former reindeer farmer, told a gathering of Republicans last year that it would “be a dream come true” to impeach Obama. Alan Arcand, a garage owner in the Upper Peninsula who is challenging incumbent Congressman Dan Benishek, told the The Daily Beast that Congress should hold off on impeaching the president for now—until Attorney General Eric Holder is impeached first.

“The way I see it, if we can’t hold Eric Holder accountable, how are we going to hold Barack Obama accountable?” he said. “This Congress should be held accountable. They are letting these people do whatever they want.”

The impeachment issue is driving campaign narratives even in the relatively liberal precincts of New England. In a race to take on Democratic incumbent Ann Kuster, both Republicans have said that Congress should explore whether or not to impeach Obama, with front-runner Marilinda Garcia telling a town hall meeting just this week that the president ignored “the separation of powers, through executive actions, executive privileges,” and that he was “completely in violation of his constitutional rights and obligations.”

“If it’s an impeachable offense as the process will show, then every member of Congress is also sworn to uphold that and needs to vote appropriately,” Garcia added.

This is not to suggest that should any of these candidates win, that Obama is in danger of impeachment. Republicans are aware of what happened in 1998, when they pushed to impeach Clinton over his affair with Monica Lewinsky, a move that backfired on them and led to lesser-than-expected Democratic losses at the ballot box.

And besides, as Arcand, one of the few interviewed for this story to urge caution, put it, “If we do that, then it will just mean we got Joe Biden as president.”

 

By: David Freedlander, The Daily Beast, August 1, 2014

August 3, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Impeachment, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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