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“Standing Wrong”: Old Conservatives Can’t Learn New Tricks

If President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats wanted to maximize the political advantage they’re getting from the shutdown/default crisis, they’d agree to at least one part of the short-term deals Republicans have offered, raising the debt ceiling for only six weeks at a time. Then we’d have one default crisis after another, and the standing of the GOP would keep on its downward trajectory until—let’s just pick a date at random here—November 2014. But Republicans won’t do that; they’re now insisting (and good for them) that the deal has to extend at least a year into the future so we don’t have to keep going through this. If they get that deal, though, the issue will fade and voters could start to forget how reckless Republicans have been.

They could forget, but I’m guessing Republicans won’t let them. It isn’t as though the ultimate conclusion of this crisis is going to result in a chastened GOP, ready to be reasonable and assure the public it can govern responsibly. The Republicans are falling fast, but their problems could be just beginning.

That’s because the people driving this crisis are still going to be the loudest voices in the party even after it ends. They won’t get what they want, and when that happens they’ll make sure everyone knows that they were right all along. It’s critical to understand that for them, tactics and ideology are inseparable. You don’t compromise with Democrats because that means you’ve taken a position that is impure, contaminated with the stench of liberalism. Even a drop is too much, just as you wouldn’t put just a little rancid meat in your stew. And regardless of the substance of any issue, you don’t compromise because compromise is by definition betrayal, and compromise is failure. Taking the maximal position on everything, they sincerely believe, doesn’t just produce the best policy, it produces political victory.

Imagine it’s a few months from now, and a Republican representative running for re-election gets asked by a reporter whether he thinks the shutdown/default crisis of 2013 was a good idea and whether his party ought to use the same tactic again to try to achieve its policy goals. If he says no, there are people just waiting to charge him with being a traitor to the cause of conservatism, with the inevitable primary challenge from the right to follow. If he says yes, he’s just made his general-election opponent’s first television ad.

The Republican Party is in a bad place right now, as a series of polls released last week showed. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed the party with a 24 percent favorability rating, an all-time low in that poll. Gallup has it at 28 percent, a record low in that poll as well. A poll from Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner has the party at 26 percent. Among independent voters, the numbers are even worse.

This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. But in an echo of the “unskewed polls” nonsense from the 2012 election, Senator Ted Cruz has been telling conservatives to ignore it. He assures them that his own private polls show that Republicans are winning and will triumph if they keep “standing strong.” This is just what conservatives want to hear, which is why many of them are likely to believe it. So if and when a deal is struck, almost regardless of what it contains, they’ll still be convinced that complete victory could have been theirs if only their leaders had held out a little longer. You might have thought that unlike previous Tea Party leaders like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, the Princeton- and Harvard-educated Cruz is no dummy. Yet tactically, he turns out to be just as foolhardy as the rest of them. He told Republicans to jump off a cliff, and they did.

To them, the tactical formula will always be the same. Was shutting down the government a disaster? It would have gone better if we had only been firmer in our demands and held out longer! Did a Democrat win the White House? We would have won if we had nominated a “true” conservative! Did your Senate candidate lose the general election? We’ll win next time if only we nominate someone more conservative!

They can’t learn from their mistakes if they don’t understand them. It isn’t hard to imagine that these activists and voters, who are so incredibly hard to satisfy, could produce a never-ending churn within the party. Believe it or not, the current Republican caucus is even more conservative than the one that swept into Washington in 2010. With a sufficient number of conservative states and congressional districts in no danger of falling to Democrats, the next election inevitably will see a new group of primary winners who are hailed as heroes, then eventually branded as traitors, to be replaced by a new cadre of even more doctrinaire right-wingers. Just look at what happened to Marco Rubio, who swept into the Senate as a Tea Party star but was cast out once he tried to achieve immigration reform. The personnel will keep changing even as the basic dynamic—a GOP establishment cowering in fear of newly minted members of Congress delighting in blowing up the system—remains the same.

A party can evolve in only one of two ways: It changes its people, or its people change. The first doesn’t seem likely. It’s hard to imagine a wave of Republican moderates winning over Tea Party candidates in primary elections. The second doesn’t seem likely either, since the people driving the Republican Party are the truest of true believers.

Anything can happen, of course. The Democratic Party turned to the right with the nomination of Bill Clinton in 1992 and won two presidential elections. On the other hand, Democrats also won control of Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008 while being firmly opposed to an unpopular Republican president; no trimming of ideological sails was necessary. But those Democrats were capable of rationally assessing their political prospects. It’s possible to be ideologically extreme and still be careful about the fights you pick. Today’s conservative Republicans are both ideologically and tactically extremist; indeed, they see them as one and the same.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, October 15, 2013

October 16, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A De-Americanized World”: GOP Antics Are Making The United States Look Pretty Insane Right Now

When there’s a global economic crisis, investors from around the world have spent the last several generations doing one thing: they buy U.S. treasuries. The reasoning, of course, is that there is no safer investment, anywhere on the planet, than the United States of America — which has the strongest and largest economy on the planet, and which always pays its bills.

All of these assumptions, of course, were cultivated over generations, and pre-date the radicalization of the Republican Party.

But what happens when U.S. treasuries are no longer considered safe, Americans can no longer be counted on to pay its bills, and the nation’s most powerful economy chooses to default on purpose? The world starts reevaluating old assumptions, that’s what.

In Britain, Jon Cunliffe, who will become deputy governor of the Bank of England next month, told members of Parliament that banks should be developing contingency plans to deal with an American default if one happens.

And Chinese leaders called on a “befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world.” In a commentary on Sunday, the state-run Chinese news agency Xinhua blamed “cyclical stagnation in Washington” for leaving the dollar-based assets of many nations in jeopardy. It said the “international community is highly agonized.”

I know I’ve been pushing this thesis in recent weeks, but it’s important to remember the unique role the United States plays in global leadership and the extent to which Republican antics in Congress will change the dynamic that’s been stable for the better part of the last century.

No major western power has defaulted since Hitler’s Germany, so this week may add some history to the potentially catastrophic economic consequences, and the world is watching closely.

Indeed, try to imagine explaining this ongoing crisis to a foreign observer who doesn’t fully appreciate the nuances of domestic politics. “Yes, we have the largest economy on the planet. Yes, we want to maintain global credibility. Yes, the process of extending our borrowing authority is incredibly easy and could be completed in about 10 minutes. No, some members of our legislative branch have decided they no longer want the United States to honor its obligations and pay for the things they’ve already bought.”

I suspect global observers would find this truly inexplicable. As it happens, I’d agree with them.

Ezra Klein added yesterday that to the rest of the world, “the United States looks insane right now.”

They’re dealing with real problems that their political systems are struggling to solve. The United States’ political system is creating fake problems that it may choose to leave unsolved.

“The United States was the one bright spot in the world recovery,” says OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria. “It was leading the recovery! Leading the creation of jobs! This unfortunate situation with the budget and debt happens at the moment it was looking good.” […]

At best, the United States is slowing its recovery — and that of the rest of the world. At worst, it’s going to trigger another global crisis. That’s why, Gurria says, his concern isn’t that the United States’ economy is weak, but that its political system is.

It’s heartbreaking that so much of the world is now laughing at us, not because we have crises we can’t solve, but because members of one party — the one that lost the most recent national elections — insist on manufacturing new crises to advance their unpopular agenda.

To reiterate what we discussed last week, there’s a global competition underway for power and influence in the 21st century. Americans have rivals who are playing for keeps. We can either be at the top of our game or we can watch others catch up.

And it’s against this backdrop that House Speaker John Boehner and his Republican colleagues shut down the government, threaten default, fight tooth and nail to strip Americans of their health care benefits, and keep spending levels so low we’re kicking children out of Head Start centers while our global competitors invest heavily in education.

It’s as if some have a vision in which we no longer lead and we aim for second place on purpose.

Great nations can’t function the way we’re struggling to function now. The United States can either be a 21st-century superpower or it can tolerate Republicans abandoning the governing process and subjecting Americans to a series of self-imposed extortion crises.

It cannot do both.

China is talking about “a de-Americanized world.” It’s time for Republicans to decide whether they intend to help them.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 15, 2013

October 16, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Default, GOP, Government Shut Down | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Religious Right Is A Fraud”: There’s Nothing Christian About Michele Bachmann’s Values

Last week, the nation’s capital was host to Value Voters 2013 Summit, a three-day political conference for predominantly religious conservatives. Among the smattering of social and economic issues at hand, the overall tenor of the Summit focused on eliminating Obamacare, expanding the tangible presence of Christianity through the public arena and military and preventing the proliferation of easily available birth control and abortion. In speeches, lunches and breakout sessions, American’s Christian Right worked out strategies to bring the values of the federal government in line with their preferred Christian ethical dictates, using democracy as their chief tool.

It isn’t unusual for Christians living in democracies to use the vote to express their ethics, and to shape government to do the same. That the moral and ethical preferences of a given society should inform government is a foundational principle of democracy, after all. And American values voters are far from the first Christians to undertake the project of bringing their government’s policies in line with Christian ethics: European Christian parties have aimed to do the same for decades. But between American Christian voters and their European counterparts, a curious departure opens up: while European Christians generally see the anti-poverty mission of Christianity as worthy of political action, the American Christian Right inexplicably cordons off economics from the realm of Christian influence.

By all means, the American Christian Right is willing to leverage government authority to carry out a variety of Christian ethical projects, especially within the arena of family life. Michele Bachmann would make abortion illegal, and Rick Santorum has stated on multiple occasions that he supports laws against homosexual intercourse. But Christian politicians in the United States curtail their interest in making the gospel actionable when it comes to welfare. While the government should see to the moral uprightness of marriage, sex and family, the Value Voters 2013 Summit was notably bereft of talks on living wages, labor rights or basic incomes.

The notable exclusion of poverty from the Christian agenda would doubtlessly puzzle European Christians, whose support of Christian ethical approaches to family life have always been paired with a deep and vigorous concern for the poor. And, unlike their American counterparts, European Christians haven’t been willing to leave poverty up to individual charity or the market to handle. Quite the contrary: Just as public morality is an arena fit for intervention by a Christian-informed government, so too is welfare. Consider the British Christian People’s Alliance 2010 election manifesto, a document intended to explain the imminently Christian party’s policy goals:

“The Christian Peoples Alliance believes that Britain will return to economic prosperity when government chooses instead to put human relationships in right order. This requires power, income and wealth to be redistributed and for greater equality to be achieved. These are deeply spiritual convictions and reflect a Biblical pattern of priorities…By the end of the next Parliament, the CPA will establish the reduction of inequality as a national target, so that the ratios of the incomes of the top 20 per cent are reduced to no more than five and a half times the incomes of the bottom 20 per cent.”

The CPA election manifesto goes on to explain that their aversion to inequality arises from a uniquely Christian concern for the health of human relationships, which suffer under the weight of massive social inequality. Their position on inequality is hardly an anomaly among European Christian parties. In fact, the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM), a confederation of Christian parties from different European nations operating within the European Union, states very similar goals in its own programme:

“Social justice is a fundamental Biblical teaching and Christian-democrat notion. Social justice demands an equal regard for all. That implies a special concern for the needs of the poor, refugees, those who suffer and the powerless. It requires us to oppose exploitation and deprivation. It requires also that appropriate resources and opportunities are available. In this way, we meet the basic requirements of all and each person is able to take part in the life of the community.”

Toward that end, the European Christian Political Foundation, which is the official think tank of the ECPM, recently commissioned a publication entitled ‘After Capitalism’, which is summarized thus:

“‘After Capitalism’ seeks to rethink the foundations of a market economy and argues that the Bible’s central theme of relationships is the key to rebuilding a system that promotes economic well-being, financial stability and social cohesion.”

It is notable that the multitude of parties that make up the EPCM are not necessarily leftist or wholly liberal parties. They do not generally align themselves with openly socialist parties in their home countries, though their policies toward welfare and equality would likely be branded as such by American Christians. And so the question remains: If European Christians feel the anti-poverty mission of Christianity is as worthy of political action as the ethical values relating to family life, why doesn’t the American Christian Right feel the same?

Economic policy seems a strange place to wall off consideration of Christian ethics, but when it comes to policies that would expand welfare programs or extend particular benefits to the poor, the American Christian Right recoils, and tends to fall back on the rhetoric of personal accountability and individual liberty in matters of charity. But as European Christian parties have shown, limiting economic justice to the arena of charity is a political choice. If the government has a moral role — which the American Christian Right certainly believes it does — then why shouldn’t it participate in the same forms of care individual Christians are obligated to?

No principled reason can be given for the distinction the Christian Right draws between harnessing the state to pursue social objectives and harnessing it to pursue economic objectives. It is a uniquely American distinction as far as Christian politicking goes. What the distinction reveals is that so-called values voters are just a particular flavor of right-wing political culture, one that opts for Christian language and rhetoric when communicating its message. But in that case, it is their freestanding political commitments that inform their Christianity, not the other way around.

The answer to this riddle is therefore not so mysterious. Although nominally interested in harnessing the state to pursue Christian social objectives, the American Christian Right is not detached from the culture it has developed within. Their politics is not one that is Christian in origin; rather, it originates from the same place all other right-wing politics originates, but mobilizes Christian rhetoric and meanings post-hoc to justify its goals.

By: Elizabeth Stoker and Matt Bruenig, Salon, October 15, 2013

October 16, 2013 Posted by | Poverty, Religious Right | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It’s Still Extortion For The Sake Of Extortion”: Republicans Are Fighting For The Future Blackmail

We have two interesting theories today about what’s happening in the House. One is from Neil Irwin, who posits that it’s all about a sunk costs fallacy — Republicans are mistakenly continuing to ask for things they can’t get because that’s the only way to justify what they’ve already given up by following their current strategy. The other theory, well-articulated by Greg Sargent, Jonathan Chait and Danny Vinik, is that Republicans are still fighting for the principle of extortion.

I strongly agree with the latter theory — way back in May, I argued that radical Republicans were fighting over the principle of extortion for the sake of extortion:

[I]t’s not really about Republicans demanding debt reduction and using the best leverage they have available to get it. Nor is it about Republicans demanding tax reform — their other possible demand — and using the best leverage they have to get it.

No, it’s the other way around. The House crazy caucus is demanding not debt reduction, not spending cuts, not budget balancing, but blackmail itself. That’s really the demand: The speaker and House Republican leaders absolutely must use the debt limit as extortion. What should they use it to get? Apparently, that’s pretty much up for grabs, as long as it seems really, really, big — which probably comes down to meaning that the Democrats really, really don’t like it.

It shows up all the time. For example, today Speaker John Boehner has pulled a delay of the medical-device tax from his latest attempt to put together a package, because the radicals weren’t happy with it. Yes, they have a plausible reason. But my guess is that Democrats have indicated they really wouldn’t mind eliminating that tax, and so it’s no longer a ransom worth asking; asking for something the Democrats only mildly oppose (or don’t oppose at all) misses the whole point of why they’re doing what they’re doing. “Extortion for the sake of extortion” certainly seems to fit with the wild GOP swings from Obamacare, to spending, to contraception, to who knows next as the next reason for the shutdown and debt limit threat.

The reason all of this matters, still, is because if it’s just a sunk costs error then the costs for Democrats in bailing them out are limited to whatever it is they give up.

However, if it’s extortion, then any perceived success establishes an incentive for future use.

The key, by the way, is perceived success. So it matters a lot whether Republicans believe that they actually are getting something whenever the final deal happens — much more than whether, in some objective sense, they actually did get anything.

It’s hard to read exactly who is thinking what while these things are going on. But if it really is extortion for the sake of extortion, at least for the radicals, then there’s a very strong incentive to Democrats to hang very tough.

 

By: Jonathan Bernstein, The Washington Post, October 15, 2013

October 16, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, GOP, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“John Boehner’s Last Stand”: His Hostage Taking Tactics Remain As Dangerous As Ever

The nature of Speaker John Boehner’s final battle with the White House on the budget crisis is now clear: It doesn’t matter what House Republicans win in exchange for raising the debt ceiling and re-opening government, as long as they win something.

Gone is the big talk about “defunding Obamacare.” Gone are the demands for delaying the health law, or delaying the individual mandate, or delaying the medical device tax. The final stand, according to the latest reports, is simply this: remove the health insurance subsidies for members of Congress, some executive branch officials, and some of their staffs. (Those staff members are furious about the potential cut to their incomes, and many have threatened to quit.)

If that seems a paltry prize to win for causing this destructive, embarrassing crisis, that’s because it is. But this fight really has nothing to do with the subsidies. It’s all about not walking away empty handed, about Mr. Boehner persuading his Republican members that they forced President Obama to give something up in exchange for not wreaking havoc on the economy.

And that’s precisely why the president can’t agree to it, even though the impact (for all but Congressional staffers) would be minimal.

For the sake of the rest of his presidency, and the presidents to come, he has to make it clear that no chamber of Congress can back the White House into a corner by threatening the full faith and credit of the United States. Even a small concession, like ending the Congressional subsidies, would betray that principle.

Of course that position is irreconcilable with the hard-right faction of the House that sees the debt ceiling as the only leverage that can turn them into a real political force. But the unprecedented use of that leverage has to be stopped here, even at a terrible cost, because the long-term cost would be so much worse.

Once Senate Republicans and Democrats began cobbling together their own plan, Mr. Boehner could have ended the crisis by standing back and letting momentum for the Senate plan build. Instead, he chose to sabotage it, because he and the Tea Party faction clearly want to use the power of hostage-taking again.

One of the provisions in the House’s latest plan is a demand that the Treasury not use any special measures to prevent default the next time the debt hits the ceiling — a provision, in other words, that would make default an even more likely possibility the next time than it will be on Thursday, when the Treasury runs out of borrowing authority. (The actual default will probably occur later this month.)

Mr. Boehner may hope that the diminished nature of his final demand about Congressional subsidies will embarrass Democrats into approving it, but his tactics are as dangerous as ever.

 

By: David Firestone, Editor’s Blog, The New York Times, October 15, 2013

October 16, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down, John Boehner | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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