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“Prophet’s Of Doom”: The GOP Debate Was A Master Class In The Republicans’ Apocalyptic Vision

Every presidential campaign is a choice not just between two paths forward, but also two visions of where the country is right now. If things are going well, the incumbent party says, “You’ve never had it so good!” and the opposition says, “Things could be a whole lot better!” If things aren’t going so well, the opposition says “Everything’s terrible,” and the incumbent party says, “Things could be a lot worse, and they will be if those knuckleheads win!” But it’s hard to recall a campaign where the two parties painted such a starkly different picture of the country’s status than this one.

Earlier this week, Barack Obama offered the Democratic version in his State of the Union address. “The United States of America,” he said, “has the strongest, most durable economy in the world. We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private-sector job creation in history. More than 14 million new jobs; the strongest two years of job growth since the ’90s; an unemployment rate cut in half.” And it isn’t just the economy: “The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close. We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.” Even if you can argue that those facts are only part of reality, or that they obscure some deeper problems, you can’t say they aren’t facts.

Or maybe you can.

The Republican candidates hoping to replace Obama met for another debate last night (they’ll have one more before the voting starts in Iowa in two weeks), and they described a nation not just in decline, but one whose decline was already complete. They agreed not only that Obama has been a failure and that Hillary Clinton would be a disaster, but that America right now is the lowest of the low, suffering at home and mocked abroad, a dark pit of misery and shame. Here’s just a taste of what they said:

“Our military is a disaster.” — Donald Trump

“We need to rebuild our military, and this president has let it diminish to a point where tinpot dictators like the mullahs in Iran are taking our Navy ships.” — Chris Christie

“The idea that somehow we’re better off today than the day that Barack Obama was inaugurated president of the United States is totally an alternative universe. The simple fact is that the world has been torn asunder.” — Jeb Bush

“In this administration, every weapon system has been gutted, in this administration, the force levels are going down to a level where we can’t even project force.” — Jeb Bush

“We have enemies who are obtaining nuclear weapons that they can explode in our exoatmosphere and destroy our electric grid. I mean, just think about a scenario like that. They explode the bomb, we have an electromagnetic pulse. They hit us with a cyberattack simultaneously and dirty bombs. Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue at that point? He needs to recognize that those kinds of things are in fact an existential threat to us.” — Ben Carson

“I’m very angry because our country is being run horribly and I will gladly accept the mantle of anger. Our military is a disaster. Our healthcare is a horror show. ObamaCare, we’re going to repeal it and replace it. We have no borders. Our vets are being treated horribly. Illegal immigration is beyond belief. Our country is being run by incompetent people. And yes, I am angry.” — Trump

“Let me tell you, if we don’t get this election right, there may be no turning back for America.” — Marco Rubio

“This country is not respected around the world anymore.” — Christie

“You know, we have to stop this because, you know, if we manage to damage ourselves, and we lose the next election, and a progressive gets in there and they get two or three Supreme Court picks, this nation is over as we know it.” — Carson

“This country is changing. It feels different. We feel like we’re being left behind and left out.” — Rubio

“There’s something going on and it’s bad. And I’m saying we have to get to the bottom of it. That’s all I’m saying.” — Trump

Add it all up, and you have the prism through which the Republican candidates will view any event or development that comes along. Job creation looks excellent? Obama must be cooking the books, because everybody knows the economy stinks. Millions of people have gained health coverage? Nope, it’s a disaster. We still spend over $600 billion a year on the military? Nuh-uh, we couldn’t invade the Bahamas if we wanted to.

Consider the incident in the Persian Gulf this week, where a small Navy boat lost power and drifted with a second boat into Iranian waters. What could have been a dangerous international incident was instead resolved in a matter of hours, with the American sailors and their vessels returned to us. But to the Republicans, the fact that the sailors put their hands on their heads when boarded by the Iranians — to repeat, in Iranian waters — meant that not only wasn’t the whole episode a triumph of diplomacy, it was a disaster, a humiliation, a defeat so catastrophic that it might literally have been worth bombing Iran over. As Ted Cruz intoned with every ounce of steely resolve he could muster, “any nation that captures our fighting men will feel the full force and fury of the United States of America.” If only there had been some more force and fury!

There’s always an incentive for the opposition party to paint the current president’s record in the worst possible light. You can’t convince voters to make a change if they don’t agree that there are problems that require fixing. But Republicans have taken that natural impulse and, like so many things in this campaign, turned it up to 11. It isn’t enough to say you’ll increase military spending; you have to say that “our military is a disaster.” It isn’t enough to say we face serious foreign policy challenges; you have to say “the world has been torn asunder.” It isn’t enough to say that electing the other party’s candidate would be bad; you have to say that if we do, “there may be no turning back for America.”

Perhaps the Republican candidates have hit on the right formula, and whichever prophet of doom wins the nomination will ride this apocalyptic vision all the way to the White House. But they shouldn’t be surprised if the voters end up saying, “Gee, things don’t seem quite that bad.”

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, January 15, 2016

January 16, 2016 Posted by | Economic Recovery, GOP Primary Debates, State of the Union | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“No Recipe For Addressing Economic Inequality”: The Republican Candidates Can’t Say How Obama Wrecked The Economy

One of the most striking and mystifying aspects of the Republican presidential primary has been the candidates’ inability—or unwillingness—to offer up any kind of coherent economic prescription for the country. That didn’t change on Thursday night. On the Fox Business debate stage in South Carolina, the remaining GOP field had the floor to rebut President Barack Obama’s rosy picture of the American economy during this week’s State of the Union.

Instead, they pivoted to fear-mongering on foreign policy.

The tone was set with the debate’s very first question, posed to Senator Ted Cruz. Fox Business moderator Maria Bartiromo asked him to respond to Obama’s declaration earlier this week: “Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.”

That should have been a softball, ready for the surging candidate to hit out of the park. Instead, Cruz launched into a prepared digression on the American soldiers captured and released by Iran before addressing the actual question—with another digression. “The president tried to paint a rosy picture of jobs,” he said. “And you know, he’s right. If you’re a Washington lobbyist, if you make your money in and around Washington, things are doing great. The millionaires and billionaires are doing great under Obama.”

Cruz played on Obama’s own words on the sources of inequality in his State of the Union. “Food Stamp recipients didn’t cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did,” Obama said on Tuesday. “Immigrants aren’t the reason wages haven’t gone up enough; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns. It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.”

Cruz turned that around, pinning the blame exclusively on the president for rising inequality—not on the wealthy. “Median wages have stagnated. And the Obama-Clinton economy has left behind the working men and women of this country,” he said.

It was like that all night: The candidates never took the bait Obama set up for them, to disprove they are doing anything but “peddling fiction” that his agenda—addressing economic inequality, immigration reform, and energy regulations—has left Americans worse off. Instead, the Republicans beat the drum on fear of ISIS and terrorism abroad, but never provided a counter to Obama’s economic claims.

If the GOP debate revealed one thing about these candidates’ views of rising inequality—a hot topic in the Democratic primary—it’s that they can’t quite bring themselves to cast the wealthy in a bad light.

Ohio Governor John Kasich said that Americans shouldn’t hate the rich—that’s just not American. People are “very concerned about” the economy, he said. “And they wonder whether somebody is getting something to—keeping them from getting it. That’s not the America that I’ve ever known. My father used to say, “Johnny, we never—we don’t hate the rich. We just want to be the rich.”’

Ben Carson shot back at Bernie Sanders and Clinton, who he claimed “would say it’s those evil rich people” who are to blame for inequality. Carson said they’re the wrong target; it’s “the evil government that’s putting all these regulations on us.”

Throughout the night, Republicans proved more comfortable playing to their base’s fear of terrorism than directly rebutting the president’s economic victory lap. Maybe that’s because they can’t muster the same strong descriptive language for how Obama has set fire to the economic world as they have for his foreign policy. So much easier to berate the president on his approach to ISIS all night, as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie did: “If you’re worried about the world being on fire, you’re worried about how we’re going to use our military, you’re worried about strengthening our military and you’re worried most of all about keeping your homes and your families safe and secure, you cannot give Hillary Clinton a third term of Barack Obama’s leadership,” he said.

But what about Obama’s leadership on the economy? The answers were more timid—with the exception, not surprisingly, of Donald Trump, who in his usual style promised he’d “make America rich again and make America great again.”

Why were the candidates so quiet about the economy on Thursday night? Simple. The Republicans don’t have a recipe for addressing economic inequality, instead focusing exclusively on tax breaks or highly regressive flat taxes that help the top earners. As my colleague Suzy Khimm has explained, “Bush, Marco Rubio, and Trump have all released tax plans that they are trying to sell as a boon for ordinary families.” That’s a hard sell, to say the least. A conservative estimate of Trump’s plan, for example, would lower the middle 40 to 50 percent of American wage earners’ taxes by 5.3 percent, but the wealthiest would see almost a 22 percent decrease. Carson and Cruz have called for flat taxes—a highly regressive policy.

Because they have such shallow policies to draw on, the GOP finds it easier to play on fears of an uncertain international landscape. That works just fine when they’re pitching themselves to an anxious, unhappy Republican base. But when one of these candidates faces Clinton or Sanders in the general election, the Democratic nominee will easily poke holes through his paper-thin economic message.

 

By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, January 15, 2015

January 15, 2016 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Economic Recovery, GOP Primary Debates | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Loose Money”: Paul Ryan Just Twisted Himself Into A Knot Trying To Undermine Obama’s Economic Record

It is not surprising that House Speaker Paul Ryan is unimpressed with President Obama’s economic record. What is surprising is who Ryan thinks does deserve credit for helping the recovery: the Federal Reserve.

“I think the Federal Reserve has done more,” the speaker told reporters on Tuesday, after being asked if Obama “deserves any credit at all” for the recovery. “What’s happening is people at the high end are doing pretty darn well because of loose money from the Fed,” he said. This will be news to followers of Ryan’s career. He’s long railed against loose money from the Fed, claiming it will debase the dollar and lead to inflation. (It hasn’t.)

It’s not crazy to claim, as Ryan did, that the Fed’s policies amounts to “trickle down economics.” But there is nothing in Paul Ryan’s history to suggest he thinks monetary policy can help the economy at all, even if it’s just at the top. Plus, if that’s his critique, there are some progressive money-printing enthusiasts — and even some conservative ones — who would probably like to schedule a chat with the speaker.

To recap: Paul Ryan thinks loose money helped the economy. But Paul Ryan opposes loose money. He also thinks loose money favors the rich too much. But shows no indication of wanting to make loose money favor the poor.

 

By: Jeff Spross, The Week, January 13, 2016

January 15, 2016 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Economy, Paul Ryan | , , , , | 2 Comments

“I’m No Math Genius, But…”: In Elections, Addition is Always Better Than Subtraction

In the November/December 2015 issue of the Washington Monthly, I wrote a review of Stanley Greenberg’s book America Ascendant. One of the main points Greenberg makes is to outline a reform agenda that Democrats should embrace to win the support of white working class voters.

Greenberg provides polling and focus group data to show strong support from Americans (not just Democrats or Republicans) for the following items: Americans want to protect Medicare and Social Security. They want paid sick days, and access to affordable child care for working mothers and families. They want equal pay for women. They want an affordable college education. And, finally, they want long-term infrastructure investment to rebuild America and create middle-class jobs, while raising taxes on the very rich so they pay their fair share.

I was reminded of that when I read an article by Phillip Rucker and Robert Costa about how Republicans – especially Trump and Cruz – are pinning their presidential hopes on wooing white working class voters. But they have a totally different approach.

Trump is making the most visceral, raw appeal to people who feel left out of the economic recovery and ignored by the political establishment. He espouses hard-line views on immigration that border on nativism, protectionist trade policies and a tough approach with countries like China, Japan and Mexico that he portrays as thieves of U.S. manufacturing jobs…

Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, said the candidate’s words for the working class are deliberately personal. “People don’t feel like these jobs have disappeared,” he said. “They’ve been stolen, and they don’t mind if someone is speaking forcefully about taking them back for blue-collar Americans…”

“None of [the candidates] are saying what they should be saying — ‘Get them out of here’ — except Trump,” said Tim Labelle, 73, a retired auto mechanic who voted for Obama in 2008. “They’re taking our jobs, and they’re gonna take over our whole country if we don’t put an end to it.”

Interestingly enough, Mitt Romney is suggesting another approach – one more in line with what Greenberg outlined.

“As a party we speak a lot about deregulation and tax policy, and you know what? People have been hearing that for 25 years, and they’re getting tired of that message,” Romney said in a recent interview. He added, “I think we’re nuts not to raise the minimum wage. I think, as a party, to say we’re trying to help the middle class of America and the poor and not raise the minimum wage sends exactly the wrong signal.”

So the question becomes: what is the more effective strategy for appealing to white working class voters? Is it the one focused on a nativist appeal or the one that addresses their real economic challenges?

The advantage of the former is that it is animated by emotions – fear and anger – as opposed to a more thoughtful appeal to reason. That carries a lot of currency these days apparently. But to the extent that it might be successful immediately, it is destined to be a problem over the long term. That is because it is, by definition, an either/or formulation that is built on an us/them divide. The more candidates like Trump and Cruz embrace an appeal based on wooing white working class voters by denigrating people of color, the “whiter” their party becomes. That does not bode well given our country’s rapidly changing demographics.

On the other hand, the reform agenda outlined by Greenberg and the proposal Romney embraced about raising the minimum wage are just as appealing to the rising American electorate as they are to white working class voters. In that way, it is focused on a both/and rather than an either/or. I’m no math genius, but when it comes to winning elections, I’m smart enough to know that addition is always more effective than subtraction.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 14, 2016

January 14, 2016 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Fearmongering, Middle Class, White Working Class | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP Sounds Of Silence”: From ‘Where Are The Jobs?’ To ‘Where Are Republicans On Jobs?’

The economic news on Friday was even better than optimists expected: the United States added nearly 300,000 jobs in December, wrapping up the second best year for the American job market in over a decade. In fact, looking at the last two years combined, 2014 and 2015 were the best back-to-back years for job creation since 1998 and 1999, at the height of the dot-com boom.

While no mainstream American politicians publicly root against the U.S. economy, the fact remains that this strong job growth must be baffling to Republicans. GOP orthodoxy, repeated ad nauseam, is that President Obama’s domestic agenda – the Affordable Care Act, higher taxes on the wealthy, Wall Street regulations, environmental safeguards, et al – is crushing the economy and stifling the American job market.

The only way to put Americans back to work, Republicans insist, is to do the exact opposite of the policies that cut the unemployment rate from 10% to 5%.

Obviously, that’s a tough sell for anyone with even a passing familiarity with the facts, but it got me wondering: how exactly did Republican officials and candidates respond to Friday’s good news?

When I say they reacted to jobs report with silence, it’s important to stress that I’m being quite literal. For years, the Republicans’ economic line was, “Where are the jobs?” With over 14 million new private-sector jobs created in the last 70 months, the new, more salient question has become, “Where are the Republicans on jobs?”

Over the weekend, for example, I checked House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) official blog, which used to publish a statement with the release of every new jobs report. Friday, however, featured plenty of new content, none of which referenced the job numbers.

The Republican National Committee’s official blog also used to issue once-a-month press releases on unemployment, but on Friday it said nothing. The same is true of RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’ Twitter feed.

There was similar silence from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the Senate Republican leadership team.

How about the presidential candidates? Nothing from Donald Trump. Or Ted Cruz. Or Marco Rubio. Or Jeb Bush. Or Chris Christie.

Look, I don’t expect GOP presidential candidates to issue a statement celebrating President Obama’s successes in putting Americans back to work after the Great Recession. And I certainly don’t imagine Republicans are going to announce a plan to reevaluate all of their bogus assumptions about Obama’s agenda and the economy.

But we’ve reached the point at which Republicans no longer seem interested in talking about job creation at all. It’s as if they hope ignoring the issue altogether will keep people from noticing one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the job market in a generation – which might even work, since much of the political world barely stopped to notice Friday’s jobs report.

Republicans could say the good news will be even better if they’re elected. They could celebrate strong job growth and make the case that Obama deserves no credit. They could say something about the issue that, up until quite recently, dominated the political debate like no other.

But for now, it seems the GOP has decided the easiest course of action is to pretend the good news on jobs simply doesn’t exist. Up until fairly recently, such a scenario would have been hard to even imagine.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 11, 2016

January 12, 2016 Posted by | Economic Policy, Economic Recovery, Jobs, Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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