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“Allowing Ideology To Overcome Common Sense”: Conservative Policies Just Don’t Work: Immigration Edition

I’ve frequently used the devastating failure of Sam Brownback’s conservative economic experiment in Kansas to show that conservative policies aren’t just morally and ethically wrong, but also simply dysfunctional and counterproductive at a basic utilitarian level. Most educated people understand this about supply-side economic policy by now.

It’s also, of course, true of social policy. We know that sexual repression, abstinence education and social stigma is the surest way to increase unintended pregnancy, STD transmission and infidelity. We know that you can’t actually “pray the gay away” even if you wanted to.

And it’s true of immigration policy, that very hot topic at present. Dave Weigel at the Washington Post reminds us of the utter failure of Trump-style immigration policy, in the very state where Trump decided to host his stadium rally:

Alabama, which hosted the largest rally of Trump’s presidential campaign Friday night, had been a test kitchen for Trump-style crackdowns on undocumented workers — and it had not gone well.

In 2011, a new Republican legislature and governor enacted HB 56, the Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act. Chief sponsor Micky Hammon warned the undocumented population that he would “make it difficult for them to live here, so they will deport themselves.” Renting a house or giving a job to an “illegal” became a crime. Police were empowered to demand proof of citizenship from anyone who looked as if he or she might lack it. School administrators were instructed to do the same to children.

The backlash was massive — a legal assault that chipped away at the law, and a political campaign that made Republicans own its consequences. Business groups blamed the tough measures for scaring away capital and for an exodus of workers that hurt the state’s agriculture industry. After Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election, strategists in his own party blamed his support for the Alabama attrition policy. Those critics included Donald Trump.

It wasn’t just a political failure and black eye for the state. It was also a direct policy failure. As in other states that tried similar experiments, the agriculture sector suffered greatly as workers driven away by hostile policies were not easily replaced.

Asked about the law, Alabama voters rarely say that it worked. Large farms spent millions training new workers. The Byrds conceded that the agriculture sector suffered after some immigrants fled the state. “Most of them left and didn’t come back,” said Terry Darring-Rogers, who works at a Mobile law firm specializing in immigration.

But many Republicans have already forgotten that lesson, allowing their ideology to overwhelm their common sense in the belief that it wasn’t state conservative policy that failed, but the federal government’s interference that stymied it:

To Republicans, the lesson of HB 56 was no longer that it failed. The lesson was that it had not been permitted to work, stymied by the Obama administration. That theory took shape in the displays in some Robertsdale stores, where a sign declaring compliance with E-Verify was posted above an even larger ad from the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.

Some people will never learn, no matter how much self-inflicted failure they endure. When Josh Duggar and countless similar self-righteous conservatives are exposed as cheating molesters, it doesn’t cause conservatives to question whether their belief system might be causing those problems. They just double down. When abstinence education causes more teen pregnancy than responsible sex education, conservatives double down on the slut shaming. When tax cuts on the rich and wage cuts to government workers lead to economic recession, Republicans don’t question their core economic beliefs; they just claim they weren’t allowed to go far enough.

In a way, modern conservatives are similar to the Communists of old. No matter how obvious the ideology’s failure, the response is always that the policies were not enacted in a strong and pure enough manner.

That inability to come to grips with failure and adjust course, and that insistence on doubling down in the face of adverse results, is part of why many consider modern conservatism to be an almost cultic movement. Its adherents long since stopped caring about the evidence or empirical results. It’s all about who can prove truest to the faith, and maximally annoy and rebel against the evil liberal heathens. Policies and results are really beside the point.


By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 23, 2015

August 24, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Ideology, Immigration | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Party Loyalty Isn’t All That Important”: How Donald Trump Exposed The Limits Of Ideology In A Most Ideological Party

Donald Trump figured something out about the Republican Party. Maybe it was a flash of insight, or maybe he stumbled into it and doesn’t even realize what he found. But here it is: Even in this most ideological of parties, ideology has its limits.

This is a party, after all, that has spent the last few years on its own miniature version of the Cultural Revolution, a tireless search for ideological heretics who can be exposed, shamed, and banished. It has made compromise into something beneath contempt, and required all who would wear the name “Republican” to demonstrate that the hatred of Barack Obama and all he touches vibrates within every cell of their beings. When the party confronts a policy development it doesn’t like, it demands not just that the idea be opposed, but that it be opposed again and again and again, no matter how fruitless the blows battered against it (the number of votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act is well past 50, all failed).

Yet the party’s effort to find a leader is now led — by a wide margin — by a man who at best is a piecemeal conservative, taking a harshly right-wing stance here and an oddly liberal one there. This seems to be a result of the fact that Trump has never thought much about policy, and doesn’t really care.

If you want to understand Trump’s appeal in the primaries — both its power and its limits — there are two articles that came out in the last few days that you should read. The first, from The Washington Post‘s David Weigel, explains how Trump’s talk about foreign countries stealing American jobs is resonating with economically troubled voters, particularly in places where manufacturing has declined. Instead of talking about job retraining or anything else realistically modest, Trump all but promises that he’ll go to China and punch the commies in the face until they give us our jobs back.

The second, from Bloomberg‘s Melinda Henneberger, describes how Republican voters, besotted with Trump’s style, barely notice that his positions on issues are a hodgepodge of conservative and liberal ideas. “After he finished talking in New Hampshire on Friday night, I asked half a dozen Republicans who said they liked him what they had heard in his long, stream-of-consciousness oration that struck them as conservative,” she writes, “and none of them could point to anything in particular.” But it didn’t matter.

The approach Republican politicians have taken toward their voters in recent years is a combination of policy and posture. The policies are a version of what they’ve always offered, just a little bit more conservative and a lot more pure. The posture is one of opposition to Barack Obama — unyielding, inflexible, even petulant or downright angry. The easiest way to assure Republican voters you’re one of them is to show them how much you hate the guy in the White House.

Which may be understandable, since the president is the axis around which elite politics revolves. When your party is out of power, you’re inevitably going to define yourself in relation to him. But then along comes Trump, who has an entirely different posture.

Though it may be odd coming from a guy who waged a campaign to prove that Obama isn’t actually an American citizen (and apparently still believes it), Trump seems to barely have time to talk about this administration, except as the most recent example of larger problems he’s promising to fix with a sweep of his hand. His message isn’t, I’ll reverse everything that happened in the Obama years, it’s, Everyone else is a bunch of losers, and I’m a winner. That applies to Democrats, Republicans, everyone. The force of his persona is such that when he displays some lack of fealty to conservative ideals — like saying that single-payer health care “works well in Canada” — ideological conservatives may be horrified, but he just rolls right past it. And that tells us that ideological purity isn’t all that important to Republican voters, at least not all of them.

If it was, Trump would be pulling 5 percent in the primary polls, not 25 percent. His flirtation with a third-party run would also be bringing him down, but it isn’t, which suggests that there are lots of Republicans for whom party loyalty isn’t all that important.

Of course, 25 percent isn’t a majority, and it’s probably necessary to demonstrate both ideological fealty and a fundamental commitment to the GOP in order to get the nomination. But Trump has shown that there are other impulses within the Republican electorate, like resentment, dissatisfaction with targets bigger than Obama, and the desire for a confident leader who will promise the moon.

Even in a party now defined by its ideological extremism, it isn’t always about ideology. Whether any of the party creatures who make up the rest of the field can capture and exploit those impulses is something we’ll have to wait and see.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, August 18, 2015


August 19, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Voters, Ideology | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“On And On It Goes”: How The GOP Became A Party Of Ideological Extremism

As America’s two major political parties have evolved in the direction of philosophical purity over the past half century — with the Democrats emerging as the home of ideological progressivism and the Republicans as the font of ideological conservatism — it has become common for each to accuse the other of extremism.

Republicans call the Democrats strident socialists eager to bring about the End of Freedom in America, while Democrats accuse the Republicans of waging a War on Women, African-Americans, Hispanics, and just about anyone else who isn’t a Wealthy White Man. The vacuous centrism of inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom then reinforces the pox-on-both-your-houses narrative, treating both sides as equally to blame for every failure to reach consensus and Get Things Done.

The reality is far less fair and balanced.

Over the past six years, Barack Obama has shown himself quite willing to compromise with Republicans, while Republicans have demonstrated over and over again that they have no interest in cutting deals with the president. (Number of Republicans in the House of Representatives to vote for President Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill? Zero. Number of House Republicans to vote for the Affordable Care Act? Zero. And so on.)

Whether this is because of the GOP’s principled opposition to Obama’s policies, or its Machiavellian conviction that the president is hurt more than the opposition party by inaction in Washington, or (more likely) some combination of the two, the end result is the same: The Democrats prove themselves to be a pragmatic, centrist party, while the Republicans consistently demonstrate no-holds-barred ideological stridency.

We saw further examples this past weekend, at the Iowa Freedom Summit, where a long list of GOP presidential hopefuls spoke to adoring crowds in Des Moines.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz advocated an ideological litmus test: “Every candidate’s going to come in front of you and say, ‘I’m the most conservative guy to ever live.’” But “talk is cheap,” he insisted. “Show me where you stood up and fought.”

Now imagine a liberal presidential candidate taunting fellow Democrats, daring them to demonstrate their progressivism and willingness to stand up and fight for it.


Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, meanwhile, plans to build a national campaign “on his record of defying teachers’ unions.”

Now imagine a Democrat building a national campaign on a record of defying police unions.

It wouldn’t happen.

Then there was rabble-rousing neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who promised that he would dismantle ObamaCare “even if it worked.”

Now imagine a Democrat showing an equal disdain for pragmatism by promising to prop up a government program “even if it doesn’t work.”

I don’t think so.

On and on it goes, with the GOP’s would-be presidential candidates competing to stake out the ideologically purest, most unambiguously right-wing position. An analogous scramble to the left just doesn’t happen among the Democrats — or at least it hasn’t happened since the time of the Reagan administration.

The question is why.

The answer has nothing to do with the machinations of party leaders or anything else that originates in Washington. On the contrary, the stance of each party reflects above all else the ideological makeup of its most loyal voters. And the fact is that in the United States, right-wing Republicans outnumber left-wing Democrats by a significant margin.

As the Pew Research Center showed last summer in an important report on political polarization, 22 percent of the general public identify as conservative (either socially or economically), while just 15 percent think of themselves as liberal.

Those are the relative sizes of each party’s ideological base.

The gap increases to 27 percent conservative and 17 percent liberal when highlighting registered voters. And it increases even further — to 36 percent conservative and 21 percent liberal — among the most “politically engaged” Americans.

Electorally speaking, Republicans are being pulled to the right by public opinion much more powerfully than Democrats are being pulled to the left.

This is one significant reason why the RealClearPolitics cumulative average of polls currently shows just 16 percent of Democrats supporting left-wing candidates (Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders), while nearly double that percentage of Republicans (30 percent) favor right-wing options (Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, or Rick Perry).

It’s also one important reason why Hillary Clinton — a candidate only a right-wing Republican could consider a radical lefty — currently enjoys 61 percent support among Democrats, while the more moderate Republicans (Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio) receive a comparatively lukewarm combined total of 43 percent. (I’ve left Rand Paul, with 6.8 percent, out of both camps because his positions defy tidy ideological categorization.)

The GOP is a party increasingly being steered by its most stridently ideological voters. Which is one reason (among many others) why I won’t be voting for a Republican anytime soon.


By: Damon Linker, The Week, January 27, 2015

January 28, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Ideology, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Did The GOP Turn Into Such A Bunch of Clowns?”: Lurching From One Strategic Screw Up To The Next

For a lot of reasons, the current era will probably be seen as unusually consequential in the history of the two parties, particularly the GOP. For Republicans, it has been a time of ideological hardening and bitter infighting. But one aspect of the Republican dilemma hasn’t gotten as much attention as those: This is a time of unusual, even stunning, Republican political incompetence.

Let me back up for a moment, to put what I’m saying in context. As the 2012 election approached, liberals began to understand just how deluded many conservatives were about empirical reality, and in ways that could do them serious political damage. It’s one thing to deny climate change (a denial that may benefit you and your allies), but if you convince yourself that you’re going to win when you’re actually going to lose, you’re hurting no one but yourself. When they began to rally around a guy claiming to “unskew” the 2012 presidential polls that showed Barack Obama heading for a victory, liberals had a great time ridiculing them. But then it turned out that even within the Romney campaign—including the candidate himself—people who were supposedly hard-nosed political professionals had convinced themselves that it was just impossible they could lose, whatever the polls said. As seen in an unforgettable bit of election-night television, Karl Rove, the party’s most celebrated strategist, refused to believe that Romney had lost even when Fox News called the race for Obama.

Once the race was over, there was some soul-searching within the GOP about their loss, but most of it concerned the party’s image as a bunch of unfeeling, out-of-touch white guys who couldn’t appeal to young voters and Hispanics. (Needless to say, this is a problem they’ve yet to solve,) There was some discussion about the conservative information bubble and the distorting effects it can have, but nothing changed—lots of conservatives still get their news from Fox and Rush Limbaugh, and assume that everything in the New York Times is a lie.

There seems to be little question that the alternative media universe they built, which was once a strength for the right, has become a liability. But their biggest problem now isn’t the things so many conservatives believe about the world that aren’t true, or what they think will happen that won’t. It’s about the strategic decisions they make, and where those decisions come from. Think about it this way: Has there been a single instance in the last few years when you said, “Wow, the Republicans really played that one brilliantly”?

In fact, before you’ll find evidence of the ruthless Republican skillfulness so many of us had come to accept as the norm in a previous era, you’ll need to go back an entire decade to the 2004 election. George W. Bush’s second term was a disaster, Republicans lost both houses of Congress in 2006, they lost the White House in 2008, they decided to oppose health-care reform with everything they had and lost, they lost the 2012 election—and around it all they worked as hard as they could to alienate the fastest growing minority group in the country and make themselves seem utterly unfit to govern.

In fact, in the last ten years they’ve only had one major victory, the 2010 midterm election. But that didn’t happen because of some brilliant GOP strategy, it was a confluence of circumstance; the natural tendency for the president’s party to lose significant numbers of seats two years after he’s elected, and the stagnant economy would have meant a big GOP victory no matter what they did.

Since then they’ve lurched from one strategic screw-up to the next, the root of which is almost always the same: It happens because they’re deluded into thinking that the country shares their particular collection of peeves and biases.

In fairness, this is a challenge for both parties and, indeed, for everyone involved in politics. When politics is your life, it’s hard, if not impossible, to think like an ordinary, inattentive voter thinks. When you’ve spent so much time convincing yourself that you’re right; the idea that anyone else who’s even remotely fair-minded wouldn’t agree can seem nothing short of absurd. It can be hard to persuade people when you can’t put yourself in their shoes.

But again and again, Republicans seem shocked to find out that Americans aren’t on the same page with them. They’re flummoxed when the public doesn’t rise up in outrage to demand more answers on Benghazi. They’re befuddled when shutting down the government turns into a political disaster. They’re gobsmacked when the electorate doesn’t reject Barack Obama for saying “you didn’t build that,” and even more amazed when he gets reelected. And in between, they can’t come up with any strategy to accomplish their goals, whether in policy or elections. Again and again, they think the American public is going to see things their way, and when the public doesn’t, they never seem to learn anything from it.

It isn’t always pure bumbling; there are times when the GOP follows an unwise strategic path not because of miscalculation, but because of unavoidable internal dynamics within the party. For instance, they’ve failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform not because party leaders don’t understand the political necessity of doing so, but because most members of the House come from conservative districts where comprehensive reform is unpopular, and therefore it makes sense for them to oppose it.

It would be too simple to put the GOP’s recent string of missteps and disasters down only to the struggle within the party, which yields a course ultimately determined by its radical wing. It is important that Tea Partiers, while being very good at figuring out how to make life miserable for the rest of their party, are abysmal when it comes to devising strategies for appealing to the country as a whole. But it’s equally relevant that the supposedly more pragmatic and experienced conservatives haven’t found a way to handle the snarling beast on their right flank and turn the whole ghastly mess into something that can fight Democrats with any modicum of success.

This shows no sign of changing. They’re going to win seats this November, but once again it won’t be because they came up with some brilliant strategy. If they win the Senate it will be because Democrats are defending more seats this year, many of which are in conservative states. (Two years from now when that situation is reversed, Democrats will almost certainly take back the Senate if they lose it this year.) Republicans will probably gain a few seats in the House, but don’t forget that in 2012, they retained their sizeable majority despite getting fewer votes nationwide than Democrats: Their advantage there is baked into the distribution of congressional districts.

And look at the people lining up to run for the White House in 2016. Does any one of them seem like the kind of brilliant politician who can navigate the deadly obstacle course of a two-year long presidential campaign and win over a majority of American voters, including millions who aren’t already on board with his party’s agenda? Who might that be? Ted Cruz? Rand Paul? Bobby Jindal? Rick Perry? Facing that collection of political samurai, Hillary Clinton must be positively terrified.

There are still plenty of smart Republicans out there. But the days when Republicans would run circles around Democrats, outdoing them in fundraising, messaging, organizing, and every other aspect of campaigning and politics, are a fading memory. The 2010 election may have blinded us to how long it’s really been since they set out to achieve a political goal and made it happen through their acumen and judgment. I’m sure that one day the GOP will get its strategic mojo back. But it could be a while.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 24, 2014

July 27, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Ideology, Republicans | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Bizarre Looking-Glass Ideology”: Deficit Scolds Are The Most Crazed Ideologues In America

A new Congressional Budget Office report shows that the projected increase in the national debt has slowed dramatically. Good news for deficit scolds, right? Not for Ron Fournier, who still thinks the nation is on its last legs:

Only in Washington, the place where you land when you fall through the looking glass, could this be hailed as good news… Our deficit levels (annual totals of red ink) are stalled at breathtakingly high levels — and are projected to soar again in a few years… Scary news, right? Not according to many media outlets and a cynical leadership class in Washington. Some news organizations focused on the sugar-high of good news — the (temporary) dip in deficits.

Think of a reporter covering a shooting. The police tell him the victim is dying of blood loss. Is the headline “Shooting Victim Expected to Die” or “Blood Flow Slows for Shooting Victim”? [National Journal]

Fournier’s economic analysis, if it may be so dignified with the phrase, is comprehensively wretched. As I’ve argued, the real problem with the deficit is that it’s coming down way too fast. Premature austerity has crippled the economic recovery and kept millions out of work. The biggest economic problem facing the nation is unemployment, which outweighs the stupid deficit by Graham’s Number levels of importance.

But the main problem is that his scold case is weak even on its own terms. Fournier understands neither what is driving the increase in the national debt nor why that might be a problem — all of which betrays a bizarre ideology that holds that pain must be inflicted before any gains can be made.

The huge increase in the annual deficit in 2008-09 was driven by two things: first, the economic collapse, which caused revenues to fall and spending to increase as people drew on safety net programs like unemployment insurance. Second, the Recovery Act, aka the stimulus, which provided a one-time surge of spending to restore aggregate demand and get people back to work. Though the stimulus was not nearly large enough to fill the hole in demand, this is what macroeconomic policy is supposed to do in a recession (a fact that Republicans were happy to accept when they were in power).

The long-term debt and deficit projections, on the other hand, are entirely about health-care spending. As Peter Fisher once said, the government is basically an insurance company with an army, and for many years the price of health care increased much faster than the rate of economic growth. This made government spending on health care (mostly Medicare and Medicaid) consume an ever-greater portion of the federal budget. Past CBO projections just assumed this trend would continue, which accounts for past reports predicting that the national debt would eventually eat the whole budget.

What this means is that Fournier’s preferred solution for dealing with this trend — higher taxes, fewer entitlements — is completely pointless. We have to fix the problem of rising prices, otherwise eventually a single tablet of aspirin will consume the entire federal budget. And the price problem is driven by awful policy design, not excessive generosity. America manages the rare trick of having very patchy and stingy social insurance that is simultaneously incredibly expensive. We spend more government money per person than Canada does — and the Canadians have universal single-payer coverage.

Fewer entitlements or higher taxes will get you a few years of breathing room before price increases eat up all the savings — and the whole point of Fournier’s column is that a couple decades of breathing room is still grounds for hair-on-fire panic.

Luckily, since the passage of ObamaCare, price increases have indeed slowed dramatically. That, plus a new projection that interest rates will stay low for a long time, accounts for the new CBO analysis showing slower debt growth. Just why this is happening is a matter of some dispute; I suspect it is partly the result of several programs in ObamaCare designed to bring prices down, and partly that health-care prices are already so high they’re running into resource constraints.

I think the fact that Fournier is patently uninterested in any of these things, and favors a policy that would accomplish nothing whatsoever on the deficit by his own standards, reveals that the pro-austerity school of punditry isn’t about the deficit at all. Instead, he says that his entitlement-cutting agenda is “going to happen sooner or later, painfully or more painfully.” As with David Gregory, the pain is the operative concept. The centrist definition of responsible politics holds that the American people must suffer a little more to keep the nation healthy. It’s only the “hateful partisans” who are keeping the wise, reasonable moderates from making those tough bipartisan compromises to slash social insurance and inflict pain.

But make no mistake: This has nothing to do with economics, and everything to do with the bizarre looking-glass ideology of “serious people” in Washington, D.C.


By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, July 24, 2014

July 25, 2014 Posted by | Deficits, Economy, Ideology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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