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“When Tribalism Takes Over”: Republicans Are Being Driven To Identify In All Ways With Their Tribe

Pollsters have found that in the Obama era, the number of self-identified Republican voters who believe in evolution has dropped sharply. Similarly, in recent years, GOP voters routinely tell pollsters that the federal budget deficit has gone up, even as it drops quickly.

What drives results like these? It’s probably the result of the same phenomenon that drives attitudes like these, as reported by Greg Sargent yesterday, about the Affordable Care Act.

My Post colleague Sean Sullivan … points to a Gallup poll this week finding that only 19 percent of Americans say the law has hurt them or their family, while 64 percent say it has had no effect, and another 13 percent say it has helped.

But who are those 19 percent? It turns out those telling Gallup the law has hurt them or their family are very disproportionately Republican and conservative.

Of course they are. Greg got in touch with Gallup, which offered him a closer look at the details of the poll results. In all, a small percentage of Democrats and independents said the health care law has hurt them or their family directly, while 60% of Republicans or Republican-leaning independents said the ACA is doing them direct harm.

Similar results were seen along ideological lines: most conservatives said “Obamacare” is hurting them or their family, most moderates and liberals said the opposite.

Now, I suppose it’s possible that an extraordinary coincidence is unfolding on a national scale. By sheer chance, the very people who oppose the law just so happen to be the exact same people who are adversely affected by it. What a truly remarkable fluke! Who could have guessed?

Or maybe, as Greg put it, “some who already dislike Obamacare are more likely to tell pollsters they’ve been negatively impacted by it.”

It’s amazing what tribalism can do to public perceptions.

Are Republican voters really turning against modern biology in greater numbers? Probably not. Do GOP voters actually believe the deficit has gotten bigger during the Obama era? Maybe, but I rather doubt it.

Do these same partisans and ideologues genuinely believe the Affordable Care Act has hurt them or their families? Maybe some had to change plans or see a new doctor, but odds are, most of these folks are giving the pollsters an ideologically satisfying answer.

It’s not about dishonesty or ignorance; it’s about political tribalism in a period of stark polarization.

When the Pew report came out last month showing Republicans rejecting evolution in large numbers, Paul Krugman had a good piece on the broader dynamic.

The point … is that Republicans are being driven to identify in all ways with their tribe – and the tribal belief system is dominated by anti-science fundamentalists. For some time now it has been impossible to be a good Republicans while believing in the reality of climate change; now it’s impossible to be a good Republican while believing in evolution.

And of course the same thing is happening in economics. As recently as 2004, the Economic Report of the President (pdf) of a Republican administration could espouse a strongly Keynesian view, declaring the virtues of “aggressive monetary policy” to fight recessions, and making the case for discretionary fiscal policy too. […]

Given that intellectual framework, the reemergence of a 30s-type economic situation, with prolonged shortfalls in aggregate demand, low inflation, and zero interest rates should have made many Republicans more Keynesian than before. Instead, at just the moment that demand-side economics became obviously critical, we saw Republicans – the rank and file, of course, but economists as well – declare their fealty to various forms of supply-side economics, whether Austrian or Lafferian or both. Compare that ERP chapter with the currency-debasement letter and you see a remarkable case of intellectual retrogression.

In all likelihood, many on the right are choosing to stick with their “team” and answer pollsters’ questions accordingly. It’s probably best to look at all of these polls accordingly.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 7, 2014

February 8, 2014 Posted by | Evolution, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Nobody Is Falling For This”: House Republicans Make Their Regularly Scheduled Threat To Destroy The Global Economy

House Republicans will huddle at their annual retreat next week to decide what will they demand in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.

If the limit on how much the government can borrow to pay off debts Congress has already voted to incur is not raised by late February, the U.S. will default purposely for the first time in American history, triggering a financial crisis that many experts feel would be at least as devastating as the economic meltdown of 2008, which put millions out of work and destroyed trillions in wealth.

The government shutdown in October dominated the discussion during the weeks leading up to the last debt limit crisis. Republicans released a comical list of demands. The White House offered nothing, and that’s essentially what Republicans accepted when they folded on the government shutdown.

Earlier in 2013, Republicans demanded that the Senate pass a budget in exchange for raising the debt limit. The Senate agreed and House Republicans followed the strategy of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and refused to go into conference with Democrats in the upper house — 18 times. And that’s how we got the shutdown.

Of course, you only have to feed a stray once to keep it scratching at the door. In 2011, House Republicans successfully used the debt limit to extract the automatic cuts known as the sequester, while triggering a near-panic that erased some 1,200 points from the Dow. Because the House has folded twice since then, Wall Street now takes the GOP’s threats as seriously as a Sarah Palin presidential bid, even when America was just hours from a default in October.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) seems to have taken the reins of his caucus after the shutdown disaster and has since passed a two-year budget with little drama over the objections of the outside groups that backed Cruz last year. But the man who negotiated that deal — Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) — was one of the driving forces behind the 2011 crisis and is saying the House will demand something in exchange for raising the debt limit. The chairman of the Budget Committee has keyed in on the so-called “Obamacare Bailout,” which not a bailout at all, but a complex set of mostly deficit-neutral mechanisms that could help insurers if they are forced to take on too many sick customers, or could help cut the deficit if they don’t.

The problem for the GOP is the same mechanism exists in Medicare Part D, which was signed into law by George W. Bush and passed by Republicans — including Paul Ryan.

Still, Republicans plan to dare the president to default “to preserve a massive bailout for insurance companies” knowing that what they’re saying is “one enormous lie.”

Will Republicans give in when they recognize that the president will not cave to their demands, as he has vowed not to over and over again?

New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait believes they will.

Chait — who called the last debt ceiling standoff a domestic “Cuban Missile Crisis,” which the president won —  notes that the House GOP’s argument has devolved from sanctimonious prattle about the debt to a straight-up demand for scattershot “concessions,” which only makes sense if they want to destroy the economy and need some incentive not to do so.

“But you can only try this bluff once,” Chait wrote. “The only way it could still work would be if Obama either paid a ransom or Republicans shot the hostage. Once the mark knows you’re bluffing, it’s over. You can’t do it again. Nobody is falling for this.”

The GOP’s debt scaremongering made a little sense in 2010 when the deficit was over $1 trillion and the long-term debt projections were skyrocketing — though threatening default increased the deficit and an actual default would have exploded it astronomically. But the deficit has been cut in half, mostly thanks to the end of some of the Bush tax breaks for the rich, and any threat of a long-term debt “crisis” may be disappearing, thanks to Obamacare.

debt share gdp

Now the GOP’s theatrics just play into the notion that they blind obstructionists. And if they go too far, they could actually blow the 2014 elections.

Speaker Boehner needs his bluff to be taken seriously by only one constituency — a majority of his caucus.

The 50-70 members of the “suicide caucus” who are more aligned with outside conservative groups than the Speaker are already furious about the budget deal. They’re plotting a rebellion over piecemeal immigration reform that Boehner is preparing to take up, and they’re even planning on joining a retreat organized by Heritage Action that will immediately follow the one being held by leadership.

Boehner has to appear that he’s willing to default up until the exact moment when the pressure from the business community forces him to cave. And hopefully then there will be enough Republicans behind him when he does, so he can prevent a needless catastrophe at the last possible moment.


By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, January 24, 2014

January 26, 2014 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Crafting Bills Designed To Fail”: The House Republican Tantrum That Knows No End

The New York Times published a helpful chart the other day, which highlighted a nine-step process Congress would have to follow this week to avoid a government shutdown. As it happens, steps one through eight were completed with relative ease.

It was that ninth step that gave lawmakers trouble.

House Republicans not only gathered on a weekend to take a vote that moves the government even closer to a shutdown, they did it in the dead of night.

The Republican-controlled House voted around midnight on Saturday to keep the government open for a few more months in exchange for punting the rollout of Obamacare for a year — the kind of shot at the health care law conservatives had wanted for weeks, even if it’s sure to be rejected by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

By all appearances, House Republicans are now actively seeking a government shutdown, specifically aiming for their goal rather than making any effort to avoid it. Indeed, the unhinged House majority appears to have gone out of its way to craft a spending bill designed to fail.

The bill approved after midnight would deny health care benefits to millions of American families for a year, add to the deficit by repealing a medical-device tax industry lobbyists urged Republicans to scrap, and in a fascinating twist, make it harder for Americans to get birth control. As the New York Times report noted, “The delay included a provision favored by social conservatives that would allow employers and health care providers to opt out of mandatory contraception coverage.”

Yes, in the midst of a budget crisis, the House GOP decided it was time to go after birth control again. Wow.

Senate leaders and the White House patiently tried to explain to radicalized House Republicans that voting for this would all but guarantee a government shutdown — so House Republicans voted for it en masse.

In fact, take a look at the roll call. Jonathan Bernstein asked on Friday, “Where are the sane House Republicans?” That question was answered quite clearly last night: literally every GOP lawmaker in the chamber voted for their government-shutdown plan. There were zero defections.

This was not, in other words, an isolated tantrum thrown by an extremist faction of a once-great political party. This was rather an organized tantrum thrown by the entirety of the House Republican caucus.

Keep in mind, I use the word “tantrum” largely because Republicans told me to. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a close ally of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in July, “Shutting down the government to get your way over an unrelated piece of legislation is the political equivalent of throwing a temper tantrum. It is just not helpful.”

Last night, Cole linked arms with his fellow conservatives and joined them as they jumped off the cliff together. Apparently, he discovered his affinity for tantrums over the last couple of months.

Also note, we know with certainty Speaker Boehner didn’t want this scenario. It was just earlier this month that he presented a proposal that would have avoided all of this, precisely because he didn’t want to end up where we are now. But the Speaker, who has little influence or control over what happens in his own chamber, simply lacked the courage and the strength to govern responsibly.

What happens now is less clear. The Senate could reconvene today, reject the House bill, and urge House Republicans to act like grown-ups tomorrow — the last day before Monday night’s shutdown deadline. Or more likely, the upper chamber will gather in the morning, try to pass the same bill senators passed on Friday, and leave the House with just hours to keep the government’s lights on.

Either way, House Republicans continue to fail at completing even the most basic of tasks. The public doesn’t expect much of Congress anymore, but most seem to believe lawmakers should be able to keep the government’s doors open.

As things stand, that now appears unlikely.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 29, 2013

September 30, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Gigantic House Of Cards”: Mitt Romney Gets Away With It, For Now

So other than the fading echoes of Republican celebration and Democratic angst from last night’s presidential debate, and the wait we will now have to endure to see if it made any tangible difference in the contest, what should we actually carry away from the event?

I’ve already confessed myself a non-expert on the “visuals,” and on the “energy level” of the candidates, because I honestly don’t give a damn about any of that. What Mitt Romney needed to do last night, however, was relatively clear: reintroduce himself to swing voters as someone other than a distant plutocrat, and fill in the gaping holes (of omission and commission) in his policy agenda. With quite a bit of help from Barack Obama, he achieved both of those goals, at least temporarily, and in that respect he “won.”

But it came at a price. Jonathan Bernstein summed it up nicely last night at WaPo:

Romney’s policy positions are even more of a shambles now than they were previously. Romney’s position, over and over again, is to simply bluff it on policy. His tax plan continues to be the most obvious one, but it really happens across the board. Romney insisted tonight more than once that his tax plan will keep taxes the same for the wealthy, cut them for everyone else, and not add to the deficit. Forget about the Tax Policy Center; just that much is obviously incoherent and impossible. And, more to the point, it’s clear he’s going to keep on insisting that it adds up, no matter how clearly it doesn’t. But it’s not just that; on every policy, he’s just going to insist that the consequences of his plans that anyone might not like simply don’t exist, so that he’s for sweeping spending cuts but insists that no particular program that anyone brings up might lose any funding, or that he’s for repealing Obamacare but those with pre-existing conditions will magically be protected.

In other words, Mitt Romney lied a lot, and his lies extended beyond his own policies to those of the president (particularly in health care and “green jobs”). His self-representation, moreover, as a deeply caring moderate who shares the president’s goals but is far more eager to reach across the aisle, must have caused some bitter laughter behind the scenes in conservative circles. But because the president, presumably quite deliberately, chose not to depict Romney as a liar and a phony, Mitt largely got away with it, at least for the moment.

Jon Chait believes that Romney has finally pulled off his “etch-a-sketch” moment, reinventing himself as the moderate Republican he once seemed to be in Massachusetts, at a moment when conservatives were too terrified of defeat to object, as they certainly would have earlier in the year if he had hedged on his tax cut plan, let his heart bleed all over the stage for the unemployed and suffering, and begged for a chance to work with Democrats.

But atmospherics aside, what did Mitt actually change last night? He’s long claimed his tax plan wouldn’t increase the deficit, and wouldn’t reduce the relative tax burden on high earners. Last night he said he wouldn’t pursue it if his plan violated either of those principles. But since he’s denied repeatedly there’s any risk of that, why should anybody believe he’d somehow sacrifice the crown jewel of Republican policy–tax cuts for the wealthy–when he’s in office, surrounded by Republicans clamoring for it? But you’d best believe a lot of assurances were going out last night from Team Mitt to conservative opinion leaders denying anything had changed other than how Romney chose to frame and defend his tax plan.

Had Obama more effectively counterpunched last night (or had Jim Lehrer not provided the most passive moderation of a debate in memory), Mitt might not have been able to pull off this feat of prestidigitation. After all, when you think about it, Romney is now saying the high-end tax cuts that Republicans want more than life itself just won’t happen unless he can come up with revenue offsets that don’t change the tax burden, and also get through spending reductions that he’s consistently refused to identify (yea, promised to oppose when it came to most popular spending categories). It’s all a gigantic house of cards. And even if you buy the ludicrous assumption that Romney was sincere in his desire not to upset anyone with his policies, his party won’t for a moment let him actually “move to the center.” Hell, they spent the entire primary season roping him in, and even if they let him posture and maneuver a bit right now, the rope’s still around his neck and their brand is on his posterior.

Obama continually talked around the central problem, attacking the vagueness of Romney’s policies and near the end, finally just coming right out and saying Mitt’s hiding something. But he could not bring himself to say out loud that Mitt’s a serial dissembler who owes his political soul to extremist ideologues and depends strictly on a hidden-hand presentation of his record and agenda. I guess it wouldn’t have been “presidential.”


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 4, 2012

October 5, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Erasing W”: Republications Want To Obliterate Any Trace Of The Administration That Created This Mess

As Bill Clinton is resurrected by the Democrats, George W. Bush is being erased by the GOP — as if an entire eight years of American history hadn’t happened.

While Bill Clinton stumps for Obama, Romney has gone out of his way not to mention the name of the president who came after Clinton and before Obama.

Clinton will have a starring role at the Democratic National Convention. George W. Bush won’t even be at the Republican one – the first time a national party has not given the stage at its convention to its most recent occupant of the Oval Office who successfully ran for reelection.

The GOP is counting on America’s notoriously short-term memory to blot out the last time the nation put a Republican into the Oval Office, on the reasonable assumption that such a memory might cause voters to avoid making the same mistake twice. As whoever-it-was once said, “fool me once …” (and then mangled the rest).

Republicans want to obliterate any trace of the administration that told America there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and led us into a devastating war; turned a $5 trillion projected budget surplus into a $6 trillion deficit; gave the largest tax cut in a generation to the richest Americans in history; handed out a mountain of corporate welfare to the oil and gas industry, pharmaceutical companies, and military contractors like Halliburton (uniquely benefiting the vice president); whose officials turned a blind eye to Wall Street shenanigans that led to the worst financial calamity since the Great Crash of 1929 and then persuaded Congress to bail out the Street with the largest taxpayer-funded giveaway of all time.

Besides, the resemblances between George W. Bush and Mitt Romney are too close for comfort. Both were born into wealth, sons of prominent politicians who themselves ran for president; both are closely tied to the nation’s corporate and financial elites, and eager to do their bidding; both are socially awkward and, as candidates, tightly scripted for fear of saying something they shouldn’t; and both presented themselves to the nation devoid of any consistent policies or principles that might give some clue as to what they actually believe.

They are both, in other words, unusually shallow, uncurious, two-dimensional men who ran or are running for the presidency for no clear reason other than to surpass their fathers or achieve the aims and ambitions of their wealthy patrons.

Small wonder the Republican Party wants us to forget our last Republican president and his administration. By contrast, the Democrats have every reason for America to recall and celebrate the Clinton years.


By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, August 10, 2012

August 11, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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