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“His Centrisim Is Style And Tone”: There’s Absolutely No Reason For The GOP (Or Anyone) To Listen To Jon Huntsman

Former Utah governor, U.S. ambassador to China and failed presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has been making the media rounds recently, sitting down with the Huffington Post and CNN, sharing his big ideas about How to Save the Republican Party From Itself.*

Before we get into those ideas, and their merit, something should be made very clear: It doesn’t matter what Jon Huntsman thinks, at all. Conservatives should feel no obligation to listen to him, because he has no constituency in the Republican Party — no allies, supporters or acolytes. Liberals shouldn’t listen to him because for all his “the GOP must remake itself in my image” talk, he always conveniently forgets to mention that he’s precisely as conservative — on all the same issues — as Mitt Romney is. (Or as Mitt Romney became, as the case may be.) His “centrism” is entirely a matter of style and tone.

For the current budget showdown, he proposes … “entitlement reform,” along with a rhetorical openness to the possibility of maybe allowing the top marginal tax rate to rise, which is what makes him a big pinko now, apparently:

“You will have to have some compromise built in, and perhaps even on the marginal rates going up for a certain income category. My going-in position would be: Let’s work on phasing out all the deductions and loopholes. There is a trillion dollars there. Let’s see where that leaves us and move forward before you start willy-nilly raising taxes.”

Is this appreciably to the left of Mitt Romney’s position?

Jon Huntsman supported the Ryan Plan. During the campaign, Huntsman proposed what was probably the single most regressive, pro-rich tax plan of any Republican candidate. He called for the elimination of the Earned Income Tax Credit — which benefits poor people — along with the abolition of all taxes on capital gains and dividends, which would amount to a massive redistribution of wealth from poor and working people to rich people. This is the guy we’re looking to for serious soul-searching about how the Republicans can make themselves appeal to Americans outside the conservative bubble?

Huntsman’s actual prescription for the party is to make it more palatable to … Northeastern Elites. He wants to drop the “crazy talk” in order to focus more on the hardcore economic conservatism. Sure, he’s not going to be a Norquistian fanatic on the top marginal tax rate, but his plan is still austerity for most. The thing is, that sort of conservatism doesn’t appeal to anyone without money. Race-baiting, immigrant-hating, and war-mongering nationalism are what make the GOP’s economic agenda marketable to the masses. The best-case scenario for a Huntsman-led Republican Party is that they pick off some Dem-supporting “socially liberal” rich people in Maryland and Manhattan and maybe Silicon Valley. Enough to harm Democratic fundraising, but not to win national elections.

Since the end of the Reagan era we’ve essentially had two parties that pursue an economic agenda designed to benefit the rich people, as the poor survive on subsistence benefits and the middle class find themselves joining the poor. The rich people each party represents are generally in different (though often overlapping) industries and sectors — entertainment and finance for Democrats, energy and finance for Republicans — but they are the wealthiest all the same. The differentiating factor was that one party also supported welfare state policies that benefited the very poor and the other party also supported “social issues” that appealed to the religious white middle class. A party that did the opposite of Huntsman’s prescription — one that combined real economic populism with conservative religious appeals, as many pre-civil rights Democrats and populists once did — would almost certainly be much more popular than the current Republican Party. (The enduring popularity of Mike Huckabee, who used to frequently adopt the rhetoric of an economic populist, is evidence enough.) There’s a huge “soak the rich and burn the banks down” constituency out there, and the Democrats — who are terrified of soaking the rich — currently win it largely by default.

Unfortunately for the GOP (but probably fortunately for us secular social liberals), as Josh Barro pointed out last week, the money guys are going to push the “more secular but still pro-rich” brand makeover. And the money people have been in charge for so long that they’ve remade most of the Moral Majority people in their image.

Jon Huntsman, though, is not the man to save the party. Nor is his brother in rebranding hucksterism Bobby Jindal, unless he stops talking like a Rhodes scholar and starts acting more like the Kingfish.

*It bears mentioning that at no point does the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein disclose that his interviewee is the father of a fairly prominent Huffington Post employee.


By: Alex Pareene, Salon, December 3, 2012

December 5, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Warped Moral Universe”: Why The GOP Want’s To Raise Taxes On The Poor

Citing the widely-repeated meme on the right that 47 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax (not to be confused with taxes in general), James Kwak has two theories:

The first is that the modern Republican Party is funded by the very rich… The result is that the parties’ platforms now reflect the wishes of their major funders, not their median voters. This is why Republican presidential candidates spent the primary season competing to offer the most generous tax breaks to the rich—while Paul Ryan’s budget slashes Medicare, a program supported by the Tea Party rank and file. For the rich people who call the shots, it’s simply in their interest to lower taxes on the rich and raise them on the poor. End of story…

The other, even-more-disturbing explanation, is that Republicans see the rich as worthy members of society (the “producers”) and the poor as a drain on society (the “takers”). In this warped moral universe, it isn’t enough that someone with a gross income of $10 million takes home $8.1 million while someone with a gross income of $20,000 takes home $19,000.* That’s called “punishing success,” so we should really increase taxes on the poor person so we can “reward success” by letting the rich person take home even more. This is why today’s conservatives have gone beyond the typical libertarian and supply-side arguments for lower taxes on the rich, and the campaign to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich has taken on such self-righteous tones.

The most trafficked post ever on my own site continues to be this Graph of Doom look at the Newt Gingrich’s tax plan back when he was still running. It was stunning then and now how much the Republican primary candidates were tripping over each other to demonstrate how much they would give back to the ultra-rich. (See here for a full comparison of all the candidates.)

But, as Kwak says, they really seem to be invested in this Randian stuff. It should also be a reminder how badly Republicans are likely to govern. There on the ups now not because of any actual argument, but because of 1) the continuing unemployment crisis and 2) their skill at organizing. Their actual policy ideas would be laughable if they didn’t have an actual chance of becoming law.

There’s a halfway plausible argument that Romney would prefer to go big on Keynesian stimulus, like Nixon did, but when it comes to domestic policy, a determined Congress holds the whip hand. Be warned.


By: Ryan Cooper, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 6, 2012

June 8, 2012 Posted by | Economic Inequality | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Swapping Old Folks For Poor Folks”: Lamar Alexander’s Senior Moment

I can’t read the whole thing yet, since it’s hiding behind the Wall Street Journal’s paywall, and I’m not about to subscribe. But from the headline and lede, it seems Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has taken a long stroll down memory lane by resurrecting the one-fashionable idea of a “swap” whereby currently shared federal-state governing responsibilities would be divided. In particular, he proposes that Medicaid be taken over by the feds in exchange for total assumption of responsibility for education by the states, and mentions he tried to sell the idea to Ronald Reagan back in the early 1980s.

I don’t know exactly which meetings Alexander is talking about, but as it happens, I was working for the then-chairman of the National Governors’ Association, the late Georgia Democratic Gov. George Busbee, when he was leading “federalism” discussions with the Reagan folk in 1981. Most governors at the time, regardless of party, were interested in what was called a “sorting out” agenda that would federalize some programs and devolve others; this was a favorite topic in particular for Arizona’s Democratic Gov. Bruce Babbitt, who like to talk about “states’ rights for liberals.” Babbitt wanted a “grand swap” in which Washington would become responsible for all health care and “welfare” programs in exchange for state assumption of transportation, education and criminal justice, areas in which they were already the major funders and policymakers. My own boss had a similar approach, but was mainly concerned to head off the kind of one-way abandonment of federal responsibility that most conservatives had in mind when they talked about “federalism.”

Whatever they told Alexander, that was pretty much the tendency of the Reaganites of the day. Reagan’s famous OMB director, David Stockman was interested in a “swap” that would have devolved cash income support, food stamps, and health care for the poor in exchange for the feds taking responsibility for the health care needs of seniors who were “dual-enrolled” in Medicaid or obtaining long-term care subsidies. It was basically a “swap” of old folks for poor folks. The governors weren’t buying it, and in any event, the Reagan administration was simultaneously pursuing a budget that would “cap” federal Medicaid payments, basically intitiating the kind of gradual shift in responsibility for the program to the states that Paul Ryan is pursuing in a more comprehensive way with his proposal to turn Medicaid into a “block grant.” As it happened, the Medicaid “cap” was one of the few budget proposals Reagan lost on in 1981.

Best as I can recall, this was the high-water mark of national Republican interest in taking over Medicaid, and it obviously was lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut. It’s only gotten worse sice then. It is striking that ol’ Lamar is talking about a federal takeover of Medicaid even as he joins other Republicans in violently opposing ObamaCare, since one major feature of ObamaCare is a significant increase in federal responsibility for Medicaid (via higher match rates for new enrolees), and for the health care needs of low-income families generally.

The bottom line is that Alexander is really living in the distant past if he thinks his party will support federalization of Medicaid (unless they get the idea they can starve or abolish it). The prevailing sentiment in the GOP, as reflected in the Ryan budget, is to move towards devolution of all current federal-state programs to the states, via rapid funding cuts to non-defense discretionary programs and by turning Medicaid and food stamps into block grants (along with big funding cuts). Matter of fact, Alexander voted for the Ryan budget himself. Maybe he explained that little contradiction in the portion of his op-ed still behind the paywall. Or maybe he’s just having a senior moment.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 16, 2012

May 17, 2012 Posted by | Federalism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Satisfying The Base”: Why Republicans Can’t Stop Pissing Off Hispanics, Women, And Young People

What are the three demographic groups whose electoral impact is growing fastest? Hispanics, women, and young people. Who are Republicans pissing off the most? Latinos, women, and young people.

It’s almost as if the GOP can’t help itself.

Start with Hispanic voters, whose electoral heft keeps growing as they comprise an ever-larger portion of the electorate. Hispanics now favor President Obama over Romney by more than two to one, according to a recent Pew poll.

The movement of Hispanics into the Democratic camp has been going on for decades. What are Republicans doing to woo them back? Replicating California Republican Governor Pete Wilson’s disastrous support almost twenty years ago for Proposition 187 – which would have screened out undocumented immigrants from public schools, health care, and other social services, and required law-enforcement officials to report any “suspected” illegals. (Wilson, you may remember, lost that year’s election, and California’s Republican Party has never recovered.)

The Arizona law now before the Supreme Court – sponsored by Republicans in the state and copied by Republican legislators and governors in several others – would authorize police to stop anyone looking Hispanic and demand proof of citizenship. It’s nativism disguised as law enforcement.

Romney is trying to distance himself from that law, but it’s not working. That may be because he dubbed it a “model law” during February’s Republican primary debate in Arizona, and because its author (former state senator Russell Pearce, who was ousted in a special election last November largely by angry Hispanic voters) says he’s working closely with Romney advisers.

Hispanics are also reacting to Romney’s attack just a few months ago on GOP rival Texas Governor Rick Perry for supporting in-state tuition at the University of Texas for children of undocumented immigrants. And to Romney’s advocacy of what he calls “self-deportation” – making life so difficult for undocumented immigrants and their families that they choose to leave.

As if all this weren’t enough, the GOP has been pushing voter ID laws all over America, whose obvious aim is to intimidate Hispanic voters so they won’t come to the polls. But they may have the opposite effect – emboldening the vast majority of ethnic Hispanics, who are American citizens, to vote in even greater numbers and lend even more support to Obama and other Democrats.

Or consider women – whose political and economic impact in America continues to grow (women are fast becoming better educated than men and the major breadwinners in American homes). The political gender gap is huge. According to recent polls, women prefer Obama to Romney by over 20 percent.

So what is the GOP doing to woo women back? Attacking them. Last February, House Republicans voted to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood. Last May, they unanimously passed the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” banning the District of Columbia from funding abortions for low-income women. (The original version removed all exceptions – rape, incest, and endangerment to a mother’s life – except “forcible” rape.)

Earlier this year Republican legislators in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Idaho, and Alabama pushed bills requiring women seeking abortions to undergo invasive vaginal ultrasound tests (Pennsylvania Republicans even wanted proof such had viewed the images).

Republican legislators in Georgia and Arizona passed bills banning most abortions after twenty weeks of pregnancy. The Georgia bill would also require that any abortion after 20 weeks be done in a way to bring the fetus out alive. Republican legislators in Texas have voted to eliminate funding for any women’s healthcare clinic with an affiliation to an abortion provider – even if the affiliation is merely a shared name, employee, or board member.

All told, over 400 Republican bills are pending in state legislatures, attacking womens’ reproductive rights.

But even this doesn’t seem enough for the GOP. Republicans in Wisconsin just repealed a law designed to prevent employers from discriminating against women.

Or, finally, consider students – a significant and growing electoral force, who voted overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008. What are Republicans doing to woo them back? Attack them, of course.

Republican Budget Chair Paul Ryan’s budget plan – approved by almost every House Republican and enthusiastically endorsed by Mitt Romney – allows rates on student loans to double on July 1 – from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. That will add an average of $1,000 a year to student debt loads, which already exceed credit-card debt.

House Republicans say America can’t afford the $6 billion a year it would require to keep student loan rates down to where they are now. But that same Republican plan gives wealthy Americans trillions of dollars in tax cuts over the next decade. (Under mounting political pressure, House Republicans have come up with just enough money to keep the loan program going for another year – safely past Election Day – by raiding a fund established for preventive care in the new health-care act.)

Here again, Romney is trying to tiptoe away from the GOP position. He now says he supports keeping student loans where they were. Yet only a few months ago he argued that subsidized student loans were bad because they encouraged colleges to raise their tuition.

How can a political party be so dumb as to piss off Hispanics, women, and young people? Because the core of its base is middle-aged white men – and it doesn’t seem to know how to satisfy its base without at the same time turning off everyone who’s not white, male, and middle-aged.


By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, April 26, 2012

April 29, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Tantruming Toddlers”: President Romney And The Republican Congress

As we’ve discussed here many times, there a number of factors that make it more likely than not that Barack Obama will win re-election in November. But it’s also quite possible that Obama will lose, and Mitt Romney will become president in January. If Romney does win, chances are that he’ll come into office with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress. That’s because whatever conditions produce a Republican win at the top will also probably allow Republicans to hold on to the House and take the Senate. It’s even possible that Obama could win and Republicans wind up with both houses, since Democrats right now hold only a 53-47 lead in the upper chamber, and they are defending 23 seats in this year’s election, while Republicans are defending only ten.

There’s an outside chance that a big Obama win could allow Democrats to hold the Senate and take back the house, but for now let’s focus on the possibility of a Romney win, which will probably leave him with the benefit of total Republican control. This is an eventuality that we really need to start thinking about, since a Romney presidency would be shaped in large part by his relationship with Congress.

The thought of finding ourselves nine months from now with a President Romney, Speaker Boehner, and Majority Leader McConnell is … let’s say unsettling. But I’m sure they’ll greet their newfound power with humility and restraint, not moving too quickly to roll back regulations, cut taxes for the wealthy, or dismantle social programs. Hah! Kidding, of course—the only question is whether they’ll be literally firing their guns in the air on the floor of the House and Senate, leaving holes in the ceiling that will be a testament in plaster to their triumph for years to come. At that point, Democrats will discover that the filibuster is a really, really good thing.

But there’s only so much they’d be able to stop, and congressional Republicans will be sending a stream of reactionary bills to President Romney’s desk. And let’s be honest: He’s going to sign every one of them. You will not see Romney veto a bill passed by a Republican Congress because it went too far in achieving conservative goals. Not gonna happen.

Which is why, if Democrats are smart, they’ll start a discussion now about how Romney is going to deal with the congressional nutballs in his party. They’ve already started tying Romney to Paul Ryan’s budget plan, but the larger question is how he’ll handle this unruly collection of extremists, who have shown themselves quite happy to hold the government hostage and bring America to the brink of default to serve their agenda.

The White House is now warning Republicans not to renege on the deal they made last year on the budget (which they are showing signs they want to do, by cutting domestic spending more than they agreed to); if they do, there could be a government shutdown in September. That would put all kinds of pressure on Romney to show he can rein in his party’s extremists. If he handles it well, he can demonstrate that he’s a responsible adult who is capable of restraining the collection of tantruming toddlers that is the Republican caucus in the House. If he doesn’t, he’ll show everyone just how chaotic and dangerous a government with Republicans in control of all three branches could be.


By: Paul Waldman, The American Prospect, April 19, 2012

April 20, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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