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“He’s Not A Reformer He’s A Fraud”: Marco Rubio Is The Most Disingenuous Republican Running For President

Most of the Republican Party’s primary candidates have internalized something that was blindingly obvious to everyone who watched the 2012 elections unfold. So long as traditional turnout patterns hold, Republicans can’t keep up with Democrats in presidential contests. To win, they need to alter the turnout pattern, and to alter the turnout pattern, they need to break with GOP orthodoxy in some way.

Jeb Bush is jilting the conservative movement by swearing off red meat, hoping an even temperament will appeal to uncommitted voters. Senator Rand Paul is courting young and minority voters by promising to challenge the surveillance and carceral states.

Senator Marco Rubio, who will announce his candidacy for president on Monday, was supposed to lead a GOP breakaway faction in support of comprehensive immigration reform, but was unable to persuade House Republicans to ignore the nativist right, and the whole thing blew up in his face. In regrouping, he’s determined that the key to restoring Republican viability in presidential elections is to woo middle class voters with fiscal policies that challenge conservative orthodoxy.

His new basic insight is correct. The GOP’s obsession with distributing resources up the income scale is the single biggest factor impeding it from reaching new constituencies, both because it reflects unpopular values and because it makes them unable to address emerging national needs that require spending money.

It also happens to be the raison d’être of the conservative establishment. Challenging the right’s commitment to lowering taxes on high earners, and reducing transfers to the poor and working classes, will encounter vast resistance. Where Paul can appeal to the moral and religious sensibilities of elderly whites who might otherwise oppose criminal justice reforms, a real challenge to GOP fiscal orthodoxy will get no quarter from GOP donors.

If Rubio were both serious and talented enough to move his party away from its most inhibiting orthodoxy, in defiance of those donors, his candidacy would represent a watershed. His appeal to constituencies outside of the GOP base would be both sincere and persuasive.

But Rubio is not that politician. He is no likelier to succeed at persuading Republican supply-siders to reimagine their fiscal priorities than he was at persuading nativists to support a citizenship guarantee for unauthorized immigrants. In fact, nobody understands the obstacles facing Marco Rubio better than Marco Rubio. But rather than abandon his reformist pretensions, or advance them knowing he will ultimately lose, Rubio has chosen to claim the mantle of reform and surrender to the right simultaneously—to make promises to nontraditional voters he knows he can’t keep. My colleague Danny Vinik proposes that Rubio wants to “improve the lives of poor Americans” but he must “tailor [his] solutions to gain substantial support in the GOP, and those compromises would cause more harm to the poor.” I think this makes Rubio the most disingenuous candidate in the field.

Nothing captures Rubio’s irreconcilable commitments quite like the evolution of his plan to reform the tax code. From the outset, Rubio never intended to sideline the interests of the wealthy. As originally conceived, his tax plan would’ve paired modest middle class benefits with very large tax cuts for high earners, much like George W. Bush’s first big tax cut in 2001. But when conservatives voiced dissatisfaction with that particular distribution, Rubio responded not by telling them to buzz off, or by eliminating the middle-income benefits and plying the savings into further high-end tax cuts. He kept the benefits, and layered hugely regressive additional tax cuts for the wealthy on top of an already unaffordable plan. What once would have increased deficits by $2.4 trillion over a decade, according to the Tax Policy Center, would now increase them by trillions more. The beneficiaries would be investors, who would no longer pay any tax on capital gains and dividends, and wealthy families, whose enormous bequests would be subject to no tax either.

Unbelievably, this play to have it both ways still doesn’t satisfy supply-siders. “This business side of the plan is pretty darn good and I like it,” Larry Kudlow told Politico’s Ben White. “The personal side of it is a mess and will be politically and economically indefensible and he is going to take tremendous criticism for it and my guess is he will have to back off it very fast.”

That a Republican’s tax math doesn’t add up is nothing new in politics. But most Republicans brush off the shortfalls with vague promises to make huge reductions in social spending. That’s what Mitt Romney did, and what Paul Ryan did back when he chaired the House budget committee. This didn’t put them on the level, but it helped complete a picture—that cutting taxes was a higher priority to them than supporting lower and middle class incomes. Rubio, by contrast, says he will hold anti-poverty spending flat. Now that Ryan is no longer responsible for writing Republican budgets, and doesn’t have to reconcile his incompatible priorities, he also claims he wants to hold anti-poverty spending flat. Rubio isn’t so lucky. As a presidential candidate, he, unlike Ryan, will be held to account for all of his tax and spending proposals.

Either Rubio is promising to run up bigger deficits than any president in history, or he’s swindling someone. Upper income tax cuts, middle class tax credits, anti-poverty spending—at least one of these will have to give. The experience of watching his tax plan evolve tells us a great deal about which one won’t.

 

By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, April 13, 2015

April 14, 2015 Posted by | Economic Inequality, GOP Presidential Candidates, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Cranking Up For 2016”: Pledging Allegiance To Charlatans And Cranks

Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, is said to be a rising contender for the Republican presidential nomination. So, on Wednesday, he did what, these days, any ambitious Republican must, and pledged allegiance to charlatans and cranks.

For those unfamiliar with the phrase, “charlatans and cranks” is associated with N. Gregory Mankiw, a professor at Harvard who served for a time as George W. Bush’s chief economic adviser. In the first edition of his best-selling economics textbook, Mr. Mankiw used those words to ridicule “supply-siders” who promised that tax cuts would have such magic effects on the economy that deficits would go down, not up.

But, on Wednesday, Mr. Walker, in what was clearly a rite of passage into serious candidacy, spoke at a dinner at Manhattan’s “21” Club hosted by the three most prominent supply-siders: Art Laffer (he of the curve); Larry Kudlow of CNBC; and Stephen Moore, chief economist of the Heritage Foundation. Politico pointed out that Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, attended a similar event last month. Clearly, to be a Republican contender you have to court the powerful charlatan caucus.

So a doctrine that even Republican economists consider dangerous nonsense has become party orthodoxy. And what makes this political triumph especially remarkable is that it comes just as the doctrine’s high priests have been setting new standards for utter, epic predictive failure.

I’m not talking about the fact that supply-siders didn’t see the crisis coming, although they didn’t. Mr. Moore published a 2004 book titled “Bullish on Bush,” asserting that the Bush agenda was creating a permanently stronger economy. Mr. Kudlow sneered at the “bubbleheads” asserting that inflated home prices were due for a crash. Still, you could argue that few economists of any stripe fully foresaw the coming disaster.

You can’t say the same, however, about postcrisis developments, where the people Mr. Walker was courting have spent years warning about the wrong things. “Get ready for inflation and higher interest rates” was the title of a June 2009 op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal by Mr. Laffer; what followed were the lowest inflation in two generations and the lowest interest rates in history. Mr. Kudlow and Mr. Moore both predicted 1970s-style stagflation.

To be fair, Mr. Kudlow and Mr. Laffer eventually admitted that they had been wrong. Neither has, however, given any indication of reconsidering his views, let alone conceding the possibility that the much-hated Keynesians, who have gotten most things right even as the supply-siders were getting everything wrong, might be on to something. Mr. Kudlow describes the failure of runaway inflation to materialize — something he has been predicting since 2008 — as “miraculous.”

Something else worth noting: as befits his position at Heritage, Mr. Moore likes to publish articles filled with lots of numbers. But his numbers are consistently wrong; they’re for the wrong years, or just plain not what the original sources say. And somehow these errors always run in the direction he wants.

So what does it say about the current state of the G.O.P. that discussion of economic policy is now monopolized by people who have been wrong about everything, have learned nothing from the experience, and can’t even get their numbers straight?

The answer, I’d suggest, runs deeper than economic doctrine. Across the board, the modern American right seems to have abandoned the idea that there is an objective reality out there, even if it’s not what your prejudices say should be happening. What are you going to believe, right-wing doctrine or your own lying eyes? These days, the doctrine wins.

Look at another issue, health reform. Before the Affordable Care Act went into effect, conservatives predicted disaster: health costs would soar, the deficit would explode, more people would lose insurance than gain it. They were wrong on all counts. But, in their rhetoric, even in the alleged facts (none of them true) people like Mr. Moore put in their articles, they simply ignore this reality. Reading them, you’d think that the dismal failure they wrongly predicted had actually happened.

Then there’s foreign policy. This week Jeb Bush tried to demonstrate his chops in that area, unveiling his team of expert advisers — who are, sure enough, the very people who insisted that the Iraqis would welcome us as liberators.

And don’t get me started on climate change.

Along with this denial of reality comes an absence of personal accountability. If anything, alleged experts seem to get points by showing that they’re willing to keep saying the same things no matter how embarrassingly wrong they’ve been in the past.

But let’s go back to those economic charlatans and cranks: Clearly, failure has only made them stronger, and now they are political kingmakers. Be very, very afraid.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 20, 2015

February 23, 2015 Posted by | Economic Policy, GOP Presidential Candidates, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hating Good Government”: We’re Living In A Political Era In Which Facts Don’t Matter

It’s now official: 2014 was the warmest year on record. You might expect this to be a politically important milestone. After all, climate change deniers have long used the blip of 1998 — an unusually hot year, mainly due to an upwelling of warm water in the Pacific — to claim that the planet has stopped warming. This claim involves a complete misunderstanding of how one goes about identifying underlying trends. (Hint: Don’t cherry-pick your observations.) But now even that bogus argument has collapsed. So will the deniers now concede that climate change is real?

Of course not. Evidence doesn’t matter for the “debate” over climate policy, where I put scare quotes around “debate” because, given the obvious irrelevance of logic and evidence, it’s not really a debate in any normal sense. And this situation is by no means unique. Indeed, at this point it’s hard to think of a major policy dispute where facts actually do matter; it’s unshakable dogma, across the board. And the real question is why.

Before I get into that, let me remind you of some other news that won’t matter.

First, consider the Kansas experiment. Back in 2012 Sam Brownback, the state’s right-wing governor, went all in on supply-side economics: He drastically cut taxes, assuring everyone that the resulting boom would make up for the initial loss in revenues. Unfortunately for his constituents, his experiment has been a resounding failure. The economy of Kansas, far from booming, has lagged the economies of neighboring states, and Kansas is now in fiscal crisis.

So will we see conservatives scaling back their claims about the magical efficacy of tax cuts as a form of economic stimulus? Of course not. If evidence mattered, supply-side economics would have faded into obscurity decades ago. Instead, it has only strengthened its grip on the Republican Party.

Meanwhile, the news on health reform keeps coming in, and it keeps being more favorable than even the supporters expected. We already knew that the number of Americans without insurance is dropping fast, even as the growth in health care costs moderates. Now we have evidence that the number of Americans experiencing financial distress due to medical expenses is also dropping fast.

All this is utterly at odds with dire predictions that reform would lead to declining coverage and soaring costs. So will we see any of the people claiming that Obamacare is doomed to utter failure revising their position? You know the answer.

And the list goes on. On issues that range from monetary policy to the control of infectious disease, a big chunk of America’s body politic holds views that are completely at odds with, and completely unmovable by, actual experience. And no matter the issue, it’s the same chunk. If you’ve gotten involved in any of these debates, you know that these people aren’t happy warriors; they’re red-faced angry, with special rage directed at know-it-alls who snootily point out that the facts don’t support their position.

The question, as I said at the beginning, is why. Why the dogmatism? Why the rage? And why do these issues go together, with the set of people insisting that climate change is a hoax pretty much the same as the set of people insisting that any attempt at providing universal health insurance must lead to disaster and tyranny?

Well, it strikes me that the immovable position in each of these cases is bound up with rejecting any role for government that serves the public interest. If you don’t want the government to impose controls or fees on polluters, you want to deny that there is any reason to limit emissions. If you don’t want the combination of regulation, mandates and subsidies that is needed to extend coverage to the uninsured, you want to deny that expanding coverage is even possible. And claims about the magical powers of tax cuts are often little more than a mask for the real agenda of crippling government by starving it of revenue.

And why this hatred of government in the public interest? Well, the political scientist Corey Robin argues that most self-proclaimed conservatives are actually reactionaries. That is, they’re defenders of traditional hierarchy — the kind of hierarchy that is threatened by any expansion of government, even (or perhaps especially) when that expansion makes the lives of ordinary citizens better and more secure. I’m partial to that story, partly because it helps explain why climate science and health economics inspire so much rage.

Whether this is the right explanation or not, the fact is that we’re living in a political era in which facts don’t matter. This doesn’t mean that those of us who care about evidence should stop seeking it out. But we should be realistic in our expectations, and not expect even the most decisive evidence to make much difference.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 18, 2015

January 21, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Federal Government, Health Care | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Betraying His Ignorance”: Mitch McConnell Blames The Slow Recovery On Regulation Because He Doesn’t Understand How The Economy Works

On CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Republicans in the 114th Congress will focus on blocking environmental and healthcare regulations: “We need to do everything we can to try to rein in the regulatory onslaught, which is the principal reason that we haven’t had the kind of bounce-back after the 2008 recession that you would expect.” But that is exactly the wrong lesson to take from the slow recovery. Rather than laying the foundation for the GOP’s agenda, McConnell is betraying his ignorance on economic issues.

After the financial crisis struck, consumers cut back on their spending and businesses stopped investing. This created a shortfall in aggregate demandpeople weren’t buying enough stuff. As consumers stopped buying goods and services, businesses were forced to fire workers, who then cut back their purchasesa vicious cycle. The government’s role is to fill the shortfall in demand, which it can do either through fiscal or monetary stimulus. We’ve done both in the past few years. The stimulus pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into the economy through targeted tax cuts and spending programs. The Federal Reserve cut short-term interest rates to zero to spur investment and used unconventional monetary policy tools like large-scale asset purchases to lower long-term rates. All of this helped avoid a second Great Depression. In fact, as Paul Krugman explained in Rolling Stone in October, the current recovery is actually above average compared to recoveries from past financial crises.

It’s understandable that McConnell would think that this recovery has undershot expectations. Economic growth has been slow and wages haven’t rebounded for the majority of Americans. In fact, only recentlymore than six years after the Great Recessionhave Americans become more upbeat about the recovery. In other words, this recovery may be above average, but that doesn’t mean it’s been good.

McConnell’s real sin Sunday was his belief that “regulatory onslaught” has been the “principal reason” for the slow recovery. Republicans have made this argument throughout the Obama presidency. If we would only cut government spending, eliminate red tape, and cut taxes for the rich, they say, the economy would thrive. The problem is that these are all supply-side solutions intended to increase productivity and prevent government from crowding out investment. Yet, the economy has faced a demand problem. The GOP’s job agenda, or what they call a jobs agenda anyway, does little to address it.

That doesn’t mean that their agenda will always be unresponsive to the economy’s issues. As the recovery continues and the economy nears full employment, the demand problems will be much less of an issue. Then, Republican supply-side proposals will look more like a legitimate plan to boost growth. Those ideas still may not make sense for other reasons, but at least they could be considered an actual economic platform. Throughout the Obama presidency, though, they have failed to offer such a platform. By suggesting that excessive regulations are the primary driver of the weak recovery, McConnell is only revealing that the GOP hasn’t learned anything during that time either.

 

By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, January 10, 2015

January 9, 2015 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Economy, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Trouble Behind The Lines”: Sam Brownback, A Mad Scientist Whose Lab Has Blown Up

The strangest thing about the battle for the Senate going on this year is how much trouble Republicans are having in states won by Mitt Romney, and not necessarily the ones where they expected trouble. Contests in South Dakota, Kentucky and Georgia have all spent some time panicking Republicans, and none of those states has been put away by the GOP in the interim. But the biggest surprise still has to be Kansas, a profoundly Republican state with multiple struggling statewide Republican campaigns. Playing off Mark Benelli’s fine profile of events in Kansas for Rolling Stone, I discussed the plight of the GOP there at Washington Monthly today:

[Benelli’s] precis of how Sam Brownback made the state an experiment for the discredited fiscal theories of doddering supply-siders is an instant classic:

Back in 2011, Arthur Laffer, the Reagan-era godfather of supply-side economics, brought to Wichita by Brownback as a paid consultant, sounded like an exiled Marxist theoretician who’d lived to see a junta leader finally turn his words into deeds. “Brownback and his whole group there, it’s an amazing thing they’re doing,” Laffer gushed to The Washington Post that December. “It’s a revolution in a cornfield.” Veteran Kansas political reporter John Gramlich, a more impartial observer, described Brownback as being in pursuit of “what may be the boldest agenda of any governor in the nation,” not only cutting taxes but also slashing spending on education, social services and the arts, and, later, privatizing the entire state Medicaid system. Brownback himself went around the country telling anyone who’d listen that Kansas could be seen as a sort of test case, in which unfettered libertarian economic policy could be held up and compared right alongside the socialistic overreach of the Obama administration, and may the best theory of government win. “We’ll see how it works,” he bragged on Morning Joe in 2012. “We’ll have a real live experiment.”That word, “experiment,” has come to haunt Brownback as the data rolls in. The governor promised his “pro-growth tax policy” would act “like a shot of adrenaline in the heart of the Kansas economy,” but, instead, state revenues plummeted by nearly $700 million in a single fiscal year, both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s downgraded the state’s credit rating, and job growth sagged behind all four of Kansas’ neighbors. Brownback wound up nixing a planned sales-tax cut to make up for some of the shortfall, but not before he’d enacted what his opponents call the largest cuts in education spending in the history of Kansas.

Brownback added political to fiscal risk by securing big bags of money from friends like the Koch Brothers and using it in a 2012 primary purge of moderate Republican state senators who didn’t support his fiscal plans. And it’s all blown up on him this year, with the shock waves potentially engulfing the state’s senior U.S. Senator. Binelli’s portrait of Pat Roberts as an “unloved Beltway mediocrity” who stands by trembling with fatigue as more famous and charismatic conservatives campaign to save his bacon is as acute as his portrayal of Brownback as a mad scientist whose lab has blown up.

Because of the nature of the state and the year and the outside (and inside, from the Kochs Wichita HQ) money flooding Kansas, Brownback and Roberts may survive–Brownback to preside over the damage he’s done to the state’s fiscal standing and schools, and Roberts to return to a final stage of his long nap in the Capitol. But both men have richly earned the trouble they are in.

At a minimum, Browback’s presidential ambitions are now officially laughable, and moderate Republicans have gotten his full attention. But it would be nice to see an object lesson taught in the limits of Republican extremism.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly; The Democratic Strategist, October 24, 2015

October 26, 2014 Posted by | Austerity, Kansas, Sam Brownback | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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