Friday, May 27, 2011

Is it Safe for Republicans to Make Sense?

While Newt Gingrich scurries away from his accurate assessment of Paul Ryan's plan, apparently because Republicans aren't allowed to disagree with the plan, Paul Ryan himself seems to be scurrying away from his plan, or at least insisting that it isn't fair for the media to accurately describe its effects. I guess in an odd way that makes sense - the two men agree that it's completely unfair for the media to accurately report on their words, beliefs and actions.

But don't worry - David Brooks tells us that there are two or three reasonable people in the Republican Party, and they're talking to him.
Already many consultants are telling Republicans to drop austerity and go back on offense: Spend 2012 accusing the Democrats of sponsoring death panels. The Democrats will spend 2012 accusing Republicans of ending Medicare. Whichever party demagogues best wins.

But, over the past few days, I’ve spoken with a number of Republicans — in Congress and elsewhere — who don’t want to do that. They fervently believe the country is in peril. They want to find a way to reduce the debt without committing political suicide.
Great. And their names are... off the record? It is such a toxic environment within the Republican Party that you can't even make an on-the-record statement against demagoguery?

Brooks proposes that the Republicans should increase taxes on the middle class by eliminating employer's tax deduction for employee health insurance, and further "raise tax revenues on the rich". He does not claim that any of his anonymous Republicans support this idea. I suspect he's playing a rhetorical game - "Here's how the Democrats are being reasonable, while these are reasonable things the Republicans could do," rather than admitting that his ideas, whatever their merits (and if you read his columns you know that they mostly lack merit), have no traction in the Republican Party.

I sometimes wonder if Brooks should stick with his pop psychology and thinly disguised book reports, as it seems that when he starts presenting his own ideas he goes quickly and hopelessly wrong. His memory of recent history suggests he takes in more fumes from the beltway than he does facts:
Republicans won in 2010 because the working class fled from the Democrats’ top-down big government liberalism.
From the perspective of the reality-based community it had a lot to do with a crappy economy, anger over bailouts that were for the most part a continuation of the prior administration's policies, Republican demagoguery over Medicare ("death panels", "Medicare cuts to pay for other (undeserving) people's health insurance") and stimulus spending ("The stimulus bill was horrible. I'm proud to have delivered $50 billion in government spending to my district, and am happy to pretend it had nothing to do with the horrible stimulus bill). Oh - and let's not forget Republican demagoguery on immigration.

Brooks defines the issues that he believes motivate voters who, when not instructing the government to keep its hands off of their Medicare, supposedly want small government:
But these families have seen the pillars of their world dissolve — jobs, family structure, neighborhood cohesion.
Jobs? That would be "It's the economy, stupid," but what's this nonsense about "family structure?" Which faction of Republicans votes for Members of Congress based upon their concern that Aunt Sallie and Uncle Bob might get a divorce? Is Brooks in fact talking about demagoguery on gay marriage - a return to the culture wars, a successful topic for Republican demagoguery in past elections? "Neighborhood cohesion?" Yeah, I guess we are talking in silly code. What does that mean if not, "People of the wrong color are moving into our neighborhoods."
They need to lay out the facts showing that Medicare is unstable and on a path to collapse, as Representative Paul Ryan is doing. But they also need to enmesh Medicare reform within an agenda to build solid communities: more money for community colleges and technical schools, an infrastructure bank, a values agenda to shore up marriage and family cohesion, tax holidays to help the unemployed start businesses, tax reform to limit special interest power.
First, Paul Ryan is not laying out facts. His "budget" is a pile of nonsense, and he is being anything but honest about his plan to privatize Medicare. Second, as Brooks acknowledged up front, Republicans are running scared because when voters recognize the implications of Ryan's plans they hate them. And it's not even clear that voters yet fully understand that Ryan's plan to gut and privatize Medicare is not so much about preserving health insurance for seniors as it is about providing yet another round of massive tax cuts to the wealthy.

In terms of Brooks' concepts for Republican spending, yes, it's easy to spend more money on community colleges. But if you really want to get that done you would be talking about potentially peeling off enough Republicans to join in a Democratic effort to provide education funds - because the Republican Party is all about cutting and they've already promised more in cuts than they can deliver. "Build solid communities"? Could you be less specific and just maybe sound a bit more (to Republican ears) like a big government hippie? An "infrastructure bank" - a centralized agency charged with arranging finance for infrastructure projects - with an eye toward budgeting for and increasing spending on infrastructure? Even if you recognize the sorry state of our nation's infrastructure, do you seriously believe the Republican Party is going to get on board with that? A "values agenda", meaning... what other than culture war demagoguery? "Tax holidays" to help the unemployed start businesses? Pie, meet sky. "Tax reform to limit special interest power"? Not even John McCain seems inclined to support that type of reform.

When David Frum looks at the Republican Party that drummed him out, he sees a need to transform that party into the type of party that might adopt some of Brooks' theoretical platform. He should be paying attention to Brooks: It's safer and much more lucrative to pretend that party already exists.

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