Friday, June 15, 2012

What Republicans Think?

David Brooks attempts to explain what Republicans think and... it's not that I think he does a bad job. It's more that he lays out the case that, in his view, Republicans rely on dogma over fact. When Brooks observes,
Between Ike and George W. Bush, Republican leaders basically accepted that model. Sure, they wanted to cut taxes and devolve power, but, in practice, they sustained the system, often funding it more lavishly than the Democrats.
he highlights the product of the tension between what Republicans supposedly believe, and what they in fact want. Brooks states,
To Republican eyes, the first phase of that collapse [of the welfare state] is playing out right now in Greece, Spain and Italy — cosseted economies, unmanageable debt, rising unemployment, falling living standards.
But Republicans used to like Ireland, a model for the world, and they remain enamored with Germany. Our "welfare state" is a fraction of Germany's, and need I even comment on their labor laws as compared to ours? Sure, if you go around pointing at industrialized nations in trouble and saying, "That nation has a stronger social safety net than us," you're going to find correlation between that stronger safety net and their financial woes, because the U.S. safety net is about the weakest in the developed world.

The unstated part of the Republican mindset, upon which Brooks makes no comment, is that the tendency to think of welfare as something other people get. That's why it appears consistent to Republican voters for a President to pass a massive unfunded expansion of Medicare while decrying "welfare". That's why, at the height of the Tea Party frenzy, Republicans engaged in demagoguery about how Democrats wanted to cut Medicare funding. The idea of finding cost-savings in Medicare and using that money to fund a program to get insurance for people who can't afford it? That, not the funding of Medicare itself or a failure to cut waste, is welfare.

Brooks argues that the welfare state model has "become a giant machine for redistributing money from the future to the elderly", but I'm not seeing that significant numbers of Republican voters have a problem with that. Certainly not enough of them to embolden their party to approach the reform of Social Security and Medicare in either an honest or effective manner.

If Republicans were serious about reforming the welfare state, they would look around the industrialized world for solutions, identify the most sustainable solutions and those with the strongest market components, and propose implementing reforms in this country based upon models that are likely to work, to save money, and to preserve as much of the free market as possible, in some cases potentially increasing market involvement in the delivery of public assistance. In reality, you see none of that. You have an ideological leadership invested in ending the "welfare state", that cannot be honest about its actual goals with voters - and you end up with the seemingly contradictory outcome of Republican presidents expanding the welfare state that their party would prefer to destroy.

Brooks also, complains, "Successive presidents have layered on regulations and loopholes, creating a form of state capitalism in which big businesses thrive because they have political connections and small businesses struggle", and in fairness does not single out the presidents of any particular party. But in complaining about middle class wage stagnation, the growth of the service sector and decline of the "innovative sectors" (whatever that means), Brooks omits any mention of labor organization and globalization. Again, back to Germany, a nation that took a very different position on labor organization and maintained a different manufacturing policy through the rise of globalization, and preserved some of what we have lost. Also, what nation does Brooks imagine has a more robust "innovative sector" than this one? It may be that tech often doesn't require huge factories and tens of thousands of workers, but I'm seeing a lot of innovation coming from U.S. companies.

Brooks pretty much admits that the Republican leadership won't be honest, even with its most fervent followers, about its agenda:
This is the source of Republican extremism: the conviction that the governing model is obsolete. It needs replacing.

Mitt Romney hasn’t put it this way. He wants to keep the focus on President Obama. But this worldview is implied in his (extremely vague) proposals. He would structurally reform the health care system, moving toward a more market-based system. He would simplify the tax code. He would reverse 30 years of education policy, decentralizing power and increasing parental choice. The intention is the same, to create a model that will spark an efficiency explosion, laying the groundwork for an economic revival.
Sorry, no, more or less promising to be the second coming of Reagan is not even close to the same thing as arguing that the governing model is obsolete and should be replaced. Its pretty much the opposite. Promising massive tax cuts for the wealthy, and more deregulation of big (but not small) business, as a solution to the nation's woes is no solution - it's better described as how we got into the present crisis.

Brooks argues,
In his speech, Obama didn’t vow to reform the current governing model but to rebalance it. The rich would pay a little more and everyone else would get a little more. He’d “double down” on clean energy, revive the Grand Bargain from last summer’s budget talks, invest in infrastructure, job training and basic research.

Obama championed targeted subsidies and tax credits. Republicans, meanwhile, envision comprehensive systemic change. The G.O.P. vision is of an entirely different magnitude: replace the tax code, replace the health care system and transform entitlements.
In other words, Obama is describing how we might move forward within our constitutional framework, and Romeny is telling us that he, and only he, has a secret formula to make the pie higher. He's also telling us that the Republican Party is dreaming up ideological "solutions" to the nation's problems, with no concern for whether those solutions would work, and no effort to explain those solutions to the public - to the contrary, when you push for details you get evasions and smokescreens. That makes sense, because if the Republican Party were honest about their supposedly best idea, the so-called Ryan plan, they would have to admit that they plan to cut taxes for the wealthy, slash Medicaid and Social Security, and that over time their plan would still increase the deficit.

If I were to ask Brooks to realistically explain how the Republican Party will implement any of the reforms they supposedly favor, and why we should believe that any of it would work, I suspect his answer would be along the lines of, "Um, er, well, if you look at the, um -- OMG! LOOK AT GREECE!"

1 comment:

  1. "This is the source of Republican extremism: the conviction that the governing model is obsolete. It needs replacing. "

    And by "governing model", Bobo and the GOP mean "democracy". We've already seen flashes of this from some teahadis (Matt Vadum asserting that poor people shouldn't be allowed to vote, etc) but the big-budget wingnuts are still dancing around the specifics.