Monday, October 29, 2012

David Brooks Rejects Moderation - Anything to Get a Tax Cut

David Brooks pens a predictably partisan "analysis" of how Mitt Romney would supposedly govern as a "center-right moderate". Not in the sense of Brooks' recent definition of "moderate", but in the sense of the guy who stakes out a position between two extremes and calls himself a "moderate".
Now let’s try to imagine the world if Mitt Romney were to win. Republicans would begin with the premise that the status quo is unsustainable. The mounting debt is ruinous. The byzantine tax and regulatory regimes are stifling innovation and growth.
Brooks told us that a moderate is informed not by politics or philosophy, but by history. What does history tell us about Republicans and deficits? It tells us that they campaign against deficits and then, once elected, run up deficit spending to unprecedented heights. Brooks may want to believe that "this time will be different", but that can only be because his eyes are clouded by his own wishful thinking and political partisanship.

Brooks is also not being honest with his readers. He pretends, "", but he knows that's a lie. He knows that a lot of government regulation that stifles innovation was created and is maintained at the behest of businesses that don't want competition. He knows that the tax code is complex, byzantine, not because it's necessary to include that level of complexity, but because a simple tax code makes it difficult for large corporations and phenomenally wealthy individuals (such as Mitt Romney) to avoid taxes. Brooks knows that Romney made his fortune by exploiting tax loopholes, by larding up businesses with debt and deducting the interest

Dos Brooks truly believe that Romney is going to take away the loopholes that allowed him to get $100 million into his IRA? That he's going to do away with carried interest, the loophole that allowed him to have his massive income taxes as capital gains? That he's going to shut down the loopholes that make private equity funds so profitable? Not in this lifetime. You need only look at who is funding Romney's run for the White House to know that there's a zero percent chance he's going to do any of that.

Does Brooks believe that Romney is terrified of disclosing his tax returns because they'll disclose his scrupulous, honest nature, his self-sacrifice, his interest in closing tax loopholes? Only if he's on crack. Most likely, Romney is concealing the fact that he took advantage of the tax amnesty on dubious offshore bank accounts - an important tool in tax avoidance and one that Romney has made no mention of eliminating.

Which tax loopholes is Romney going to close? He refuses to specify - and of the ones he's mentioned in the abstract they all inure to the benefit of the middle class. Which government spending is Romney going to cut? He mentioned PBS - but history tells us that he won't cut PBS (even if such a cut mattered in the greater scheme of things). He has talked about cutting or privatizing FEMA. I suspect that, as I type, Brooks can look out of his window and get a sense of how likely that is to happen. Seriously.

What history indicates is that Romney will follow the path of George W. Bush. He ran on a promise to cut taxes, those who paid for his campaign are going to want him to deliver on those tax cuts, and he will do so without regard for the deficit or national debt. To the extent that people remind him of his pledge to cut spending to offset the tax cuts, history says he'll talk about growth and cuts to occur in the future - it's a ten year plan, remember? And history tells us that ten years later when, just as with G.W.'s tax cuts, the Romney plan turns out to be bunkum and to have put the nation into an even deeper fiscal hole, you can expect David Brooks to be telling us to vote for the next Republican because "he's going to govern from the center-right and this time he really will balance the budget."
Republicans would like to take the reform agenda that Republican governors have pursued in places like Indiana and take it to the national level: structural entitlement reform; fundamental tax reform.
You'll excuse me for asking, but how many Republican governors are there in the state of Indiana? Last I checked, Indiana followed the crazy model of only having one governor at a time. And what is the gist of Indiana's tax reform? To limit property taxes and overcome the loss of revenue by increasing the state sales tax? How in the world does Brooks propose to translate that type of reform to the federal government? Does Brooks even understand how taxes work? And other than jumping on the money-losing "drug testing for welfare recipients" bandwagon, what "structural entitlement reform" are we talking about?

I recognize that as a Republican partisan Brooks is happy to pretend that conclusory statements and platitudes constitute policy proposals, and is happy to suggest that "We'll balance the budget by doing things we're not going to tell you about" is an actual plan to balance the budget, but get real.
These reforms wouldn’t make government unrecognizable (we’d probably end up spending 21 percent of G.D.P. in Washington instead of about 24 percent), but they do represent a substantial shift to the right.
Recall how, when pressed for specifics about his tax reforms, he announced that his solution was to just "pick a number" - an entirely random number?
And so, in terms of bringing down deductions, one way of doing that would be say everybody gets -- I'll pick a number -- $25,000 of deductions and credits, and you can decide which ones to use. Your home mortgage interest deduction, charity, child tax credit, and so forth, you can use those as part of filling that bucket, if you will, of deductions.
That's not even close to serious. On top of that, Romney is promising massive increases in military spending. History tells us that when Republicans promise to cut taxes, they cut taxes. When they promise to increase spending, they increase spending. And when they promise to balance the budget... it never happens. There is absolutely no reason to believe that Romney will reduce government spending. He may shift it around, he may make life even easier and more lucrative for those at the top, but cut it? Sorry, David, those were numbers, not beams of sunshine, that Romney pulled out of his posterior.
At the same time, Romney would probably be faced with a Democratic Senate. He would also observe the core lesson of this campaign: conservatism loses; moderation wins.
But if Romney wins, that won't be the lesson of the campaign. The lesson will be that you can lie your way into the White House, all the while being enabled by columnists like David Brooks, because you promise an agenda that they like - one that keeps them and their peers, and the even richer elite they so admire, in their positions of wealth and privilege. You'll note that Brooks isn't pointing to anything Romney has said or done to paint his portrait of what's likely to happen, and he's intentionally ignoring history. Why? Because honesty loses elections, and Brooks wants Romney to win.

Only a few days ago Brooks was lecturing us that "Moderates start with a political vision" derived from history and "is not just finding the midpoint between two opposing poles and opportunistically planting yourself there". Yet now we're suddenly to regard as "moderate" a "center-right" Mitt Romney who gets legislation through the Senate by staking out a position between the Republicans in the House and the Democrats in the Senate and asking, "Is this a good enough way to split the baby?"

This is funny, as well - and false:
Romney’s prospects began to look decent only when he shifted to the center.
This election has been close from the outset. While Romney did dip in the polls after the Republican National Convention, his subsequent "bounce" has been much more a return to the baseline than anything else. And yes, his latest reinvention of what he believes and what he stands for seems to have helped him move back to the status quo ante, I think it's much more fair to say that his demagoguery, his race-baiting surrogates like John Sununu, and his exploitation of the financial crisis and mendacity about the recovery have helped him build what is in no small part an anti-Obama vote. He can't win as Mitt Romney, so he's running as "But I'm not Barack Obama". To the extent that people believe Romney stands for something, it's wishful thinking - "For no good reason, I'm sure Romney agrees with me on issue X, and that the dozens of other positions he's taken on the subject were all self-serving lies." A Romney victory would be a sad indictment of our political system, and frankly also of how it is covered by people like David Brooks.
A President Romney would look at the way Tea Party extremism had cost the G.O.P. Senate seats in Delaware and Nevada — and possibly Missouri and Indiana.
Even before his latest reinvention of himself, candidate Romney was aware of the dangers of being too closely identified with the Tea Party movement. But again, Brooks is forgetting his history. The Tea Party movement isn't a new thing - on the whole it's little more than a new name for a faction of the Republican Party that has been around for decades. Republican presidents have a long history of making broad promises to that faction, while being pretty modest about advancing that type of ideology when in office. Why? Because, as Brooks knows, the presidency is a national office. While Romney may represent a new extreme in how far a party nominee may go in pandering to an extremist element when seeking the nomination, then adopting a contradictory agenda when running for office, the rest is par for the course.

Brooks fails to mention that the danger the Tea Party poses to the Republican Party comes not at the level of the White House, but at the level of the primary. In states that have a significant Tea Party movement, candidates like Rick Santorum seem viable. Even long-term senators like John McCain start trembling in their shoes at the thought of a Tea Party-driven primary challenge. An honest Brooks would acknowledge that the newly center-right Romney may well be able to peel off some Democrats to support his agenda, but if he strays too far from the Tea Party line he's apt to lose as many Republicans, perhaps more. That could be paralyzing for any "moderate" or "centrist" agenda.

You know what else? Whether they win or lose in certain state races, the Tea Party has never been closer to having its agenda implemented by the Republican Party. There's no reason to believe they're going to back off.
To get re-elected in a country with a rising minority population and a shrinking Republican coalition, Romney’s shape-shifting nature would induce him to govern as a center-right moderate.
"Romney’s shape-shifting nature".... What a description. It's the description of a man with no core, a man with no backbone, and yet Brooks seems excited at the prospect of his becoming President. Let's take another look at history, shall we? Twelve years ago we had a Republican President who was going to usher in immigration law reform - he saw the handwriting on the wall, and was going to build ties with the Latino community.

We had a prominent Senator who also favored immigration reform and championed the DREAM Act - one John McCain. Let's recall, shall we, how much the President accomplished toward immigration reform.... He made immigration more difficult. And what of that Senator? Eight years later he was running against the immigration policies he once championed, and as time has progressed he has moved further and further away from his former positions. He also used to champion campaign finance reform... fat chance that he or President Romney are going to get behind that idea.

Seriously, it's safe to say that a man like Romney - a man who appears to care for absolutely nothing but advancing his own interests - will govern in a manner he believes is likely to result in his being reelected. But history is instructive, and there's far less reason to believe that Romney wants immigration reform as compared to Bush, and there's no reason to believe that Romney will succeed where Bush failed. Beyond that, what does Brooks imagine Romney will do to appeal to "a country with a rising minority population"? Apologize for all of the race-baiting he and his surrogates have engaged in during his campaign?
To get his tax and entitlement reforms through the Democratic Senate, Romney would have to make some serious concessions: increase taxes on the rich as part of an overall reform; abandon the most draconian spending cuts in Paul Ryan’s budget; reduce the size of his lavish tax-cut promises.
Brooks is, in essence, repeating himself. And we're back to this notion that the Republican Party is going to break with history and suddenly prioritize balancing the budget over cutting taxes for the rich. I mentioned the head count in my last post, 236 out of 242 Republican Members of Congress, and 40 out of 47 Republican Senators, have signed Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge. The numbers may change slightly after the next election, but not significantly. Also, there is no reason to believe that Romney is going to decide that the best way to win reelection is to tell his largest donors, "You know what? Obama was right about taxes as well." Some degree of compromise may be required for him to get his tax cuts through a Democratic controlled Senate, but he will make it a priority to keep of that promise to his donors (and, frankly, to himself).

As for "the most draconian spending cuts in Paul Ryan’s budget", Romney has already abandoned them. When it comes to how he'll balance the budget, he won't get more specific than cutting PBS. Romney and Ryan are both cowards - they have both failed to explain who would feel the bite from their proposed cuts. And while Ryan proposed turning Medicare into a voucher program, and Romney proposes to push forward with that idea, the cowards have pushed the implementation of that reform so far into the future that they'll be long out of office before anything changes. They are not serious about balancing the budget and as much as Brooks attempts to fool himself - or is it only others that he's trying to fool - they will not hesitate to run up the deficit and the national debt. And when they do so, they'll claim "It's all Obama's fault."

You gotta love this:
The bottom line is this: If Obama wins, we’ll probably get small-bore stasis; if Romney wins, we’re more likely to get bipartisan reform.
All of four days ago, Brooks was telling us about the difference between being "moderate" and being "bipartisan", in that column and at the start of this one Brooks told us that Romney's latest reinvention of himself involved advancing a "moderate and sensible agenda", and yet here he is, admitting that his favorite spineless pretzel of a politician is not advancing "moderation", but is embracing the shallowest form of "bipartisanship", "finding the midpoint between two opposing poles and opportunistically planting [him]self there".
Romney is more of a flexible flip-flopper than Obama.
Yes, Brooks sees that as a good thing - a basis for endorsement. "You can't trust a word out of his mouth and you'll never know what he stands for (other than himself), so vote Romney."
He has more influence over the most intransigent element in the Washington equation House Republicans.
You'll excuse me for asking, but what evidence can Brooks offer that Romney will have any influence over House Republicans?
He’s more likely to get big stuff done.
If by "big stuff" you mean "tax cuts for the rich", yep. If you mean addressing any of the nation's most serious problems, Romney is expressly campaigning on a platform of leaving the hard stuff for the next guy - even if he serves a full eight years. He'll start the country on the path to have the budget balanced... in ten years. He'll start the process of privatizing and voucherizing Medicare and the first people who get vouchers instead of insurance will receive them... in ten years.

Romney is a coward, and he'll govern as a coward. If that makes Brooks comfortable, I am hard pressed on that evidence to believe that Brooks cares about anything other than getting a tax cut.

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