Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Ross Douthat is upset that neither President Obama nor Congressman Paul Ryan offered concrete plans for dealing with what Douthat calls "the looming insolvency of our entitlement system," which (Douthat says) "lies at the heart of the economic challenges facing the United States over the next two decades":

It's clear that both parties have decided that a period of divided government twelve months before a presidential election is the wrong time to make big moves on entitlements and the deficit. Better to wait, jockey for position, and hope that the correlation of forces after 2012 will be more favorable to their preferred solutions. And it's clear, too, that they've decided ... that it's too risky to even begin building support for the unpopular cuts or tax increases ahead. The bet, on both sides, is that there's still time to work with, and that the other party will blink, or at least give ground, before the real crunch arrives.

I don't believe that's the bet on the GOP side.

First of all, on the GOP side, it's always campaign season -- at the rare moments when Republicans aren't 100% obsessed with the next election, they're 100% obsessed with using the tools of propaganda to score points against Democrats. It's a permanent campaign. It's generally agreed that Fox News and talk radio are the propaganda wings of the Republican Party, but more and more it seems that Fox, talk radio, and the party are all in the same business -- the party doesn't exist to do the work of governing any more than the media outlets do; they all exist just to sell the brand. The Republican Party is now an entity whose sole purpose is to sell Republicanism.

Oh, sure, Republicans cut taxes occasionally, and line cronies' pockets, and start the occasional war. But except for the pocket-lining part (which includes preventing tax increases on the rich and regulatory increases on big business), everything they do is about selling themselves to the voters of Heartland America, while hoping that real problems don't ever emerge or become unmanageable (unless, like 9/11, they can be gamed to Republicans' political advantage).

This is somewhat contrary to what a lot of lefties think, but I don't really believe anymore that Republicans want to gut government in a Randian, draconian way. I think they feel about government-gutting the way they seem to feel about fully criminalizing abortion: yeah, maybe we'll get to that someday, but meanwhile just talking about it really brings in the rubes. I actually think Obama and the Democrats are far more in earnest about dealing with deficits and debt (and, yes, that scares me, though Obama's refusal to go full-on deficit hawk last night was mildly reassuring). More and more I'm starting to wonder whether many in the GOP half-hope that Obama wins reelection in 2012, so that if anyone tackles this problem, and gets the blame for drastic cuts, it won't be Republicans.

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