Sunday, September 15, 2013


Jonathan Chait thinks President Obama has done an okay but not spectacular job of dealing with the financial meltdown, and thinks that Obama, despite the inadequacies of his approach, at least has some ideas for dealing with our ongoing economic weakness, unlike Republicans. Fine -- Chait won't get much of an argument from me. But Chait thinks it's significant that right-wing thinkers have apparently given up on defending right-wing economic ideas:
A few years ago, you could certainly find a lively intellectual defense for the GOP’s position. In September of 2008, conservative pundit and McCain campaign adviser Donald Luskin argued that the economy was in outstanding shape -- "on the brink not of recession, but of accelerating prosperity." In the spring of 2009, The Wall Street Journal editorial page declared that high deficits were already sending bond prices through the ceiling. In 2011, Megan McArdle made the case that income inequality may have peaked and was already falling....

But none of these arguments were true. And conservatives have made precious little effort to replace them with other arguments.

... Do conservatives still think cutting short-term deficits will increase rather than retard growth? Academic support for that position has almost entirely collapsed. I don't even see many conservative intellectuals defending it in columns. And yet the Republican Party marches on, opposing any effort to lift short-term austerity policies that economists almost all believe are holding back the recovery. It's as if the head of the austerity monster has been sliced off, but the body lurches forward regardless.
Well, this strikes me as analogous to what's happened after each of the last two presidential elections. After a fleeting moment when Republicans seemed to be licking their wounds and reexamining whether some of the positions they'd staked out were hurting them at the polls, the reformers were suddelnly dragged into an alley and the radical tea party types seized control of the party, declaring that trying to modify right-wing ideas to make them more palatable to the center was a loser's game, and the real way forward was to damn the torpedoes and be as right-wing as humanly possible.

We know what that sort of thuggery does to Republican politicians who have even a vestigial sense that compromise with centrists and liberals is sometimes worthwhile: they clam up and join the purist mobs on the far right, fearful for their jobs. Well, maybe right-wing pundits with a bit of intellectual integrity (though I'm reluctant to include McArdle, Luskin, and the Journal editorials in such a group) are afraid that they can be primaried, too. They don't want to be banished to the right's Siberia the way, say, David Frum has been, accused and convicted of apostasy. So if they can no longer bring themselves to defend the loony economic ideas of the wingnut zealots, maybe they say nothing.

But the major issue here, I think, is that far rightists don't think they need to persuade anyone other than fellow True Believers. They imagine that they can win in 2014 and 2016 through vote suppression, scandalmongering, and making the economy worse, then blaming the Democrats -- and please note that at least one recent poll says that's working.

So why bother to sell their ideas to the rest of us at all? Just fire up the base and discourage the center and right from voting. Who needs arguments when you think you can win with brute force?


Victor said...

FSM help the rest of us, if the Republicans win the Presidency AND both houses of Congress, anytime in the near future.

They'll make what's happening right now in North Carolina, seem like a day at the beach.

The party is now in the hands of completely insane Manichean-Authoritarian leaders and followers.

And if they do win, we'll need to figure out what the American version of "SEIG HEIL!!!" will be.

Unknown said...

"So why bother to sell their ideas to the rest of us at all? Just fire up the base and discourage the center and right from voting. Who needs arguments when you think you can win with brute force?"

Oh, absolutely - when they think no one but fellow club members are listening, they say that out loud.

Unknown said...

My take on Chait's article was perhaps too cynical: Republicans Don't Care About Economy. The truth is that the Republicans have for many decades been concerned with a social engineering project that is based on the Randian idea that the rich are simply better than the poor. Thus, Republicans are for cutting taxes on the rich because they think the rich should have more money, not because they actually believe in supply side economics. (Maybe some did in 1980, but not now.) And they are for cutting social programs because they want to take money away from the poor, not because they think balancing the federal budget will provide more money for private sector investment. Republican politicians will use economics papers to justify their positions, but their positions were never about improving the economy.