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Republicans’ Bad Faith on Stimulus Belies Their Extremism

The House of Representatives has now passed its version a currently $800 billion-plus stimulus package. In what some view as a surprise, not a single Republican voted for it. It is likely that when the Senate votes on this, at least one Republican – Olympia Snowe of Maine – will support it. But the vote results in the House highlight what should already be obvious – the GOP is simply acting in bad faith when it insists on being heard in negotiations over the stimulus. As Josh Marshall and others have convincingly explained, a successful stimulus package is a political disaster for Republicans and they have no intention of voting for one. If it works, it only enhances Obama’s and the Democrats’ political standing. And, on a deeper level, it drives another stake in the heart of Reaganism – the belief that “government is the problem, not the solution.” This is why Republican office-holders and right-wing media have spent considerable energy lately trying to argue that the New Deal was a failure. Reaganism was born as a successful attack on the legacy of the New Deal. That attack was central to its ability to tear apart the political coalition that arose at the time of FDR and had made Democrats the dominant political party for most of the period from 1932 to 1980.

The financial collapse now under way, on top of the other disastrous failures of the Bush administration, threatens to accelerate the unraveling of the modern GOP and bring about another period of lengthy Democratic ascendancy. This is on top of the demographic changes that helped bring Obama to power and threaten to destroy the competitiveness of an evermore authoritarian and intolerant Republican Party, less equipped by the day to speak meaningfully to an increasingly diverse country.

There are three lines of argument currently in widespread circulation that signal the combination of ideological extremism and lack of commitment to forging a serious solution to the current problems.

1) In addition to the predictable attacks on FDR’s New Deal policies as ineffective and responsible for prolonging the Great Depression, current right-wing talking points include the laughable point that Herbert Hoover, the President history has charged with sitting on his hands as the Great Depression deepened, was actually a “progressive” and a spend-thrift whose FDR-like policies were the real cause of the economic catastrophe of that era.

In a normal political culture, such arguments would be too idiotic to ever be uttered in public by national political leaders. But, such is the nature of the current GOP and the misnamed “liberal media” that acts as if these are serious arguments.

2) The GOP’s lame arguments against the stimulus. The above-mentioned Josh Marshall has been all over this, so let me quote him:

“Over the last few days I’ve been trying to take stock of an essential element of the current stimulus debate: namely, Hill Republicans have been getting a lot of air time and minimal press criticism for a series of arguments about the stimulus that are in most cases transparently ridiculous. For instance, I heard several House Republicans yesterday making the straight up argument that the renovation of the Capitol Mall wouldn’t create any jobs or stimulate the economy. Well, obviously any major building project creates jobs. Nothing could be more straightforward. Whether it’s the best long-term use of the money, in the sense of whether the building project will have spin-off effects creating greater productivity and growth over time is a decent question. And looking at what’s in the bill I find myself wishing that more of the more was being spent in a more concentrated fashion — largely on infrastructure projects. But every major building project creates jobs.”

In a similar vein, Republicans have complained that spending on things like Pell Grants, Amtrak, other construction projects and Medicaid are not stimulus, proving nothing so much as the fact that they lack the most elementary understanding of what the word actually means.

3) And, of course, resorting to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) “report” that did not actually exist to claim the stimulus would not be sufficiently stimulative.

Unsurprisingly, the only plan under consideration that more than a tiny trickle of Republicans were willing to support is one that focused exclusively on tax cuts, despite the fact that mainstream economics accepts as nearly categorical the fact that spending is a better stimulant than are tax cuts.

Obama may merely be playing smart politics by trying to court some Republican support for his plans. But the bill that passed the House yesterday is already arguably too tilted toward tax cuts to provide the bang for the buck the country needs right now. And it’s tilted that way in part because Obama wanted Republican input into the legislation. His reward for that was, to repeat, zero Republican votes.

To the extent that the modern Republican Party has an agenda, it is simple and straightforward, as I wrote three years ago:

“For many, Reaganism was the touchstone of what “true” small government conservatism really was. But, it’s worth asking, did conservatives during the Reagan era decry the war on drugs, the massive expansion of the prison-industrial complex, the larger expansion of executive/policing power in the United States, a Christian-inspired agenda intent on legislating the private social affairs of ordinary Americans, all massive efforts to expand the power of the modern American state?

What has bothered right-wing conservatives about “big government” was whom it was helping….But the idea that conservatives really wanted to restrain the power of government per se is crap. Since 1980, dominant conservatism has whole-heartedly embraced government as an instrument to advance their preferred interests – corporations, the religious right, the military-industrial complex and so on.”

In other words, there is no principle behind current GOP opposition to the stimulus, save their general aversion for helping those most in need. There is only political calculation and of a particularly craven nature.

When the chattering classes turn to talk of bi-partisanship, it is worth recalling how hollow its meaning is in the current circumstances, as Glenn Greenwald bluntly explains.

There is no reason to idealize any of the Democrats, including Obama, in all of this. They have their own often narrow corporate interests to serve and, it’s a truism to say that political motivations figure into their calculations about the optimal shape of the stimulus package. But only one party is even trying at this point. The other, as Greenwald says, “has degenerated into the crazed, primitive, regional mess that it is today,” captive to the fanaticism of the Texas Republican Party and its ideological soul mates. Consequently, sitting Republican House members, concerned only that they face even more far-right wing challengers in their 2010 primaries in their evermore right-wing districts, catering to the most extreme elements in their party, are now struggling to come up with any serious reasons at all to try to stem America’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

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