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Thursday, January 03, 2013

Republicans Can't Have Their Cuts Without Bleeding Too

There has been quite a lot of fist-shaking and diaper-wetting across the left netroots premised on Obama and the Democrats "caving" to Republicans on tax-rates. This is patently ridiculous since this "cave" re-introduced progressivity into the tax code, since this "cave" managed yet again to respond to the ongoing economic crisis with stimulus rather than austerity despite a formidable number of players negotiating the deal in favor of the reverse, since this "cave" succeeded in breaking the anti-tax orthodoxy of the GOP for the first time in well over a generation, and since this "cave" established a principle that cuts must always be balanced with revenue going forward. But the critics are also angry and upset because the Obama deal separated this spending agreement from a future negotiation over cuts timed to coincide with another threatened hostage crisis over the debt-ceiling in which the GOP will presumably have much more leverage than it did before because it can put a gun to the head of its own country and threaten to shoot if it doesn't get its way. Once again, the critics of the deal are wrong and Obama and the Democrats who made it are right.

The last time the GOP indulged in this hostage crisis they cost the nation its credit rating for no good reason and their credibility plunged and it has never risen again. The party paid a price in seats in both chambers for that plunge and its organization fissured in ways exposed over and over, especially in recent days from the debacle of Boehner's Plan B to the overwhelming number of unhappy Republicans forced to vote for the fiscal cliff deal they despised. But more important still, the fact is that everybody hates the cuts to Medicare and Social Security the Republicans want to get from the next negotiation and Democrats are among the ones who hate them most. What the Republicans would describe as a "victory" are outcomes so unpopular they actually need Democrats to have their fingerprints on them in order to give them the patina of bipartisanship so that they can have their cuts without bleeding too. Democrats have been very clear that they have no interest at all in providing that bipartisan cover. While some tea-party ideologues may be so devoted to their ant-governmental anti-civilizational project that they are willing to lose their seats with visions of neo-feudalism dancing in their heads, their numbers are now too few to manage the obstructionism of the last Congress.

It matters enormously that Democrats grasp this last point, not just because it is true but also because Republicans show every sign of having grasped it themselves and their behavior is simply not going to make sense to anybody who does not grasp it, too. One is hearing quite a lot of talk about how the extreme ideological self-marginalization of the GOP into a regional more-or-less neo-Confederate rump will likely render it incapable of functioning as more than an occasionally accidentally incidentally national party that can win the White House or control the Senate. Nevertheless, this self-marginalization is said to be coupled with a consolidation of power in its regional bases that renders it more or less unassailable in the House, which renders it in turn capable of sabotaging efforts in the other branches to accomplish any progressive agenda, a dysfunction that might ultimately conduce to the benefit of Republicans if it doesn't manage to destroy the world to the benefit of nobody. Both faces of this analysis are absolutely wrong. It is wrong to underestimate the capacity of even a severely dysfunctional out-of-touch GOP to win the White House and control of the Senate in a nation that is a party duopoly and hence both parties can attract the talent and money and PR to create an appearance of competence and relevance whatever the facts of the matter. But it is also wrong to think current the dysfunction and unpopularity of Movement Republican positions do not render the GOP regional footholds themselves supremely vulnerable. While the commentariat endlessly directs our attention to the fear that exhibitions of even minimal sanity on the part of Republicans ensure them a crazytown primary competitor, which supposedly means that bad ideological considerations will continue to outweigh sound policy pragmatism across the GOP, the fact is that gutting Social Security is also fatally unpopular in the deepest South and hence the pressures for bad behavior actually do not necessarily always only outbid pressures for better behavior, even when we are talking about Republicans. Although it isn't clear that Republicans have grasped this yet, it may be that dismantling Social Security may not be the only form of universally reviled extremism that can boot a Republican from his roost as easily as a Tea Party challenger might do. There are signs that there are limits to the anti-abortion extremism, anti-gay bigotry, and the cult of military weapons for every madman that average Americans will tolerate as well, even in so-called Republican bastions. God, guns, and gays is not always going to be the magic spell that opens the door to Washington, the Southern Strategy, after failing as a strategy to provide an elite-incumbent minority of plutocrats a populist pathway to a national profile, may soon fail as a strategy to assure a comfortable perch even in… the South.

I have heard countless variations today of the truism that the reason John Boehner was able to retain his Speakership is because he is literally the only person who wants the job. This is a truism that happens also to be true, and it is important to let the incredible lesson of its truth sink in. Everybody knows that Eric Cantor and probably Paul Ryan among others are sniffing amorously at the Speakership, so that when we say that only Boehner wants the job what we are saying is that only Boehner wants the job right now. The deeper realization implied in this recognition is that a more randroidal/teahadi agenda could not be accomplished given the present composition of the House and Senate with a tea-baggy Speaker than it can with Boehner as Speaker. That means that if the Republicans try to replay their hostage drama over the debt-ceiling everybody knows that when they take out loaded their gun they are only putting it to their own heads, not the country's.

Nobody wants what they want, nobody is willing to take the heat for giving them what nobody wants. And in voting for the cliff and in voting for Boehner's Speakership they revealed that they know it, too.

Precisely because Democrats got the fiscal cliff deal done with all revenue and no cuts they set the stage for the next terms of the next round of stimulus. The leverage has not changed, which is why the Republicans are barking big for the mic while their actual actions reveal their tail is between their legs. Obama says he won't negotiate over the debt ceiling because he knows there is absolutely no reason why he would have to.

All the incentives will nudge the Republicans to attempt a rehabilitation of their image through co-operation with Democrats on immigration reform and gun safety regulations which will require further demolition of the Movement Republican coalition in the service of a recreation of the GOP in the image of "balance" defined by Obama, his gift to a future GOP capable of winning election in a diversifying, secularizing, planetizing nation, and probably his greatest gift to the nation, a political culture in which one of the two organized parties driving policy isn't a neo-feudal theocratic patriarchal white-racist gun-toting homicidal suicidal maniac.

See also, Taegan Goddard, Steve Benen, and, as usual, BooMan.


David said...

Thank you, Dale Carrico, for existing. Your analysis of political situations beats anything I could find, anywhere else.

Dale Carrico said...

Thanks for saying so! Although my ultimate politics are so far to the left they would probably scare him to death, I find BooMan's analyses of the nitty-gritty of electoral politics and policy-making are usually pretty good.

jollyspaniard said...

This is the left's biggest problem. Not just in the US but in Canda and the UK too. It's actually much, much worse north of the border where what should be a regional rump party representing hate filled rednecks gets to run the country because the centre and left have chosen to split their vote amongst 4 political parties. I can't follow Canadian politics because the idiocy of the left just pisses me off too much.

And in the UK we've got decaffinated Thatcherism because a lot of progressives decided that Labour wasn't good enough and took a chance on the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems could sink Cameron with a no confidence vote but they know they won't see power again within their lifetimes so they've resigned themselves to minor concessions. Lefties who make the perfect the enemy of the good invariably empower the far right. This can't be repeated often enough.

While American progressives throw their toys out of their prams on ocassion at least they seem to grok that the way to fight for the outcomes they want are to agitate within the Democratic party rather than trying to tear it down.

Anonymous said...

Jolly : the bar has been moved! All the current Democrats are what we called Reagan or even Nixon Republicans. Nixon was far, far too liberal to come near today's Republican party which isn't Reaganite anymore : it is the John Birch Society reborn! There hasn't been a real Democrat except Kucinich in 20 years or more! Carter was the last actual Democratic president.

Dale Carrico said...

I disagree that all the members of the Progressive caucus can be dismissed as Nixonian/Reaganite Republicans, and I also disagree that Carter was substantially to the left of President Obama. Progressives do have reason to regret the loss of Kucinich from the Congress, but he was far from the only or even best progressive Congress-critter now or then, and he wasn't always exactly effective in the service of progressive outcomes in my view. I do agree that there something to the charge that the capture of the Republican Party by Tea Party ideologues represents the prevalence of the same strand of reactionary extremism that began in resistance to the New Deal and Great Society and did indeed produce the John Birch Society in earlier days of Movement Republicanism.

jollyspaniard said...

Anomynous, I'm sure there's some truth to what you're saying. But irrespective the solution is to move the bar back in the same manner in which the hard right has moved it.