Tag Archives: GOP

“Tax” Is Not A Four-Letter Word

As Congress takes up consideration of what the President and GOP have labeled “tax reform,” and what impartial observers describe as tax cuts mostly for the wealthy, it’s time for a re-run of my rant on the subject of taxation.

I’ve been particularly incensed by the appearance in Indiana of a TV spot aimed at Senator Joe Donnelly. Donnelly is a Democrat (moderate, of the Hoosier variety) considered vulnerable in 2018. The spot features a lovely young woman talking about the importance of tax reform–no specifics, no definitions, just a plea to Donnelly to support “fair” taxation.

I’m all for fair taxation, and I’m willing to bet everyone reading this is, too. I’m also willing to bet that definitions of a “fair” tax system vary widely (the devil, as we all know, being in the details). The one thing we should all recognize, however–whatever our personal opinions about “fairness”–is the difference between tax reform and tax cuts. 

As Jared Bernstein recently wrote in an article in the American Prospect,

In D.C. tax-debate parlance, “tax reform” means something specific: cutting tax rates and broadening the tax base. Rate reductions lose revenue, but you make it up by closing loopholes, exemptions, and favorable treatments of one type of income over another, thus broadening the income upon which taxes are levied.

As Bernstein points out (and we all know), most loopholes are the result of lobbying by special interests, not some disinterested analysis of their utility, making them very hard to eliminate. Even more pernicious is the belief–an article of faith in the GOP–that lower rates will generate more economic activity and thus more tax revenue. There is absolutely no evidence supporting this theory, and considerable evidence rebutting it, but it refuses to die.

In the current tax debate—no surprise—the Trump administration and the Republican Congress are predicting that their tax cuts will return large growth effects. They claim their plan—and to be clear, there is, as of yet, no plan—will increase the real GDP growth rate by at least half, from around 2 percent to 3 percent or 4 percent, and that this increase will offset much of the costs of the cuts.

This was the same story told by Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II, and in every case the results belied the claims. The most recent example, from the state of Kansas, is particularly germane to this discussion, because it reveals flaws in the same ideas being bandied about by the current Congress.

Tax policy experts estimate that the measures being discussed would cost government $6.5 trillion in revenues over ten years, and dramatically increase the deficit the GOP pretends to care about.

The vast majority of the benefits of these measures accrue to the wealthiest households: Almost 50 percent of the cuts go to the top 1 percent, while 6 percent go to the middle fifth. About 27 percent of the gains go to the 120,000 families in the top tenth of the top 1 percent, whose average pretax income is $11 million.

If anything remotely like this package passes, it will exacerbate levels of inequality that already exceed those of the Gilded Age.

According to the Brookings Institute,

this tax reform plan gives a lift to growing inequality, and signals that the GOP is okay with persistent poverty and with the inability of one-third of us to feed our kids. It’s time to ask ourselves, how do we craft tax reform for the long term—reform that tackles American poverty and inequality and creates the conditions for inclusive economic growth?

I would suggest that genuine tax reform begins with the recognition that “tax” is not a four-letter word. Taxes are the dues we pay for social peace and stability, for the myriad of services that modern societies require and their citizens demand, and from which we all benefit.

We currently have a system that incentivizes the “haves” to evade their responsibility to pay a fair share, or even to discuss what a fair share would look like. Until we have that conversation, we may see tax cuts–mostly for the already privileged– but we won’t see anything resembling genuine tax reform.

 

 

Trump, Moore And The “Grand Old Party”

Yesterday’s post dealt with Roy Moore’s decisive, ten-point victory over Luther Strange in this week’s Alabama GOP primary. Moore won although Strange had the (mostly) full-throated support of Donald Trump.

Moore’s win suggests that– although Trump’s election may have “unleashed” the party’s rabid base– “the Donald” cannot control it.

The GOP’s Congressional leadership is similarly unable to control the members of what has been called the “lunatic caucus”–Representatives sent to Washington from deep-red gerrymandered districts controlled by that same base.

It’s hard for many of us to wrap our heads around the reality of today’s Republican Party. For those of us who once worked for a very different GOP, the current iteration is nothing short of tragic. All political parties have their fringe crazies–the Democrats are certainly not immune–but in the GOP, the crazies have taken control; sane, moderate, fiscally prudent and socially tolerant Republicans have retreated or departed– or been ejected to taunts of “RINO.”

The number of American voters who identify as Republicans has diminished–in 2016, Gallup put it at 26%– but most of those who remain are dramatically different from even their most conservative antecedents. To the extent they have actual policy preferences, rather than the free-floating animus and overt racism that found its champion in Trump, those preferences are represented by Moore and his ilk.

Roy Moore embodies what the majority of today’s GOP–its most reliable voters, its “base”–support. And that reality is absolutely terrifying, not just because our democratic system requires two sane, adult parties in order to function, but because Moore’s beliefs aren’t just the ravings of a lunatic (although they certainly are that), they’re incompatible with every principle of the American Constitution and legal system.

Think I’m exaggerating?

Before the primary election, The Daily Beast dug out statements Moore has made over the years. During a speech he gave to a fundamentalist Christian political organization, Operation Save America, he said

“I’m sorry but this country was not founded on Muhammad. It was not founded on Buddha. It was not founded on secular humanism. It was founded on God,” he said according to reports by AL.com.

He has frequently charged that Islam is a “false religion” that goes “against the American way of life.”

“[Islam is] a faith that conflicts with the First Amendment of the Constitution,” Moore said during a 2007 radio interview with Michelangelo Signorile, “The Constitution and Declaration of Independence has a direct reference to the Holy Scriptures.”

His homophobia is notorious. In a custody decision, he wrote that homosexuality is  “an inherent evil against which children must be protected.”

CNN also uncovered a 2005 interview between Moore and Bill Press during C-SPAN2’s After Words where he compared homosexuality to bestiality.

“Just because it’s done behind closed doors, it can still be prohibited by state law. Do you know that bestiality, the relationship between man and beast is prohibited in every state?” Moore told Press. When asked if Moore was comparing homosexuality to bestiality, he replied, “It’s the same thing.”

Moore rejects evolution. He attributes the 9/11 attacks to “God’s retribution” for our national “immorality,” and insists (against all historical evidence and the text of the Constitution) that the Founders established America as a “Christian Nation.”

These and similar sentiments–including a deep commitment to White Supremacy– are the banners under which today’s Republicans march. The GOP is now the party of Donald Trump and Roy Moore and Mike Pence–proud racists dismissive of history, ignorant of science and political philosophy, disinterested in actual governance, and obsessed with their own self-importance.

This is what is left of a once Grand Old Party.

Abraham Lincoln weeps.

Down Memory Lane With Mike And Roy

Roy Moore’s victory yesterday in Alabama’s GOP primary occasioned a walk down memory lane by NY Magazine.

As the magazine’s article reminded us, Moore–crazy as he is–isn’t the only radical conservative peddling a noxious stew of theocracy, white nationalism and assorted bigotries: others identified included Stephen Bannon, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Ben Carson, Sebastian Gorka, Sarah Palin, Steve King, Mark Meadows, and Jim DeMint.

And, of course, Mike Pence. Which will surprise exactly no one who lives in Indiana.

As the article notes, “Pence has spent most of his political career aligned with Roy Moore as a stalwart of the Christian right.” He only looks safe and/or sane when he’s standing next to our unhinged President.

Pence nearly wrecked his gubernatorial tenure in Indiana in 2015 by pushing through a “religious liberty” bill that made his state a national pariah and the subject of major business boycotts before he agreed to modify it. But long before then, as a leader of hard-core conservatives in the U.S. House, Pence was notable in the extremism of his commitment to conservative religious ideology. For one thing, he co-sponsored “personhood” legislation designed to make fertilized ova citizens for purposes of constitutional protection. For another, he was closely associated with the shadowy conservative Christian power-elite group “The Family” (a.k.a. “The Fellowship”) along with Jim DeMint, Sam Brownback, Mark Sanford, and other fire-breathing members of the cultural right.

Political opponents like to point out that Pence failed to pass any legislation during his 11+ years in Congress, as though that is a telling criticism.  In my opinion, we should be profoundly grateful for that failure, given the sorts of legislation he sponsored. For example, Pence was one of the original co-sponsors of what was called at the time the “single most outrageous bit of right-wing legislation introduced in Congress since the days of segregation”: the Constitutional Restoration Act of 2005.

[S]ome of the wingnuttiest members of the Senate have decided to attempt to turn us into a Christian Reconstructionist theocracy once and for all and have introduced the Constitutional Restoration Act.

Though it is described as a “bill to limit the jurisdiction of Federal courts in certain cases and promote federalism,” reading its actual summary proves enlightening as to its true intent: This legislation seeks to make it possible for Congress to remove any judge who refuses to acknowledge that the basis for all law, liberty, and government is God.

We can all guess whose version of God is the “author” (according to Mike and Roy)–or perhaps only the “inspiration for”– the U.S. Constitution.

Not so incidentally, the measure would have eviscerated the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, and made state court decisions–not decisions issued by that pesky Supreme Court– the final word on “God’s” law.

The co-authors of this modest proposal? They were none other than Roy Moore, along with his longtime sidekick Herb Titus, who was once the vice-presidential nominee of the openly theocratic U.S. Constitution Party.

Pence’s areas of agreement with Moore are extensive: both would strip LGBTQ citizens of any and all legal rights (Moore has advocated recriminalizing same-sex relations); both supported the above-referenced “Personhood Amendment” to the Constitution that would outlaw all abortions by making a fertilized egg the legal equal of a fully-grown human; both believe that Muslims are dangerous terrorists, and that American Muslims are intent upon imposing “sharia law” on Americans; both would defund Planned Parenthood…the list goes on.

The fact that Mike Pence is widely seen as an improvement over the current President–and viewed as a “mainstream” Republican–tells us all we need to know about this President and the current iteration of the Republican Party.

 

 

GOP R.I.P.

There is more than one way for a political party to die.

If you ask people of my vintage–the party volunteers, candidates, office holders and party functionaries who populated the Indiana Statehouse and the Hudnut Administration’s sixteen years in City Hall–the GOP we worked for and supported is long gone. We don’t recognize the party that bears the name.

The death of a political party via this sort of transformation into something much darker and different is less visible than the sort of death experienced by the Whigs, but it is no less real.

For the last two decades, at least, I’ve been predicting a split between the GOP’s “business wing”–those we used to call Country Club Republicans–and its far-Right fringe. (Helpful hint: don’t ever bet money on predictions I make; I’m notoriously wrong about nearly all of them.) It seemed inevitable that members of the sober business community, fixated on fiscal prudence and economic issues, would be increasingly unwilling to partner with and vote for the religious fanatics, flat-earthers and white nationalists who had become the party’s base.

If the divorce I saw as likely back in 2000 (the year I “came out” as a Democrat) is ever going to occur, it will be precipitated by Donald Trump–an unstable and self-engrossed con man no rational businessperson would hire for any responsible position.

I may still be proven wrong, but I’m no longer prophesying in the wilderness. Others have begun predicting the fracturing of what’s left of the GOP.

On August 8th–before Trump’s horrifying reaction to Charlottesville–the Guardian devoted an article to the defection of GOP conservatives from the party that had embraced (or at least tolerated) Trump. The article began with the highly visible unhappiness of Senator Jeff Flake.

Jeff Flake of Arizona, among 17 conservative politicians, activists, officials and pundits interviewed over two months, revealed that while the president has given rightwing fringe groups a seat at the table, his alliance with his own party remains highly precarious.

The article proceeds to quote a number of prominent Republicans who shared their disdain for Trump and his enablers. Eliot Cohen, a former state department counsellor to Condoleezza Rice, said:

“This fundamentally boils down to character, and his character is rotten. He’s a narcissist who happens to have taken control of the Republican party. Trump has taken conservatives back to a different era, before William F Buckley drove out the Birchers, the bigots and the antisemites. We’re now back in a different world.

British conservative historian Niall Ferguson agreed:

The Republicans have surprised me in one respect and that was the poor discipline of the party. If you think of this in British terms, essentially we are now in a quasi-monarchy, kind of what Alexander Hamilton vaguely had in mind. But it’s a monarchy in the sense that the White House is a court and Trump is like one of those people who becomes king who’s not terribly well-suited to the role. And so there’s rampant factionalism and infighting and erratic decisions by the king, and Paul Ryan’s the prime minister who’s trying to manage affairs in the estates general. But the problem is that from a British vantage point, the party discipline’s very weak.

The article goes on to quote a significant number of prominent conservatives, some still supportive and others noting that Trump’s erratic and uninformed behavior is inflicting substantial damage on the party, and widening, not healing, the rifts that have been growing for some time. Two of the most critical were Charlie Sykes, a talk-radio conservative, and Michael Steele, former Chair of the national GOP.

Sykes pointed to the obvious danger of “going along”: you end up accepting  “someone who mocks the disabled and insults women because he gets you a social policy win.”

For his part, Steele says out loud what so many long-time Republicans say quietly:

This is my 40th year as a Republican and it is the first time I can honestly say I don’t recognise this party and some of the people who are leading it.

And this was before Charlottesville.

The GOP I once belonged to is already dead. The question for conservatives now is: what will become of its distasteful, immoral, unAmerican remains?

By George…He’s Right

George Lakoff is probably best known for his book, Don’t Think of An Elephant, but he has produced a steady stream of significant articles and books throughout his academic career. ( He was the   Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley from 1972 until he retired a few years ago. He currently serves as Director of the Center for the Neural Mind and Society.)

Lakoff’s abiding interest has been identification of the cognitive differences between Progressives and Conservatives, and his blog frequently applies the results of his research to contemporary political puzzles. A recent post considered two questions about Donald Trump and Republicans that Lakoff says tend to stump Progressives.

1) Why don’t Trump supporters turn against Trump even though he is doing things that hurt them? (like taking away their healthcare)

2) Why do Republicans hate the Affordable Care Act, and why are they so transparently acting to give wealthy people a tax break funded by making healthcare unaffordable?

The short answer? Voters don’t vote their interests. They vote their values.

The longer answer? According to Lakoff,

Most thought (as much as 98% by some accounts) is unconscious. It is carried out by neural circuitry in our brains. We have no conscious access to this circuitry, but it’s there. This is basic neuroscience.

When it comes to politics, progressives and conservatives essentially have different brains. The unconscious beliefs conditioned in their brains are nearly exact opposites.

Lakoff describes conservative morality as a “Strict Father” worldview, and progressive morality as a “nurturant parent” paradigm.

Conservative moral values arise from what I call the Strict Father Family.

In this family model, father knows best. He decides right and wrong. He has the ultimate authority to make sure his children and his spouse do what he says, because what he says is right. Many conservative spouses accept this worldview, uphold the father’s authority, and are strict in those realms of family life that they control.

In this moral worldview, it is his moral duty to punish his children painfully when they disobey. Harsh punishment is necessary to ensure that they will obey him (do what is right) and not just do what feels good. Through physical discipline they are supposed to become disciplined, internally strong, and able to prosper in the external world.

What if they don’t prosper? That means they are not disciplined, and therefore cannot be moral, and so deserve their poverty. In this conservative view, the poor are seen as lazy and undeserving while the rich deserve their wealth. Responsibility is thus taken to be personal responsibility, not social responsibility. What you become is only up to you, not society. You are responsible for yourself, not for others.

Lakoff then outlines the conservative “moral hierarchy.”

• God above Man
• Man above Nature
• The Disciplined (Strong) above the Undisciplined (Weak)
• The Rich above the Poor
• Employers above Employees
• Adults above Children
• Western culture above other cultures
• America above other countries
• Men above Women
• Whites above Nonwhites
• Christians above non-Christians
• Straights above Gays

You can almost hear Mike Pence talking about how he is a Christian first….

Lakoff wants us to understand the differences in worldviews, so that we can better understand the genesis of conservative Republican policy prescriptions.

Understanding is well and good, but what Lakoff doesn’t tell us is whether it is possible to reason with–or failing that, neuter– Dear Old Strict Dad.