Tag Archives: GOP

When He’s Right, He’s Right

David Brooks can be a maddening columnist. He is often thoughtful and perceptive; obviously highly intelligent and unfailingly civil, he rarely comes across as doctrinaire. On the other hand, he often produces analyses that are surprisingly naive and occasionally even uninformed.

I read his columns regularly, because when he’s right, he’s really right. (And to be fair, even with his more off-base musings, there are usually nuggets worth considering.)

In his December 7th New York Times column, Brooks didn’t just hit it out of the park, he hit it out of the county.

Brooks is an old-fashioned Republican, conservative in the principled, Burkean sense of that term. I will readily admit that even in my most conservative days, I’ve never fallen into that particular category. Unlike the white nationalists and other morally repugnant political figures who have hijacked conservatism, however, Burkean conservatism was an entirely respectable approach. I’ve watched Brooks wrestle with that hijacking, and watched his efforts to give positions with which he clearly differed an (unearned) benefit of the doubt.

His lede describes that attitude, which he attributes to a generalized category of “good Republicans.”

A lot of good, honorable Republicans used to believe there was a safe middle ground. You didn’t have to tie yourself hip to hip with Donald Trump, but you didn’t have to go all the way to the other extreme and commit political suicide like the dissident Jeff Flake, either. You could sort of float along in the middle, and keep your head down until this whole Trump thing passed.

The column makes it pretty clear that Brooks has (finally!) turned a corner.

That’s the way these corrupt bargains always work. You think you’re only giving your tormentor a little piece of yourself, but he keeps asking and asking, and before long he owns your entire soul.

The Republican Party is doing harm to every cause it purports to serve. If Republicans accept Roy Moore as a United States senator, they may, for a couple years, have one more vote for a justice or a tax cut, but they will have made their party loathsome for an entire generation. The pro-life cause will be forever associated with moral hypocrisy on an epic scale. The word “evangelical” is already being discredited for an entire generation. Young people and people of color look at the Trump-Moore G.O.P. and they are repulsed, maybe forever.

In this week’s Times, Peter Wehner–once on the staff of the Reagan White House, and a proud conservative Evangelical–comes to much the same conclusion in a column titled “Why I Can No Longer Call Myself an Evangelical Republican.”

Brooks recognizes that the rot that now infects the entire GOP didn’t start with Trump.  With Sarah Palin and Fox News, the party traded a previous “ethos of excellence” for an “ethos of hucksterism.”

The Republican Party I grew up with admired excellence. It admired intellectual excellence (Milton Friedman, William F. Buckley), moral excellence (John Paul II, Natan Sharansky) and excellent leaders (James Baker, Jeane Kirkpatrick). Populism abandoned all that — and had to by its very nature. Excellence is hierarchical. Excellence requires work, time, experience and talent. Populism doesn’t believe in hierarchy. Populism doesn’t demand the effort required to understand the best that has been thought and said. Populism celebrates the quick slogan, the impulsive slash, the easy ignorant assertion. Populism is blind to mastery and embraces mediocrity.

Compare the tax cuts of the supply-side era with the tax cuts of today. There were three big cuts in the earlier era: the 1978 capital gains tax cut, the Kemp-Roth tax cut of 1981, and the 1986 tax reform. They were passed with bipartisan support, after a lengthy legislative process. All of them responded to the dominant problem of the moment, which was the stagflation and economic sclerosis. All rested on a body of serious intellectual work…

Today’s tax cuts have no bipartisan support. They have no intellectual grounding, no body of supporting evidence. They do not respond to the central crisis of our time. They have no vision of the common good, except that Republican donors should get more money and Democratic donors should have less.

The rot afflicting the G.O.P. is comprehensive — moral, intellectual, political and reputational. More and more former Republicans wake up every day and realize: “I’m homeless. I’m politically homeless.”

As readers of this blog know, I was a Republican for 35 years. In 2000, I left. I realized that the party  for which I’d worked so long no longer existed; I said then (and continue to maintain) that I hadn’t left the party, the party had left me.

Brooks is not engaging in hyperbole in that last line. Every day, I run into good, thoughtful people I used to work with–in party politics, in municipal government–who echo his lament. They no longer see the GOP as a traditional political party with a political philosophy based on a distinctive moral vision. They certainly don’t see anyone pursuing excellence.

They see what David Brooks finally sees: an immoral cult pursing its tribal interests to the detriment of the country.

How Bad Is It?

Two of the most clear-eyed and knowledgable observers of the American legislature have once again weighed in on the disaster that is the current Congress.

In the New York Times Sunday Review, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein explained how the Republicans “broke Congress.”

In the past three days, Republican leaders in the Senate scrambled to corral votes for a tax bill that the Joint Committee on Taxation said would add $1 trillion to the deficit — without holding any meaningful committee hearings. Worse, Republican leaders have been blunt about their motivation: to deliver on their promises to wealthy donors, and down the road, to use the leverage of huge deficits to cut and privatize Medicare and Social Security

Eleven years ago, we published a book called “The Broken Branch,” which we subtitled “How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track.” Embedded in that subtitle were two assumptions: first, that Congress as an institution — which is to say, both parties, equally — is at fault; and second, that the solution is readily at hand. In 2017, the Republicans’ scandalous tax bill is only the latest proof that both assumptions are wrong.

Mann and Ornstein are blunt: today’s Republicans are to blame for destroying Congressional integrity and credibility. They point to three tactics that have brought us to this point: the constant demonization of government and the norms of lawmaking; the so-called “Obama effect”; and the use of the right-wing media echo chamber to keep their “troops” enraged.

As they described the “Obama effect”

When Mr. Bush became president, Democrats worked with him to enact sweeping education reform early on and provided the key votes to pass his top priority, tax cuts. With President Barack Obama, it was different. While many argued that the problem was that Mr. Obama failed to schmooze enough with Republicans in Congress, we saw a deliberate Republican strategy to oppose all of his initiatives and frame his attempts to compromise as weak or inauthentic. The Senate under the majority leader Mitch McConnell weaponized the filibuster to obstruct legislation, block judges and upend the policy process. The Obama effect had an ominous twist, an undercurrent of racism that was itself embodied in the “birther” movement led by Donald Trump.

My only quibble with this analysis is the use of the term “undercurrent.” From my vantage point, the racism was anything but subtle. And as numerous people have pointed out, Trump’s only discernible agenda is to reverse anything and everything his black predecessor did. Unlike many observers, however, Mann and Ornstein do not see Trumpism as a deviation from past GOP priorities and practices:

Mr. Trump’s election and behavior during his first 10 months in office represent not a break with the past but an extreme acceleration of a process that was long underway in conservative politics. The Republican Party is now rationalizing and enabling Mr. Trump’s autocratic, kleptocratic, dangerous and downright embarrassing behavior in hopes of salvaging key elements of its ideological agenda: cutting taxes for the wealthy (as part of possibly the worst tax bill in American history), hobbling the regulatory regime, gutting core government functions and repealing Obamacare without any reasonable plan to replace it.

Perhaps the most important point they make is that the chaos and incompetence of this White House, and the elimination or reduction of important government functions by disastrous cabinet and agency appointments, is being encouraged and enabled by Congressional Republicans.

The failure of Republican members of Congress to resist the anti-democratic behavior of President Trump — including holding not a single hearing on his and his team’s kleptocracy — is cringe-worthy. A few Republican senators have spoken up, but occasional words have not been matched by any meaningful deeds. Only conservative intellectuals have acknowledged the bankruptcy of the Republican Party.

We have never suggested that Democrats are angels and Republicans devils. Parties exist to win elections and organize government, and they are shaped by the interests, ideas and donors that constitute their coalitions. Neither party is immune from a pull to the extreme.

But the imbalance today is striking, and frightening. Our democracy requires vigorous competition between two serious and ideologically distinct parties, both of which operate in the realm of truth, see governing as an essential and ennobling responsibility, and believe that the acceptance of republican institutions and democratic values define what it is to be an American. The Republican Party must reclaim its purpose.

What Mann and Ornstein didn’t do in this hard-hitting and absolutely accurate article is tell readers how they are supposed to make the GOP “reclaim its purpose.” For my part, I can only see one way: the GOP must be crushed at the polls in November of 2018. Only a truly massive rejection by American voters will get the message across.

They don’t just need to be beaten; they need to be crushed. And then we all have to pray that democratic and constitutional norms and rational public policies can be salvaged.

John Sweezy, R.I.P.

Last Tuesday, I got a text from an old friend telling me that John Sweezy had died.

The name John Sweezy won’t be a familiar one to most of the people reading this blog, but for many years, John headed the Republican Party in Marion County, Indianapolis, Indiana. John served as the Republican County Chair for twenty-eight years, and during those years, the local GOP dominated Indianapolis’ political life. Much of that political success was a result of his meticulous attention to grass-roots organization: making sure that each precinct had a committee-person who polled their neighborhoods and used the information to turn out the vote on election day.

Politicians today could learn an important lesson from that grass-roots emphasis, because those regular Republican victories under John’s management were despite the fact that registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans 3 to 2. (John used to say he was so grateful that “Democrats don’t vote.”)

But there was another, important reason so many people (even friends of mine who were Democrats) voted Republican. John consistently threw party support to competent, sensible candidates–people who understood municipal governance and wanted to do it well. He had nothing good to say about the then-emerging Christian Taliban, and he welcomed women and minority volunteers and candidates.

I know, because I was one of those women. I had been an active volunteer, working for Dick Lugar and Bill Hudnut, among others, when Hudnut decided to appoint me Corporation Counsel. No woman had previously held that position. John was supportive–in more ways than one. Not only did he approve of Bill’s choice to place a relatively young (33) woman at the head of the city’s legal department, he did something that now, in the wake of serial scandals, seems prescient: in a private conversation, he identified the men I should avoid being alone with! Later, when I ran for Congress, he was incredibly supportive.

I still remember a number of John’s favorite sayings. My own favorite was his mantra–and firm belief– that “Good government is good politics.”

He used to say that every citizen should be required to work for government for two years, and prohibited from staying in government for more than four. It was his way of acknowledging the problems government faces when citizens are ignorant of the operation of their government and the issues involved in managing a city or state–and the sclerosis that sets in when too many people have been in office too long. (John had trained as a mechanical engineer, and had served a stint as Indianapolis’ Director of Public Works, so his attitude was informed by experience.)

Later, when the GOP stopped being the party I had worked for, the party of people like John Sweezy, I became a Democrat, and only rarely saw or spoke to John. It was my loss. (Once, after he read a particularly snarky column I’d written, John called me to say he disagreed with my point, but that he still “appreciated” me. We made vague plans to have lunch “soon,” but somehow that never happened. My fault for letting the minutiae of everyday life interfere with the importance of friendship.) Now he’s gone–and so is the party he served so well.

I miss them both. R.I.P.

 

“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.