Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Do Republicans Have Any Ideas?

President Obama’s economic stimulus package passed the House today, 244 to 188, without a single Republican vote. Not one.

I find that remarkable. The president has openly talked up his desire for more bipartisan government, and he made a big display of going up to the Hill to jawbone the Republicans.

Yet the Republicans all, to a person, essentially said, “Go soak your head.” They appear as juvenile, spiteful, self-destructive poseurs obsessed with game-playing, all while the American economy goes down the tubes. How can the whole batch of them be so consistently small, mean-spirited, selfish, and immature? Isn’t there a single statesman among them?

I try to stick to rational analysis of the facts, but these people make it very difficult to remain unemotional.

“Principles!” the Republicans cry. "Of course we want to do what’s best for America, but this stimulus package is so worthless, if not downright harmful or evil, that no conscionable person could vote for it."

That is an implausible argument under the circumstances, but at least conceivable. Is there any truth behind it? I can’t find it.

Republicans have only a single concept of governance: elimination of taxes. It does not seem to bother them, or occur to them, that if we were to eliminate taxes, there would be no government and no Republicans either. But they apparently get a “tax-cut” chip implanted in their brain as a condition of joining the party. Anything other than massive tax cuts, especially those that benefit the wealthy, is considered utterly unacceptable to them.

This is notwithstanding actual facts, such as,

1. The economic stimulus package is made up of about 1/3 tax cuts and 2/3 new spending. So it is simply not the case that the legislation does not accommodate the Republican desire for tax cuts. One third of 800 billion dollars is $260 billion in tax cuts, not a trivial amount. The Republicans’ “principled” objection to the legislation rings hollow.

2. Tax cuts don’t do much good for individuals or business that aren’t paying much in taxes. Especially for small businesses (under 100 employees), projected near-term profits are expected to be small to zero, so tax cuts on nonexistent profits wouldn't be much of an economic stimulus.

3. The Republicans had eight years to play around with tax cuts, which they did, and the result has not turned out well. The “trickle-down” mythology has been thoroughly repudiated in fact and theory. What legitimate justification could there be for clinging to the tax-cut mantra in the face of evidence? One is tempted to suspect that the motivations are less than noble.

Try this simple test. Watch any television news show that interviews a Republican about the stimulus package. Clock how much time passes before the Republican says the phrase “tax cuts.” I have done this and the mean elapsed time is 15 seconds. These people must be possessed by an evil spirit. Or have a brain implant. I am not aware of any alternative economic stimulus proposal from the Republicans that involves anything other than “Tax cuts!”

Another Republican criticism of the stimulus package is that it spends too much on non-economic items, such as health, education, and safety. In what alternate universe is education NOT the basic engine of economic growth? For a Republican, economic growth apparently only means more cash, today! No doubt there are some stupid or irrelevant line items buried in the package and I'm sure we will hear all about them soon. That kind of idiocy is not a particularly Democratic problem. If we look at the largest 80% of the stimulus package, not the 20% chaff, it looks eminently reasonable.

Yet another Republican criticism is that they did not have sufficient “input” to the drafting of the legislation. From what I can gather, that is because they declined to participate when invited. Their complaint is at best disingenuous, more likely, misdirection and petulant whining.

Finally, consider that even if the economic stimulus package was a bitter pill for any Republican to swallow, on principle, why not support it anyway, for Heaven’s sake? The country is going down! What kind of high and mighty “principles of governance” are so sacred that you would choose ashes in everyone’s mouth instead of compromise? I think “principles” are not the issue here at all. Republican behavior points to psychological immaturity and a paucity of ideas badly papered over by tawdry egos.

Maybe I was wrong in my criticism of Krugman’s book, “The Conscience of a Liberal.” (Halfway down the page at

I said Krugman was unjustifiably hostile toward conservatives and had devolved to mere name-calling. But maybe he was more perceptive than I realized. Unless the Republicans come up with some reasoned, evidence-based explanations for their behavior, I think the Democrats should just ignore them because they can’t be spoken to.

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