Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Paper Training David Brooks

In today’s New York Times, Op-ed columnist David Brooks, the last rational conservative in the country, claims that the Republican party is unable to make a decision that does not even require a brain: compromise on the negotiations to raise the national debt ceiling. Republicans have the opportunity to significantly cut government spending and put long term limits on the growth of the federal government, with negligible harm to current economic growth. (www.nytimes.com/2011/07/05/opinion/05brooks.html?_r=1&ref=opinion).

These are all allegedly goals that Republicans hold in high priority. Yet they reject the opportunity to achieve them because the word “tax” has been mentioned. They are so religiously, irrationally, fetishistically, unreasonably opposed to any sort of revenue increase, they literally will walk out of negotiations if even the phrase, “closing tax loopholes” is mentioned. (http://articles.boston.com/2011-06-24/news/29699882_1_budget-talks-jay-carney-debt-limit)

Are Republicans mentally deficient, then? Brooks notes that they do not accept the logic of compromise, reject clear evidence, won’t hear expert opinion, deny the legitimacy of scholarship, have no economic theories to back up their position, lack moral grounding, indulge fanatical “fixation” on worshiping “their idol” of resisting all forms of government revenue increase, and are “not fit to govern.” Other than that, though, I wonder how he feels?

Now, I am no fan of these Republican tactics either. I would add to Brook’s litany of complaints that the Republican behavior is hypocritical, even extremely cynical. They care nothing for governmental fiscal responsibility, as the previous eight years of Republican rule amply demonstrated (two unfunded wars, unfunded tax cuts for the rich, failure to regulate the financial industry, unfunded drug benefits for the elderly, untrammeled military spending, and on and on and on). The record speaks for itself: Republicans care only for money and power, nothing else. Their talk about fiscal responsibility is transparent cover for their greedy pursuit of personal gain through economic rape of the country. Touche, Brooks.

Nevertheless, purely as an exercise critical thinking, it might be interesting to consider: what could they be thinking in the current negotiations about raising the government’s debt ceiling? Surely they realize that if the U.S. government defaults on its debt, the worldwide consequences would be catastrophic. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that these Republican negotiators are not mentally deficient and that they do have a rational strategy. What would it be?

I think it might be the same strategy one uses in paper-training a puppy. You want the dog to stop peeing on the floor, so what do you do? You whap it on the nose with a rolled up newspaper in the presence of its smelly offense, and you reward it with a dog biscuit when it goes on the paper. Simple, and effective.

Here is what you do NOT do: You do not try to reason with the animal, explaining why it is better for everyone’s health and state of mind, and for the relationship itself, that peeing should take place only on the paper. You also do not give a dog biscuit reward when the puppy pees a little closer to the paper than usual, because it was “pretty close” or “at least in the right direction.” It’s pee on the paper or nothing. You also do not refrain from the painful and humiliating swat on the nose when the animal pees “just a little”on the carpet. It’s swat if you missed the paper, no compromise.

Republicans believe, let us suppose, that discussion on the matter of federal spending, is pointless. Many discussions have been had in the past, all to no avail. Spending continues to increase and so do taxes to pay for it, they believe. The Republicans may also realize that they have no legitimate standing to argue for restraint, given their own history of profligacy.

So if discussion is pointless, that leaves only behavioral control. Like any good animal trainer, they will enforce a painful and humiliating government shutdown as long as the government continues to pee money on the carpet, and they will only allow the biscuit of revenue when the government shows proper restraint, which is to cut Medicare and Social Security.

There is a logic to this strategy, even though it incorrectly presupposes that Republicans have the intellectual, moral, or political authority to arrogate the role of trainer. But they do have a bit of leverage with the debt ceiling limit looming and control of the House. Of course the proper way to train the government is to win a popular mandate at the ballot box, but they haven’t been able to accomplish that, so this is an opportunistic substitute. It’s a flawed logic, but it is a logic, and a case could be made that the Republicans are being canny, not retarded.

However, I do agree with Brooks that this animal training strategy is so primitive, so flawed, so misconceived, that it will backfire and result in their own humiliation in November, 2012.

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