Voters May Not Care About Gridlock & Dysfunction In DC But Will They Punish Republicans For Economic Sabotage?
I thought it was Bush that made me hate Washington so much and made me want to stay away. But I don't feel any more warmly towards the city now that he's gone. I avoid the place like the plague and sit on endless conference calls rather than show up personally for meetings of committees and boards on which people I like and admire are doing vital work. I've told Ken Aden and Nick Ruiz I'd be there for their swearing in ceremonies-- both being longshots-- but I've also told Alan Grayson the same thing... and that means I probably will be making a trip there in January. Yesterday, in a much discussed OpEd in the Washington Post, Thomas Mann (political scientist at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution) and Norm Ornstein (resident scholar at the rabidly right-wing and corporatist American Enterprise Institute) asserted that the Republicans are the problem for what's wrong in Washington. They purposefully create gridlock and dysfunction and they want not just Obama to fail-- they want government to fail. Despite Paul Ryan's pious, desperate attempts to disassociate himself from the right-wing icon Ayn Rand, her dark, dystopian, corporate vision is now synonymous with the Republican Party. There is no longer any escape short of burning down the whole rotten party and starting over again. And that's up to the voters. Will most voters in, for example, the Old Confederacy, even care about something like this by two Beltway scholars:
We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.
“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.
They assign much of the blame to two transparent hustlers, both right-wing prophets of Randian greed and selfishness, Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist. "In the face of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression, the party’s leaders and their outside acolytes insisted on obeisance to a supply-side view of economic growth-- thus fulfilling Norquist’s pledge-- while ignoring contrary considerations... Rank-and-file GOP voters endorse the strategy that the party’s elites have adopted, eschewing compromise to solve problems and insisting on principle, even if it leads to gridlock. Democratic voters, by contrast, along with self-identified independents, are more likely to favor deal-making over deadlock."
Shortly before Rep. West went off the rails with his accusations of communism in the Democratic Party, political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, who have long tracked historical trends in political polarization, said their studies of congressional votes found that Republicans are now more conservative than they have been in more than a century. Their data show a dramatic uptick in polarization, mostly caused by the sharp rightward move of the GOP.
If our democracy is to regain its health and vitality, the culture and ideological center of the Republican Party must change. In the short run, without a massive (and unlikely) across-the-board rejection of the GOP at the polls, that will not happen. If anything, Washington’s ideological divide will probably grow after the 2012 elections.
Ornstein and Mann despair of GOP voters, brianwashed beyond reason by subversive propaganda and primal, divisiveness from Hate Talk Radio and Fox, seeing their way to do the right thing for the country and they end their essay with a plea to their lazy and easily a- bought-off and b- intimidated media colleagues to stop giving right-wing extremism Broderistic cover. Sappy and unsatisfying ending to an important problem. But.. maybe this chart and this NY Times column from Krugman points to a more reasonable ending.
He explains the chart on his blog with a look at the devastating nature of right-wing Austerity economics and how these policies have led to Norquist's dream of drastically shrinking the government. "Obama," he points out, more in resigned disappointment than anger, "far from presiding over a huge expansion of government the way the right claims, has in fact presided over unprecedented austerity, largely driven by cuts at the state and local level. And it’s therefore an amazing triumph of misinformation the way that lackluster economic performance has been interpreted as a failure of government spending." Do you think voters are savvy enough to blame this on the destructive obstructionism of Miss McConnell and John Boehner and on the Koch-funded Republican governors and legislatures in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Indiana and Michigan? If America is going to move beyond economic morass and the steady whittling away of democracy itself, they have to. The alternative is a government of varying degrees of fascists, from Paul Ryan to Allen West.
For the past two years most policy makers in Europe and many politicians and pundits in America have been in thrall to a destructive economic doctrine. According to this doctrine, governments should respond to a severely depressed economy not the way the textbooks say they should-- by spending more to offset falling private demand-- but with fiscal austerity, slashing spending in an effort to balance their budgets.
Critics warned from the beginning that austerity in the face of depression would only make that depression worse. But the “austerians” insisted that the reverse would happen. Why? Confidence! “Confidence-inspiring policies will foster and not hamper economic recovery,” declared Jean-Claude Trichet, the former president of the European Central Bank-- a claim echoed by Republicans in Congress here. Or as I put it way back when, the idea was that the confidence fairy would come in and reward policy makers for their fiscal virtue.
The good news is that many influential people are finally admitting that the confidence fairy was a myth. The bad news is that despite this admission there seems to be little prospect of a near-term course change either in Europe or here in America, where we never fully embraced the doctrine, but have, nonetheless, had de facto austerity in the form of huge spending and employment cuts at the state and local level.
So, about that doctrine: appeals to the wonders of confidence are something Herbert Hoover would have found completely familiar-- and faith in the confidence fairy has worked out about as well for modern Europe as it did for Hoover’s America. All around Europe’s periphery, from Spain to Latvia, austerity policies have produced Depression-level slumps and Depression-level unemployment; the confidence fairy is nowhere to be seen, not even in Britain, whose turn to austerity two years ago was greeted with loud hosannas by policy elites on both sides of the Atlantic.
None of this should come as news, since the failure of austerity policies to deliver as promised has long been obvious. Yet European leaders spent years in denial, insisting that their policies would start working any day now, and celebrating supposed triumphs on the flimsiest of evidence. Notably, the long-suffering (literally) Irish have been hailed as a success story not once but twice, in early 2010 and again in the fall of 2011. Each time the supposed success turned out to be a mirage; three years into its austerity program, Ireland has yet to show any sign of real recovery from a slump that has driven the unemployment rate to almost 15 percent.
However, something has changed in the past few weeks. Several events-- the collapse of the Dutch government over proposed austerity measures, the strong showing of the vaguely anti-austerity François Hollande in the first round of France’s presidential election, and an economic report showing that Britain is doing worse in the current slump than it did in the 1930s-- seem to have finally broken through the wall of denial. Suddenly, everyone is admitting that austerity isn’t working.
The question now is what they’re going to do about it. And the answer, I fear, is: not much.
For one thing, while the austerians seem to have given up on hope, they haven’t given up on fear-- that is, on the claim that if we don’t slash spending, even in a depressed economy, we’ll turn into Greece, with sky-high borrowing costs.
Now, claims that only austerity can pacify bond markets have proved every bit as wrong as claims that the confidence fairy will bring prosperity. Almost three years have passed since the Wall Street Journal breathlessly warned that the attack of the bond vigilantes on U.S. debt had begun; not only have borrowing costs remained low, they’ve actually fallen by half. Japan has faced dire warnings about its debt for more than a decade; as of this week, it could borrow long term at an interest rate of less than 1 percent.
And serious analysts now argue that fiscal austerity in a depressed economy is probably self-defeating: by shrinking the economy and hurting long-term revenue, austerity probably makes the debt outlook worse rather than better.
But while the confidence fairy appears to be well and truly buried, deficit scare stories remain popular. Indeed, defenders of British policies dismiss any call for a rethinking of these policies, despite their evident failure to deliver, on the grounds that any relaxation of austerity would cause borrowing costs to soar.
So we’re now living in a world of zombie economic policies-- policies that should have been killed by the evidence that all of their premises are wrong, but which keep shambling along nonetheless. And it’s anyone’s guess when this reign of error will end.
This November or January, 2013? You can help make it so... really.