Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Is the Republican Party Crazy?

Unlike many of my liberal friends, I don't regard Republicans as inherently evil. I have Republicans among my close relations, and among my friends. I have a strong conservative streak, in the sense that I am suspicious of change, and I distrust bureaucracy and regulation, so sometimes I even take the Republican side of policy debates. I thought the senior Bush was a pretty good president. I despise New Gingrich, but I have to admit that he contributed a lot to the last balanced budget in our history.

My slide into Republic hatred began with George W. Bush, who had the madness to announce a needless war and a big tax cut in the same speech, arguing that while overthrowing Saddam was worth thousands of lives it was not worth asking his rich friends to pitch in a dime. Then came the revelations of torture, and the sick way most of the Republican establishment rallied around waterboarding.

Bush actually mellowed in his second term, turning away from torture and war. But the 2010 election brought a cast of Republican characters into power who really make me wonder about the future of American democracy. Their whole political posture has been built around a series of grotesque lies, from "death panels" to accusations of vote fraud to economic lunacy. Just yesterday Speaker John Boehner was saying again that the way to increase government revenue is to cut taxes. The really scary part is that I think he believes this.

Most Americans don't seem to get it yet, but the current Republican leadership has embarked on a deranged path. Some news outlets (even NPR, as I heard the other morning) are still peddling the "intransigence on both sides" argument about budget negotiations, but that is completely untrue. Only one side is intransigent. Oh, sure, there are liberal Democrats out there denouncing compromise, and it remains to be seen how many votes Obama could really deliver for the kind of deal he wants, but nobody doubts that he can get a big block of Democratic votes. In contrast, about 80 percent of House Republicans have signed the "no new taxes" pledge. Many Republican party leaders are taking the position that raising the debt limit is a mistake in any case (Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty have both said this recently), and Eric Cantor has offered that just voting for any kind of debt increase is such a hard moral struggle for a conservative that he shouldn't be asked to make other compromises -- never mind that he voted to raise the limit 7 times while Bush was president.

American conservatives, or at least a big faction of them, are really angry. Like Speaker Boehner, they think Obama is out to destroy the America they grew up in. They are lashing out in all directions, especially toward immigrants and government spending. House Republicans are determined to do something to protect that fabled America of their childhoods from gays and Mexicans and environmentalists with weird light bulbs, but with 2/3 of the government in the hands of Democrats they have few options. Thus their maniac insistence on cutting government spending. Their broad-based rage about American decline has been focused on this one issue, and their belief in character and toughness and independence and all that has been transmuted into a willingness to force a government default. To justify themselves as defenders of right and truth and white suburban life, they have to take a stand and refuse to compromise. They have convinced themselves that if they accept one dollar in tax increases they will be complicit in the moral decay of America.

To think about government finance in this way is stupid. To make such stupidity into the political program of a party that controls the House of Representatives is dangerous. What's more, it seems that a good 40 percent of Americans agrees with them. (I wonder if they will keep agreeing when their Social Security checks are cut.) Right now it really looks like the nation is sliding into fiscal purgatory, which will likely push us into an even worse recession, and the whole Republican Parts looks set to celebrate this disaster as proof of how opposed they are to Kenyan anti-colonialism. They are paying no attention to right wing voices of sanity like David Frum, George Will, and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who said recently that the debt limit is a "housekeeping matter" and the House should just raise it. They seem impervious to reason, and it worries me.

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