Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The GOP Suicide Watch

The title of this post begs the question: Does the GOP have a death wish? but you likely knew the answer.

Yes, there is mounting evidence that the Republican Party is out of ideas, out of gas, and may, increasingly, be out of supporters, and if they have anything to do with it, then it is a form of slow, rolling suicide. Let's point you to sources of the evidence.

First, here's Matthew Yglesias, a center-left economics writer at Slate:
If you want to get a sense of how profoundly doomed the Republican Party is in terms of efforts to appeal to mainstream American economic interests, you just need to look at the debate over raising the minimum wage. We know two things about this issue. One is that minimum wage hikes are super popular...
...One thing Republicans could do in response to President Obama's popular plan to help economically struggling Americans is say "yes" and vote for it. But obviously they won't do that...
...They're just going to offer nothing, until at some point Democrats have enough seats to pass the minimum wage hike or a handful of Republicans defect and join them.
This isn't because there are no conservative thinkers with better ideas than a minimum wage hike, but because none of those ideas will be embraced in practice by Republican politicians or deployed by the conservative movement in any way other than as a smokescreen.
Yglesias said a mouthful. And he ain't the only one. Ed Kilgore of Political Animal flags an essay written by Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner that suggests the GOP needs "a serious rethinking of conservative ideology in the [sic] light of adverse political and demographic trends and also a changing issue landscape." Kilgore goes on to say:
To abbreviate considerably, their five-part agenda for change involves: (1) a systematic attack on corporate welfare and on mega-banks to reduce the impression Republicans are engaged in class warfare for the wealthy and to signal acceptance that government has a positive role in the economy; (2) an abandonment of both rhetoric and policies inhospitable to immigrants; (3) a recommitment to the Burkean tradition of caring about “the common good,” which means a lot less hyper-individualism; (4) an inclusive rather than an exclusive approach to cultural issues, mainly by focusing on efforts to strengthen the economic viability of families; and (5) acceptance of science, including the reality and the significance of climate change...
...It’s a separate question, of course, whether any of these arguments can find traction in today’s Republican Party. The answer, I think, is a resounding “no,” or perhaps “hell, no!” Accepting climate change as a serious public challenge, and admitting there is a positive role for government in creating equal opportunity, are both wildly provocative ideas among conservatives these days. But if Republicans suffer another couple of serious electoral beatings in the near future, then the balance of power in the GOP between those who keep finding reasons not to change (or reasons to become even more radical) and those sounding like Gerson and Wehner will inevitably shift just enough to make a real “struggle for the soul of the GOP” possible. Since it would be nice to have not just one but two major political parties trying to make government work for the public interest, it’s worth separating the constructive sheep from the nihilist goats in observing the talk on the Right. [Emphasis mine.]
We let the sequester happen, and Obama did it, right?
A really good look by Gerson and Wehner at what needs to change, and an equally good look by Ed Kilgore at why it won't happen. Where doe that leave the Republican Party? Just what are their policy ideas?

I'll warrant that they don't have any per se. "It's Obama's fault" isn't a policy idea in the slightest. Here's The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky pointing out the obvious about the sequester and the GOP's claims that it's "the president's sequester:"
The Republicans’ ace card is that they know, or they hope they know, they are not equally affected. Austere cuts will harm the economy, and the blame will fall on the president.
Normally yes. But the majority of the people are onto them. And it sure isn’t going to be looking very responsible to people, as the March 1 sequestration deadline approaches, for Republicans to be going before the cameras and saying that the cuts are unfortunate but necessary medicine, or whatever formulation they come up with. They’ve wanted these spending reductions for two years. It hardly matters much who invented the mechanism for the cuts. What matters, as the Republicans will find out, is that the people don’t want them.
...and will blame the Republicans for all the attendant grief, including layoffs, cancelled contracts, government-worker furloughs, and whatnot, including a likely tanking economy. How are those for policy ideas, Republicans?

Ronnie, come back, we need you.
Remesh Ponnuru worked his way into a New York Times op-ed yesterday in which he urges Republicans to abandon the details of Reagonomics and embrace the spirit instead. In this way, the fact that the Reagan years weren't much of a party for the middle class can be subsumed into the muck that is today's conservative vision. Says Jonathan Bernstein in review:
The problem with Republicans today on public policy isn’t that they’re stuck in the 1980s; it’s that they’ve given up entirely. More often than not, what passes for Republican “policy” is just symbolic, not substantive. Think, for example, about the big GOP rollout of the spring, a balanced budget amendment — which wouldn’t be much in terms of substantive policy even if it had a chance to pass, which it obviously doesn’t. Or think of their inability (still!) to come up with an alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Again, it’s not that Republican health policy is stuck in the 1980s; it’s that there is nothing that could really be called Republican health policy. Or, to move away from Ponnuru’s topics to national security, there’s the frenzy over Benghazi, Libya, that (as Kevin Drum points out) somehow never quite is about anything, or what seems to be purely symbolic attacks on Chuck Hagel.
The first step out of the policy wilderness for Republicans, then, is for them to decide that developing substantive public policy ideas is a good idea at all. If the way to do that is to attribute it to Ronald Reagan, well, if it works then there’s nothing wrong with it. I hope so; the nation could really use a political party that advances well thought out conservative policy options. There hasn’t been one of those in years.
Amen. If you feel the need read Ponnuru's article, do so. I did, and, uh, okay, sure, whatever. Here's a nugget to be savored from his wisdom:
When Reagan cut rates for everyone, the top tax rate was 70 percent and the income tax was the biggest tax most people paid. Now neither of those things is true: For most of the last decade the top rate has been 35 percent, and the payroll tax is larger than the income tax for most people. Yet Republicans have treated the income tax as the same impediment to economic growth and middle-class millstone that it was in Reagan’s day. House Republicans have repeatedly voted to bring the top rate down still further, to 25 percent.
A Republican Party attentive to today’s problems rather than yesterday’s would work to lighten the burden of the payroll tax, not just the income tax. An expanded child tax credit that offset the burden of both taxes would be the kind of broad-based middle-class tax relief that Reagan delivered. Republicans should make room for this idea in their budgets, even if it means giving up on the idea of a 25 percent top tax rate.
Just in case you didn't catch it, Ponnuru is recommending we honor the spirit of Ronald Reagan by stopping our attack on the income tax, already, because it's been done. It's over. Instead, Republicans should be "attentive to today's problems" by cutting the payroll tax. Good grief. That's how we pay for Social Security and Medicare, you know, the entitlements the Republicans claim they want to save by cutting benefits. If you also cut their funding, you'll have to double down on cutting benefits. That's a surefire way back into the hearts and minds of the middle class.

Oh, and it's a stab to the heart of their one last constituency: seniors! Well done, Ramesh, well done. The Los Angeles Times puts a cap on it:
It's hard to argue with the demographic dimensions of Obama's victory. He won in almost every category of voters except senior citizens and white men.
 Yep. Republicans, surrender your belts and shoelaces at the door. Your guns? Oh, never mind.

Republicans like guns? We still won't vote for 'em, dawg.

Update. Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post has jumped into the fray with her "RINOs need to take back the Republican Party." Fun stuff, watching them squirm.

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