Saturday, February 1, 2014

When Horrible Policy Meets the Real World

I came across this blog post at Washington Monthly's Political Animal, ably fronted by Ed Kilgore (Correction: Oops, this post was written by Kathleen Geier). It demonstrates, as a singular object lesson, how bad policy -- or, through obstructionism, no policy at all -- can be bad for all sides of an argument:
The Financial Times reports that, according to estimates, fourth quarter sales and profits were down for Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer. Previously, Walmart had announced that sales were expected to be flat, but now it’s saying sales are likely to be “slightly negative.” Official results are due out on Feb. 20.
What’s especially interesting is that Walmart is citing food stamp cuts as one reason for declining sales. Fully 20 percent of Walmart’s customers use food stamps. [boldface mine.]
...I’m particularly struck by the example this provides of the wages of austerity economics. The government induces cutbacks, people have less money in their pockets, businesses suffer. The next step is that those same businesses start laying off people. Then the G.O.P. geniuses start telling us “It’s time to tighten our belts,” and it’s lather, rinse, repeat.
I maintain, as do others who have watched the GOP-controlled House and the GOP-led filibusters in the Senate during the Obama years, that Republican obstruction has amounted to an "oppose Obama at all costs" kind of policy program. The Republicans know it's very bad for Americans because it does damage across all classes, but that's okay if, in the end, Obama's legacy is dimmed.

This strategy has deeply damaged the Republican brand, but that's a price they're willing to pay, most especially because preserving their national brand isn't always the focus of their efforts. Winning state and local control in the red states that are white and afraid of the ascendency of the black and brown is victory enough. They'll fix their national problem, they believe, over time.

A problem over which the GOP leadership has little control is that once they unleashed the hounds of the radical right -- often referred to as the tea party -- it's hard to get them back in their kennels. The leadership is hoping to ride it out.

The other, not-that-much-below-the-radar intent is to damage the economy enough that budgets have to be cut, then target safety net programs from the New Deal and Great Society, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and, now, Obamacare. It's what Republicans live for. It's their long game.

It's a weird gamble, but there's little doubt that helping Americans is not what rocks their world. What gets Republicans excited is that they're winning the fundraising battle, especially in the shadowy world post-Citizens United. Who cares what happens to Americans if the Koch Brothers and Karl Rove can get you re-elected to Congress?

It's depressing, but it's also why progressives have to own their beliefs and fight to the last ditch.

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