Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

13 July 2011

Mitch’s Desperate Gambit

[For an update on Mitch’s candor on his loyalties, click here. For an upate on Palin’s rejection of Mitch’s desperate gambit, click here.]

As we watch the debt-default political theater, the GOP’s last clear electoral advantage is evaporating before our eyes.

The great wag Will Rogers once quipped: “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” Republicans have always been better organized and more monolithic in their thinking.

Why is that so? Because they represent the business ruling class. Their most consistent and highest priorities are the goals of bankers, CEOs and hedge-fund managers, who all want much the same things: lower taxes, less regulation, more freedom from government, and more ability to sequester outsized incomes from taxes and pubic scrutiny. Their last real crusader for economic reform was Teddy Roosevelt, who left office well over a century ago.

But the class of bankers, CEOs and financial gamblers is not big enough to enjoy honest and democratic political power. As individuals, they are too few. Somehow, they have to dupe or buy enough ordinary people (their natural enemies) to win elections.

This they managed to do in the 2010 midterms. Yet, as it turns out, that was a pyrrhic victory. Their crude and short-sighted attempt to build a “big tent” based on ever-more-outrageous lies, fear and hate is reaching its logical conclusion: disorder within the party’s own ranks.

The 2010 GOP victory had four pillars. In rough order of importance, they were: (1) bald lies, promulgated by the greatest propaganda machine in human history, Fox and its talk-radio counterparts; (2) an aging Southern Strategy based on racial and ethnic prejudice and “red-state” provincialism; (3) fear arising from economic uncertainty and the 9/11 attacks; and (4) the myth of GOP “competence”: that CEO types without social conscience are better than others at doing anything, including guiding our Republic, no matter how monomaniacal their ideas and how little their relevant experience.

All these pillars are now crumbling at once. Even Rupert Murdoch’s propaganda mill is under siege. On both sides of the Atlantic, the public now sees the evil old man for what he is: the wizened remains of eight-year-old boy who never stopped pulling the wings off flies, just to see how they would die.

Murdoch got rich enough to buy himself US citizenship, exemptions from US media-ownership rules, and a British knighthood. But now that his empire has started pulling the wings off deceased children and prime ministers, his fortunes have changed. The star of this would-be right-wing Stalin is descending rapidly, and with it the power of his media empire. Civilized people are just fed up with him.

There are many other reasons for the GOP’s decay, but one is absolutely predominant. In building a “coalition” based on lies, fear and hate, the Masters of Propaganda created a monster they cannot control.

Tea Party extremists have taken over the right wing of the party. Through the “strategies” of their intellectual “leaders”—college dropout Karl and C-grade actors Rush, Glenn, Sarah and now Michelle—that wing now so predominates that it has blown most moderates and independents away. Mitch and the three “Johns” (Boehner, Cornyn and Jon Kyl) are just that wing’s unthinking enforcers. Besides them, all that is left of the Grand Old Party is a desiccated husk of true believers, unreasoning, angry and uncontrollable.

The foreseeable consequences of allowing “Get your government hands off my Medicare!” morons to take control are now playing out before our eyes, against the background of a possible catastrophic default by Uncle Sam.

A few days ago, the GOP had a chance to make a reasonable compromise and reduce the federal debt by as much as 4 trillion dollars over ten years. Hit by an apparent sudden lightning bolt of Reason, John Boehner almost came around. But then he counted votes and the pitchforks of his rabble and recanted.

Lacking a majority in this own chamber, Mitch McConnell suggested a desperate ploy. He offered to give the President authority to raise the debt ceiling, but only with offsetting spending cuts in every case.

While that gambit might appease the GOP rabble temporarily, it will never become law, for three reasons. First of all, it’s probably unconstitutional. The very first two clauses enumerating the powers of Congress in Art. I, Section 8 of our Constitution include the powers to “pay the Debts . . . of the United States” and “borrow Money on the credit of the United States[.]” The Supreme Court won’t let Congress delegate its fundamental powers to the Executive. And no one—least of all either party—wants to punt that question to the Supreme Court while markets and the global economy implode.

Second, even if constitutional, this is an offer the President and his party can and should refuse. By putting the power to cut spending, but not to raise taxes, in the President’s hands, the GOP could insure an unfair allocation of pain at least until the 2012 elections. More important, it could blame the President for every cut and failure to cut. The proposal is a transparent attempt to abdicate constitutional power and arrogate blame to the President, solely for purposes of electoral advantage. It would turn Congress, or the GOP part of it, into an adjunct of Fox Propaganda, with no power to act but plenty of power to complain. The President is far too intelligent to bite that rotten apple.

Third and most important, the Tea Party monster would not accept Mitch’s desperate gambit in any case, and that monster rules the House. Given carte blanche to cut, the President might do what many Democrats (including this one) would urge him to do: cut selectively every benefit, special project and earmark in every red state. In so doing, the President could both wreak revenge on his no-hold-barred opponents and give the rabble some experiential learning in the benefits of government. The Tea Mob will fear this possible revenge and run from it like the plague.

Mitch’s gambit is the sort of thoughtless gesture that could only come from a man who, with days to prepare, found himself caught flat-footed in a PBS interview, forgetting that both Reagan and Clinton, whose mantles he tried to claim, had raised taxes. A fool makes a fool’s proposals.

So what now? Are we back to square one? Not exactly. We’re back to where we were before Eric Cantor walked out of Joe Biden’s negotiations last week. We’re back to arguing over spending cuts to reduce the debt by $ 2 to $ 2.4 trillion (barely more than half the interest on the national debt), with no tax loophole closures or tax-rate increases. Thus the GOP which (contrary to the nearly unanimous opinion of economists) sees debt as an existential threat, will kick the can down the road to the 2012 election.

But for political purposes, the most vital thing is the overwhelming stench of decay arising from Republican quarters.

By these various acts of political theater, the GOP has shown four things beyond cavil. First, it is no longer the only organized political party; it has put itself at the mercy of a faction of extremists. Second, it is in no position to bargain seriously about anything because it cannot control its own members. Third, it has shown itself a party of hypocrites, by demagoguing the deficits and debt so relentlessly and then settling for a “solution” that doesn’t even dent the interest on the national debt. Finally, it will have demonstrated in the starkest possible way its greatest and most overriding priority: preserving the tax loopholes and low tax rates of the richest among us.

Anyone who thinks this is a recipe for GOP success in 2012 is not thinking clearly. Part of this theater is no doubt a creature of the President’s clever political positioning. But most is simply the consequence of a once great party building the foundation for its future on the shifting sands of lies, fear, and hate. The chickens are indeed coming home to roost, not just for Murdoch, but for all demagogues.

Where Mitch McConnell’s Loyalties Lie

Is Mitch McConnell coming apart at the seams under the pressure of an impending political defeat? Or is he simply revealing at last how uncaring about our country he really is?

You judge. Following is a direct quote from Mitch, as reported by the New York Times today in connection with efforts to resolve the default crisis:
“[After a default, the President] will say Republicans are making the economy worse[.] . . . It is an argument that he could have a good chance of winning, and all of the sudden we have co-ownership of the economy. That is a very bad position going into the election.”

So Mitch is worried about the effect of a default on his party. And he’s equally worried that voters might assign “co-ownership” of our bad economy to the party whose misguided ideology for thirty years caused it and whose last president bequeathed Obama the Crash of 2008. Mitch didn’t even mention the American people, the full faith and credit of the United States, the millions of savers and investors who would be hurt by inflation and higher interest rates, and the millions of troops, seniors and disabled people who would stop receiving their checks a short time after any default.

Just after the President’s election, Mitch said that limiting the President to one term would be his first priority. Now it’s beginning to look like the only one.

How many times does he have to say that before ordinary people get the message that this man is not on their side? He doesn’t care about jobs or our infrastructure. All he cares about is his party winning, so it can preserve low tax rates and tax loopholes for the rich. And he’s willing to let our American credit go down the tubes and millions suffer in pursuit of that overriding priority. As GOP pundit David Brooks wrote recently, Mitch’s perverse priorities make him and his followers “not fit to govern.”

Anyway, save this quotation and the link. It’s sure to be a staple in partisan politics for the next eighteen months. Expect Mitch to try to wiggle out of its obvious meaning in a myriad of ways, each slimier and less plausible than the last.

UPDATE: 7/14/11: It’s nice to have your analysis confirmed in less than 24 hours. According to the Wall Street Journal, Sarah Palin has rejected Mitch’s gambit out of hand. The unelected, self-appointed and uneducated spokeswoman for the Tea Party had this to say about it: “This plan of McConnell’s, I think, makes no sense because it does cede power to our president.”

So it looks as if Mitch’s gambit is dead on arrival, in his own party no less. (Recall that the GOP’s Tea Party faction controls the House, which is the chamber leading the charge toward national oblivion.) And that’s not even considering the plan’s likely unconstitutionality and reasonable Democratic objections to it, outlined above.

The possibility of default is moving ever closer. The primary reason is Grover Norquist and his “pledge,” which so many elected GOP representatives have signed, never to raise taxes and (according to the extremist guru’s own interpretation) never even to reduce tax breaks or subsidies for the likes of oil companies swimming in profit, rich farmers paid not to grow, and hedge-fund managers.

Norquist is an easy man to hate, especially for youth. Isn’t it about time that Democrats started reminding voters (every day!) of his entirely negative role in debt negotiations? And isn’t it time at least to raise the question whether a man who “pledges” legislators to a course of action that contradicts their oath to uphold the Constitution and our “general welfare” is committing treason?

At long last, the President began to show some anger and impatience at fruitless negotiations today. The GOP has no idea what our leader is capable of, and how subtle and smart he can be. Let the President go to the people as he promised and threatened, and let the hardball begin!

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