Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Atlantic Piles On

The Atlantic piles on to David Brooks' column questioning the sanity and strategy of the modern GOP
[T]he Republican Party has failed to persuade the American people that the small government vision it claims to favor is the right way forward. The failure spans many decades. In fact, almost every pathology on the right is explained partly by the refusal to acknowledge this, and thus the inability to either find a remedy or to adopt an alternative vision of conservatism.

How did it come to this?

Here are three reasons among many:

1) Starve the Beast. In the 1970s, the Republican mainstream became convinced that by starving the government of revenue, it would force spending reductions, resulting in a smaller federal government. "The only effective way to restrain government spending," Milton Friedman wrote in a 1978 issue of Newsweek, "is by limiting government's explicit tax revenue -- just as a limited income is the only effective restraint on any individual's or family's spending." The short story: the strategy failed, deficits skyrocketed, and despite decades of empirical confirmation, the right has yet to accept that "starve the beast" doesn't work. But in hindsight it's easy to see why. Had taxes increased every time the federal government got bigger, voters would have resisted its growth sooner. But the Republicans were complicit in a strategy that made bigger government appear much cheaper than was in fact the case.

2) The deficit has seldom been priority one on the right. Ronald Reagan was willing to run it up to outspend the Soviet Union and otherwise get his way on national security policy. George H.W. Bush angered many in the GOP when he broke his "no new taxes" pledge to avoid increasing the deficit. George W. Bush cut taxes, launched expensive wars of choice, and passed a huge increase in entitlement spending simultaneously, and no grassroots protest movement arose to object. Even now, as the tea party movement demands that spending be cut radically, it is represented by a Congress composed partly of Republicans who dinged Obama for cutting Medicare. And many Republicans are insisting that it's vital for us to increase defense spending, wage a war of choice against Libya, keep our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for even longer than president Obama wants, and to cut marginal tax rates at the same time.

3) Rather than participating in public discourse, whether in the media, academia, or entertainment, the right reacted to its sometimes unfair treatment in those realms by ceding them to the left and creating their own alternative institutions. On the whole, these endeavors have been great at generating revenue for their owners. Unfortunately, they've contributed to slovenly thought on the right by encouraging its intellectuals to "preach to the choir." The incentive system at work just doesn't reward making converts nearly so much as firing up the base.
McCardle said it best
The political logic is infantile. The American public does not want you to cut Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security. There is no monopartisan substitute for persuading people to agree with you.

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