Sunday, June 27, 2010

The GOP: The Triumph of "Just Saying No"

The Grand Old Party may have finally hit on a winning

By playing to growing concerns among voters of debt and
deficits, as well as Tea-Party-fueled resentment of expensive
and ineffective Government, the Republicans at one stroke
have managed to turn the tables on an embattled Obama
Administration and Democratic Congress.

By "Just Saying No" to extensions of unemployment insurance,
aid to the states, a Medicare "Doc Fix", and a variety of tax cuts
for small business, the GOP may finally have found its partisan
voice - a voice it was in danger of losing to the decentralized and
un-coordinated Tea Party movement.

And this was a very large win. For eight weeks, the Senate
Republicans forced the Democrats to negotiate with themselves
on the "price" of this aid package.

First, it started at $ 80 Billion - all funded by additional debt.
Then, it was $50 Billion - funded partly by new debt and partly
by unspent "stimulus" funds. Finally, it was $33 Billion - mostly
unemployment insurance, funded by a grab bag of tax increases,
spending cuts, stimulus money, and additional borrowing.

And very shrewdly, each time the Democrats made a concession,
the stronger the Republican opposition became. For, with this
"win" , the Republicans can sail into November pointing to two
signal accomplishments - they have drawn a line on additional
deficit spending, and they have highlighted the inability of
the Obama Administration and its Democratic majority in
Congress to deliver on relieving the genuine economic distress
of much of America.

And this message is going mostly unchallenged by the think
tanks, the "Liberal Media", and left-of-center thinkers generally.

Twenty or thirty years ago, this would have been unheard of.
Cut off the benefits of the unemployed? The "media" would have
been calling for demonstrations in the streets and widespread
civil disobedience. No aid to the states? The New York Times
and the Washington Post would have been up in arms about the
Nation's "Unmet Social Needs". And the "Doc Fix" and the other
programs? The beneficiaries of those programs are mostly in
Middle America - that great expanse between the coasts whose
inhabitants are viewed by both liberals and conservatives
with disdain and contempt.

What happened in the intervening time period? Three things.

First of all, the success of Bill Clinton and his embrace of
"Free Markets", "Trickle-Down Economics" and "Free Trade".
Compared with the utter failure of the last Democratic President
Jimmy Carter, the "New Realities" to Democrats became clear.
Market Economics had won the day. Deregulation of competition
and financial markets was the new watchword. A rising tide
would lift all boats - even the boats of the chronically
disadvantaged. Even the despised George Bush continued
in this same vein. While the Democrats rightly excoriated
him about plunging the nation into two unwinnable wars,
on economics the Democrats gave Bush a free pass;
the no-questions-asked bailouts of Wall Street, GM and
Chrysler passed with substantial Democratic support.

Second , there was the unusual ascent of Barack Obama to the
Presidency. He successfully defeated the all-but -crowned
Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton by casting himself as a
center-right, non-ideological alternative,thus winning
both the nomination and the Presidency not so much by the
overwhelming support of Blacks and Hispanics but by
convincing the non-ideological "center" that he was a
pragmatic, practical choice for difficult times.

Third, there was the increasing personal wealth of many
so-called liberals. Rising economic tides had brought many
obscure academics and writers to new levels of personal wealth.
Tenured left-of-center Economics professors began to earn
unheard-of sums for speaking engagements and consultancies
to Wall Street banks and hedge funds - in some cases, earning
more in one speech than their salaries from Academia. And then
there was the phenomenon of "liberal" lawmakers retiring from
politics to new careers as lobbyists for well-funded special interests.

Combine the new wealth with the well-documented cultural
contempt of many liberals for "the ordinary people" of "flyover
America", and the new paradigm of "socially liberal but fiscally
conservative" becomes completely understandable.

Put more bluntly, the sellout of liberalism by liberals for
personal gain was now complete.

And the Republicans changed also. Ditching the social and
religious conservatives as both ignorant and unreliable,
the GOP became unapologetically the party of Big Capital:
The Party of Wall Street and the hedge funds, The Party of
Big Pharma and Big Oil, The Party of Transnational
Corporations busy outsourcing and offshoring American
jobs, all in the name of "Free Markets" and "Capitalism".
And to their utter delight, they found that they had more
in common with their liberal colleagues than with other
Americans; how to get their kids into the "right" elite
schools, how to get in on the right hedge fund deal, how
to extract this private benefit or that from a compliant
government, how to make sure that their kids got a
scarce career-launching job or internship.

Bottom line: Their are only two classes of Americans
any more. The rich of both left and right, and the rest of us.

And in my opinion, that's not a recipe for continuing
social peace or order. Up until now, the American People
have been remarkably patient. Ten percent unemployment
is not pleasant, but we've always grown out of it before.

Not this time. In a year, unemployment will be 20% and rising,
the divide between rich and poor will be even greater, and the
first organized armed revolts since the Civil War may break out.

Mark Twain said History doesn't often repeat itself but that it
does rhyme. And the rhyme we would be repeating
would not be Philadelphia 1776, but Paris 1789.

These will be interesting times indeed.

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