The Increasingly Radical GOP

Quite a few people have been talking and writing about the Republican Party and how right-wing radical they’re becoming these days.  I’ll add one more voice to the clamor because the GOP is way, way over the top these days.

Deval Patrick, Democratic governor of Massachusetts, has an eye-opening op-ed in today’s Washington Post.

At our 25th college reunion in 2003, Grover Norquist — the brain and able spokesman for the radical right — and I, along with other classmates who had been in public or political life, participated in a lively panel discussion about politics. During his presentation, Norquist explained why he believed that there would be a permanent Republican majority in America.

One person interrupted, as I recall, and said, “C’mon, Grover, surely one day a Democrat will win the White House.”

Norquist immediately replied: “We will make it so that a Democrat cannot govern as a Democrat.”

Patrick goes on to explain how they’ve done that.  Obama, to me, looks somewhere comparable to Ronald Reagan on the political spectrum.  That’s not really a bad thing, because I think the American electorate really is center to center-right.  It’s a measure of how successful the tea-partiers have been in framing the debate in this country.  Politically, it’s been a great success for them.  So far.

The problem isn’t that they’re trying to move the nation politically from a center to center-right ideology, they’re trying to move it far, far to the right of that, into wing nut territory.  And the GOP is being incredibly irresponsible in doing so.  By steadfastly sticking to their guns on no new taxes in the deficit reduction “negotiations”, they’re quite disciplined in staying on message and not giving at all; but they’re simply not negotiating or governing in good faith.

This spring, in an effort to reduce the deficit, a Democratic president proposed to cut $2 trillion in spending, much of it from domestic programs Democrats have long championed. Last week, Republican leaders withdrew from talks with the vice president on a bipartisan plan to reduce the deficit because, as another part of the solution and like every bipartisan budget deal for decades, the president proposed to raise revenue. Specifically, he proposed to raise $1 in new revenue (through closing loopholes or ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans) for every $2 in spending cuts. In response to that modest proposal, Republican leaders walked out.

It is now clear that the Republican strategy is to drive America to the brink of fiscal ruin and then argue that the only way out is to cut spending for the powerless. Taxes — a dirty word thanks to Norquist’s “no new taxes” gimmick — are made to seem beyond the pale, even as the burden of paying for our society shifts disproportionately to the middle class and working poor. It is the height of fiscal folly. It is also not who we are as a country.

For nearly a decade, our federal government paid for two wars and a costly prescription drug benefit with borrowed money. Our government paid for the Bush tax cuts with borrowed money. Now, after exhausting the budget surplus left by the Clinton administration, the only spending Republicans are willing to discuss cutting is spending that helps the poor and vulnerable — meaning anything that does not touch the interests of large corporations and the very rich. Last December, Republican hard-liners held hostage benefits for people out of work in exchange for an agreement to extend the Bush tax cuts for those who make a million dollars or more a year. Last month, many of the same lawmakers rallied to protect special tax benefits for oil companies that have made record profits on high gas prices.

Meanwhile, some mom-and-pop stores and college students pay more in taxes than some of our largest corporations. Still, taxes are sin to the hard-liners, though they have difficulty demonstrating a correlation over the past decade between tax cuts and economic growth.

Everyone knows that we have to reduce the deficit. Everyone also knows that reducing government spending and addressing revenue shortfalls have to be a part of the plan. This isn’t partisan; it’s pragmatic. Some might even call it conservative. But Norquist and the rest of the radical right have so hypnotized the Republican leadership that they can’t come out and say it. For them, maintaining their rhetoric about spending cuts is more important than preserving the civic investments that make America stand out from the rest of the world.

That political calculus has consequences for the rest of us.

If the deficit is reduced by spending cuts alone and there is no deal to raise the debt ceiling, here’s a sampling of what happens: We stop paying our soldiers or supporting our veterans. We stop feeding the neediest children and families. We stop providing nursing-home care to seniors. We stop inoculating schoolchildren. We stop helping young people go to college. The unemployed are on their own. Roads and bridges continue to crumble. And we jeopardize the creditworthiness of our economy at one of the most fragile moments in history. All to protect the marginal benefits of the most fortunate and the political purity of the radical right.

Patrick’s assessment is dead on.  We are forgetting who we are in this country.  The Republicans want to shift more and more of the burden to those who are least able to afford it.  And with the brinksmanship over the debt ceiling (read Ezra Klein’s post or Paul Krugman’s column this morning on what will happen if the debt ceiling isn’t raised), they’re going to torpedo the economy at the same time.  Some Democrats are finally telling some truths.

“Are Republicans opposing yet another measure they once supported simply because that measure might be good for the economy?” Schumer asked, also citing GOP opposition to recent measures like a payroll tax cut and to small business development programs.

Pressed by a reporter on whether he really believes the GOP wants to destroy the economy on purpose, Schumer went further than ever before and took this out of the realm of the hypothetical.

“It’s a thought you don’t want to believe,” Schumer said, “but every day they keep giving us more and more evidence that there’s no choice but to answer Yes.”

It’s pretty obvious that this is what the Republicans are doing.  They think that a poor economy will help them in the elections next year.  They’ve forgotten — or don’t care, which is worse —  that they have a responsibility to actually govern this nation as they play their Machiavellian games.

When are people going to stand up and raise hell?  When is Obama going to stand up and raise hell about this?  He started to this week with his press conference, but he really needs to keep that message up and really say it loudly.  He has the “bully pulpit”.  It’s time to use it like he never has before.  Too much is at stake for him to hang back.

We have both a spending and a revenue problem.  Spending is too much, but we’ve also fought two wars while cutting taxes.  In what sane country does that ever happen?  So both sides need to give, but the Republicans are sticking to their guns, taking us all down with them.

Some taxes are necessary.  How do we pay for putting out fires?  Policing the streets?  Fighting the wars?  Helping those who can’t help themselves?  Personable responsibility is important, but so is caring for the downtrodden.  The Republicans are irresponsible saying otherwise.  The rich don’t need more tax breaks on corporate jets.  We have individual taxpayers paying more in taxes than some major corporations do.  How does that even remotely make sense?

We need to be sensible about this.  I see the Democrats trying and trying and trying ad nauseam, but the Republicans won’t even meet them 30% of the way.  We’re in an extremely fragile state in this country.  And the Republicans want to make it worse so they can gain power.  How else should we read their actions?

  1. Alan said:

    In any other time Grover Norquist, and the tea partiers would be called anarchists. We call them republicans.

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