“Send in the Clueless” is the headline from the op-ed by Paul Krugman in today’s New York Times. I borrowed it for this post because it’s just so perfect. Krugman, as usual, is exactly right. He says it so much better than I did in my post on the state of the Republican field.
Think about what it takes to be a viable Republican candidate today. You have to denounce Big Government and high taxes without alienating the older voters who were the key to G.O.P. victories last year — and who, even as they declare their hatred of government, will balk at any hint of cuts to Social Security and Medicare (death panels!).
And you also have to denounce President Obama, who enacted a Republican-designed health reform and killed Osama bin Laden, as a radical socialist who is undermining American security.
So what kind of politician can meet these basic G.O.P. requirements? There are only two ways to make the cut: to be totally cynical or to be totally clueless.
I think Krugman is right on when he says:
The Washington Post quotes an unnamed Republican adviser who compared what happened to Mr. Cain, when he suddenly found himself leading in the polls, to the proverbial tale of the dog who had better not catch that car he’s chasing. “Something great and awful happened, the dog caught the car. And of course, dogs don’t know how to drive cars. So he had no idea what to do with it.”
The same metaphor, it seems to me, might apply to the G.O.P. pursuit of the White House next year. If the dog actually catches the car — the actual job of running the U.S.government — it will have no idea what to do, because the realities of government in the 21st century bear no resemblance to the mythology all ambitious Republican politicians must pretend to believe. And what will happen then?
That’s the right question. What, exactly, will happen if the Republicans win the White House next year? They will actually have to govern if they are elected. (Which, by the way, I think would be an unmitigated disaster.)
They’ve said exactly nothing about how they plan to do that. They just talk about how bad the government is, how it must be cut, that we have to cut taxes and regulation, and somehow – magically – prosperity will return to the United States.
Wishing doesn’t make it so. Cutting the government – and putting more people of work as a result, incidentally – will not make it so. It will hurt more than it helps. Real interest rates on the debt are negative. The government should be taking advantage of this opportunity and spending more in the short term while taking a long term view on deficits, which do need to be dealt with.
Government is not the root of all evil in America, as the Republicans would have us believe. There are many, many things it can do better, but there is a place for government in our lives. The government should be the one to pay for and run prisons, or build and maintain roads, or run schools, or myriad other things. We can’t simply starve the beast and hope everything gets better. And the Republicans either don’t realize this or are so cynical that they don’t care. I don’t really know which is worse.