Thursday, October 3, 2013

Another Run at What's Wrong With the GOP

Ed Kilgore has been fighting a running battle with those, myself mostly included, who talk about "post-policy" Republicans. He has an excellent post today making his case.

I should clarify what I think, because this is important stuff.

I do think that Republicans have become "post-policy" in the sense that they have largely given up on attempting to construct real public policy solutions. That fits with, for example, the record of the GOP House in rarely actually passing bills. I haven't used the "nihilist" part of that...I don't disagree with Kilgore that hard-core conservatives do have preferences, or at least impulses, on some policy areas.

Sometimes that's real: abortion, for example, is something that a lot of Republicans really do care about. Lower taxes for wealthy people, too, is a clear line that they care about.

But on lots of other issue areas, it's a lot harder to tell. Lower taxes overall? Conservatives absolutely did not accept Obama-era tax reductions. Cuts to Medicare? We know all about the back-and-forth they've had on ACA Medicare cuts. "Obamacare" itself? Well, you know my position on that: they sure do hate Obamacare, but they're not particularly against the Affordable Care Act.

But basically, for most movement conservatives on most policy questions, the concern is far more symbolic than it is substantive.

Now, that's clearly not true for all conservatives and for all Republican-aligned groups on all issues. Neocons really do care about invading lots of other nations and torturing prisoners certain foreign policy priorities. Wall Street really does care about financial sector regulations. Energy companies have some very tangible preferences.

But stuff like the Obamacare crusade sure seem far more symbolic than substantive to me. So does climate denialism, and so does much of the deficit, and even size of government, rhetoric. To me, the overall evidence, found in sudden swings in party positions on various issues over the years, is overwhelming.


  1. Even if what you say is true, the symbolic crusades still have a lot of very non-trivial substantive damage. Not only in the United States but across the world. If these symbolic crusades caused less misery and pain we could be relaxed about them. The problem is the don't, they cause very real suffering. The GOP seems poised to ruin the world's economy in order to make a symbolic gesture. Thats really cartoonish, its literally something that a Silver Age comic book villain would do.


  2. Even if what you say is true, the symbolic crusades still have a lot of very non-trivial substantive damage. Not only in the United States but across the world. If these symbolic crusades caused less misery and pain we could be relaxed about them. The problem is the don't, they cause very real suffering. The GOP seems poised to ruin the world's economy in order to make a symbolic gesture. Thats really cartoonish, its literally something that a Silver Age comic book villain would do.

  3. So are those politicians who place style ahead of substance functioning as effective representatives? If aimless, symbolic thrashing against Obama is what the hardcore constituents want, and if it's what many of the party actors want (think tanks, partisan media, campaign professionals - basically anyone who makes money off of older white men being angry about something), then aren't they faithfully advancing party goals, in some sense, even if those goals aren't policy-based?

    1. And here's a good example of what I'm getting at:

      Erickson, Redstate, and the whole Eagle empire are all party actors, in one or another sense. The "policy" they want is a state of affairs where there are villains they can use to scare and animate their customers. Sometimes its Dems, sometimes squishy Republicans, sometimes the "media". And Cruz and the most rabid of the House GOP are helping to realize this "policy" preference with their shutdown antics.

      I don't know if it necessarily follows that the GOP is dysfunctional, in the sense sometimes talked about where internal party dynamics are preventing elected officials from striving for the policy goals of party-aligned interest groups. Perhaps they are pursuing exactly what one set of interest groups wants and have been successful in obtaining it.

  4. I love Mr. Kilgore's blog, but his bullet list of Republican priorities is weak sauce. "Entitlement reform" and "non-defense spending cuts" -- the GOP will never put out an actual plan for these things. They'll always talk about it in general, and blame the other side for NOT doing it, but they will never, ever do it themselves. Even if the Ryan plan was passed, it could never be implemented. Eventually, somebody has to ID what gets cut, and nobody will.

    Other than straight repeals (Obamacare and Dodd-Frank), they have abortion and they have Keystone.

  5. Jonathan, Have you seen Larison on the topic of dysfunction:

    I've been thinking about this a bit, too, and was surprised to see Larison echoing my thoughts.

    I think this also applies to the shutdown; the mentality that government is bad means it's okay to shut it down; and its bad because 1) Republicans failed at it, and failed miserably, and 2) it's obvious to them that Democrats couldn't do a better job.

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  7. I have to disagree with you here, Jonathan. I think Republicans really want to be more than symbolic on some of these issues.

    I think "entitlement" (hate that that word has become the default in our discourse. It presumes conservatives are correct to view these things as "entitlements" and the people who receive them as "entitled") reform in particular *seems* like an issue where Republicans are being symbolic. But I think they really *want* to do something substantive. Unfortunately, they can't do anything substantive without pissing off their base.

    Look, the ideological rationale sounds good - "I should earn what I keep and keep what I earn" - but the practical results would be very bad.

    Many of the people who make up the Republican base (yea, most of the country) really enjoy the earned benefits they receive in the form of Social Security checks and Medicare payments. So Republicans find themselves in the awkward position of proposing policies that would dramatically reduce the amount of benefits people receive, which would be unpopular, based on ideologies that have a lot of rational appeal.

    It's a constant exercise in cognitive dissonance.

    1. If I am entitled to something, you cannot take it away from me.

      Social Security should be considered an entitlement. People pay into the system and receive what they are due.

      What's wrong is the attitude that people shouldn't feel entitled to things, like Social Security and other government benefits, that are enacted to make our society more secure and a better place to live.

    2. For sure, that's what the word actually means. So I would agree with you.

      But to clarify my point, I just think when most people hear the word "entitled" they hear "spoiled brat" or some other negative connotation. So I think the right is winning the messaging war with this.

      I have absolutely no evidence to warrant this, but my hunch is that "entitlements" would poll much worse than "earned benefits", even though they are the same thing. It'd be interesting to find out.

  8. "post-policy" is a very polite way of putting it, and from my perspective I agree with the substance of your argument, although I also agree with much of Lee Ratner's post above.

    The proof it seems to me is in the policy they now violently oppose which originated as a conservative policy to deal with for instance health insurance and the climate crisis.

    The next question is why, and there we probably getting into social psychology, if we had any.

    But in terms of political psychology, a lot of the Obama Derangement Syndrome is very similar to Republican behavior during FDR, even after war was declared. The 24hour twitter cycle inflates everything so it is probably worse day to day now, but I only have read about the 30s and 40s. But as you say, the reflex to oppose anything Obama and the Dems are for has more than ever led them into the land of cognitive dissonance, or serial hypocrisy, mendacity and now madness.

    1. Conservatives had the same reaction to Clinton, also from the very first months of his first term.

    2. They'll tell you that that it is, and was a rational and measured response to a hostile government of occupation.

      We're having a very quiet civil war, an ongoing crisis of legtitmacy, and have been doing so for a good two decades.

      The country is as divided and as dysfunctional as Belgium but nobody notices, because we all speak English, more or less.

  9. The only airtight affirmative defense against a charge of libel is the truth of the assertion.

  10. Anonymous 12:07- The statement was not false and I think its naive to say that it didn't happen. Although I think a more apt statement would be, "Neocons really do care about foreign policy as it pertains to acquiring the resources and subjugation of other nations through imperialistic and immoral methods to the end of American dominance."

  11. The Koch Brothers fund ALEC. ALEC writes legislation and sends it in with their donation money. Does ALEC pursue policies? Oh yes. Primarily EPA deregulation.

    As an industry, the financial sector donates the largest amount of money to the GOP. Does the financial sector pursue policies? Oh yes.

    As a politician, Mitch McConnell is pursuing a court case to attempt to remove ANY campaign finance restrictions. That would favor big-money donors. Does that tell us who McConnell's constituency is? Of course.

    The GOP is hardly post-policy. Their policies are unhealthy for the majority of Americans, but the party does pursue policies.

    The Tea Party is another matter. The only common thread through all the TP organizations is a at heart an anti-government agenda. It's not a philosophy of government, it's a demand for less government. In that sense, the TP and the mainstream GOP are at odds. They are absolutely not on the same page.

    So our current bit of political theater is the mainstream GOP squashing the Tea Party. Expose the nuts, disown them, neuter them - then get back to business without having to worry about them anymore.

    It's easy for outsiders like us to confuse the two, but the GOP and the Tea Party are not one and the same.


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