The very nerve of a partisan Democrat like myself talking about what types of problems the Republican Party has. But yes it needs to be talked about in a serious way, as those problems will have a big impact on the country in the next two years. Two new columns from opposite sides of the political spectrum lay out some issues that Republicans just cannot seem to solve. Many have recognized the problems, and I have made the prediction of a dive off the fiscal cliff based on the very issues highlighted by Paul Krugman on the left, and Peggy Noonan on the right. Let us start with Krugman.
Krugman is a man that Republicans love to hate. George Will and Mary Matalin openly loath him when he is a panelist on “This Week” on ABC. But Krugman brings that no room to move truth to discussions, and that makes members of both parties squirm. (Trust me he is not a favorite of the Obama financial folks). His latest column brings some more of that hard edged truth to the table in discussing the Republicans. Krugman uses the current fiscal cliff talks to highlight the Republican quandary.
Before I talk about that reality, a word about the current state of budget “negotiations.”
Why the scare quotes? Because these aren’t normal negotiations in which each side presents specific proposals, and horse-trading proceeds until the two sides converge. By all accounts, Republicans have, so far, offered almost no specifics. They claim that they’re willing to raise $800 billion in revenue by closing loopholes, but they refuse to specify which loopholes they would close; they are demanding large cuts in spending, but the specific cuts they have been willing to lay out wouldn’t come close to delivering the savings they demand.
It’s a very peculiar situation. In effect, Republicans are saying to President Obama, “Come up with something that will make us happy.” He is, understandably, not willing to play that game. And so the talks are stuck.
Funny thing is that by all accounts Krugman is right on this point. Republicans have offered a couple of ideas on “entitlement savings” that do not come anywhere near providing the budgetary savings they claim to want to achieve. (Such as changing the COLA index for Social Security, and increasing the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67.) They are indicating that they are fine with raising $800 billion in revenue, but insist that it be done through the “closing of loopholes”. Which loopholes? Don’t ask them that. I guess they want the President to decide. What specific Medicare cuts beyond raising the age are they advocating? They will get back to us on that. Beyond the simple mantra of cutting taxes what do they have to offer? While Krugman and Noonan come at that question from slightly different viewpoints I think it is fair to say that both agree that the Republican idea machine is empty. Krugman is more direct, but I think both hold out the prospect of the Republicans going the way of the Whigs.
My Republican friends out there they are likely to point to the two speeches given by Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio, which after a bit of positive Republican response have essentially sunk like lead weights. I was struck by the total dearth of anything new, except for the point made by both that re-packaging the old, and explaining to folks why they should embrace the old, is the best way forward for Republicans. I mean these guys are really stuck in a tight ideological box which must ultimately asphyxiate them. Noonan on the Paul Ryan speech at the Kemp Institute:
Rep. Ryan’s speech was OK but insufficient. He didn’t say anything terrible but he didn’t stake out new ground or take chances. Actually, the part where he said Mitt Romney made “a big election about big ideas and offering serious solutions to serious problems” was slightly terrible because it isn’t in a general way true, and it forestalls analysis that might actually be helpful in the long term. Mr. Ryan got points for loyalty but no one doubts he’s loyal, and it undercut his central message, which is that the Republican Party needs “new thinking,” “fresh ideas and serious leadership,” and must find “new ways to apply our timeless principles to the challenges of today.”
Well, yes, that’s true. But what thinking do you suggest? In what area? Which fresh ideas? Do you have one?
The thrust of Mr. Ryan’s remarks seemed to suggest the party has to show its economic stands are aligned with the views of the working and middle classes. Fine. But how, exactly? What changes should be made, not just to message but content?
Noonan of course has it right. What these folks are saying is we tried to serve dinner to the American people, but they didn’t like the meal. So our plan is to bring the same dinner out, but maybe sprinkle a little salt on it. Either that or we just serve the same dinner, but call it something else. That formula is not likely to work for the Republicans, and will make them a regional party at best in the years to come.
So where are the ideas? The Republicans, in my view, are constrained from ideological deviation by their donor class, who just cannot accept the types of changes that might result in some electoral gain. Noonan broaches two ideas in her column that would bring howls of outrage from the donor base.
If conservatives are going to appeal to the nonrich, perhaps we want to be talking about—I don’t know, let’s float an idea—breaking up the banks? Too big to fail is too big to live, didn’t we learn that in 2008? Why aren’t we debating this? How about doing away with the carried interest deduction? Would billionaire hedge-fund contributors not like that? Isn’t that just kind of . . . too bad?
Too bad for hedge fund billionaires???? That is heresy in Republican circles. But Noonan, (and Krugman) both understand the death spiral that the GOP appears to be in because of the tight fitting ideological straight jacket. The Republicans need to change to win national elections. But can they do so without rupturing the Party itself? I make them a decided underdog.