Friday, December 8, 2017

Hip to Hip

Urban Bush Women Hip to Hip, via University of Florida Performing Arts/

David F. Brooks ("The G.O.P. is Rotting") really seems to have got out of the wrong side of the bed. He doesn't even have anything good to say about his own people, the humble folk who occupy the middle, like ideological magpies looking for sparkly ideas to decorate their nests!

A lot of good, honorable Republicans used to believe there was a safe middle ground. You didn’t have to tie yourself hip to hip with Donald Trump, but you didn’t have to go all the way to the other extreme and commit political suicide like the dissident Jeff Flake, either. You could sort of float along in the middle, and keep your head down until this whole Trump thing passed.
Wait, when were those good old days when the good and the honorable thought there was a middle ground between Trump and suicide? The announcement of Flake's political suicide was on October 24! He's talking about a month ago!

I should also mention that if you're tying yourself to somebody hip to hip is the wrong way to go. That knot's going to slip something terrible (see illustration above).

Now it’s clear that middle ground doesn’t exist. That’s because Donald Trump never stops asking. First, he asked the party to swallow the idea of a narcissistic sexual harasser and a routine liar as its party leader. Then he asked the party to accept his comprehensive ignorance and his politics of racial division. Now he asks the party to give up its reputation for fiscal conservatism. At the same time he asks the party to become the party of Roy Moore, the party of bigotry, alleged sexual harassment and child assault.
There is no end to what Trump will ask of his party. He is defined by shamelessness, and so there is no bottom. And apparently there is no end to what regular Republicans are willing to give him. Trump may soon ask them to accept his firing of Robert Mueller, and yes, after some sighing, they will accept that, too.
That’s the way these corrupt bargains always work. You think you’re only giving your tormentor a little piece of yourself, but he keeps asking and asking, and before long he owns your entire soul.
Now, now, David, remember, "it’s right to be disgusted, and it feels good to be contemptuous. But contempt only breeds contempt...." This looks like familiar ground, in spite of Brooks's uncharacteristic bad temper, though. We can point out that Mitt Romney as presidential candidate was a really extraordinary routine liar (he'd lie without blinking about what he had for breakfast), or that's how it seemed in the pre-Trump era. Anybody who thinks Ronald Reagan wasn't running a "politics of racial division" has forgotten an awful lot, from that first Neshoba County states' rights speech through all the welfare queens and "strapping bucks". Reagan also threw out that Republican brand of "fiscal conservatism" when he "proved deficits don't matter", and Dick Cheney (the author of that phrase) made sure it was dead by banging it on the head with a shovel. "Comprehensive ignorance" would have been a terrific description of George W. Bush before Trump added an unexpected bottom to the scale, as Matt Taibbi reminded us in March 2016:
People forget what an extraordinary thing it was that Bush was president. Dubya wasn't merely ignorant when compared with other politicians or other famous people. No, he would have stood out as dumb in just about any setting.
listened to by the group every single time. He knew absolutely nothing about anything. He wouldn't have been able to make fire, find water, build shelter or raise morale. It would have taken him days to get over the shock of no room service.
Bush went to the best schools but was totally ignorant of history, philosophy, science, geography, languages and the arts. Asked by a child in South Carolina in 1999 what his favorite book had been growing up, Bush replied, “I can’t remember any specific books.”
Bush showed no interest in learning and angrily rejected the idea that a president ought to be able to think his way through problems. As Mark Crispin Miller wrote in The Bush DyslexiconBush's main rhetorical tool was the tautology — i.e., saying the same thing, only twice.
The only thing Brooks cites that's really new to the party's brand in the Trump era is the sexual harassment and assault, which really is something Reagan or George W. Bush would likely have regarded as in poor taste at best; but that's the odd thing about this column, Brooks wants to write about the tax bill:

Liberals now associate supply-side economics with the Laffer Curve, but that was peripheral. Supply-side was based on Say’s Law, that supply creates its own demand. It was based on the idea that if you rearrange incentives for small entrepreneurs you are more likely to get start-ups and more innovation. Those cuts were embraced by Nobel Prize winners and represented an entire social vision, favoring the dispersed entrepreneurs over the concentrated corporate fat cats.
Today’s tax cuts have no bipartisan support. They have no intellectual grounding, no body of supporting evidence. They do not respond to the central crisis of our time. They have no vision of the common good, except that Republican donors should get more money and Democratic donors should have less.
I have no idea how Brooks thinks that the McConnell-Ryan tax proposals have less intellectual or empirical grounding than the Reagan-era Kemp-Roth cut of 1981. It's more or less the same.

They start out with Say's Law, the discovery of the 18th-century French political economist Jean-Baptiste Say, who held that aggregate production necessarily creates an equal amount of aggregate demand, so you can never have the situation of a general glut, or excess of unsaleable supply. Since this is known to be false (little thing called the Great Depression) you could have stopped reading there, but Reaganomics as envisaged by David Stockman applied it anyway, to the hypothesis that the way to ensure permanent prosperity was to give extra money (through tax breaks) to wealthy people, which they would invest in producing more stuff, which people would demand to own, and Trumponomics, which Ryan and colleagues have been pushing since long before Trump's name got associated with hit, has proceeded the same way.

Then, people start panicking over the fiscal deficits created when you make radical cuts in taxes on the wealthy, and some snake-oil salesman comes by to say it doesn't matter, because we'll all be getting so rich that government will actually take in more in taxes than it was before, and in the case of Reaganomics that reassuring role was taken by Arthur Laffer. It didn't work, of course:
According to a 2003 Treasury study, the tax cuts in the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 resulted in a significant decline in revenue relative to a baseline without the cuts, approximately $111 billion (in 1992 dollars) on average during the first four years after implementation or nearly 3% GDP annually...
(We made up for it by submitting to those payroll taxes that seem to eat up a third of our paychecks.) Then again, in arguing for the George W. Bush 2001 tax cut package,
A report published by researchers with The Heritage Foundation claimed that the tax cuts would result in the complete elimination of the U.S. national debt by fiscal year 2010.
and we all know how that worked out. Now Ryan and McConnell are reviving that one too. The difference between the current bills and those of 1981-83 and 2001-03 is basically that the current lot (who have been running Congress since 2011), are considerably more incompetent than previous ones; not that their ideas are any different.

The point being that these zombie ideas have all been part and parcel of Republicanism since David Brooks was an undergraduate. The party's rotting goes back long before Emperor Trump had anything to do with it (not that he doesn't make things worse with his own arbitrary demands). You knew that already, of course.

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