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Tilting at Windmills

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June 14, 2010

MITCH MCCONNELL IS NOT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY, CONT'D.... Over the weekend, President Obama urged lawmakers to approve nearly $50 billion in emergency aid to state and local governments, which would in turn help the economy and prevent "massive layoffs of teachers, police and firefighters."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) apparently isn't fond of the idea, because, as he sees it, debt reduction is more important than economic growth. "Right now, among other challenges, we have a debt crisis, a jobs crisis, a housing crisis, a financial crisis, and an oil spill that the American people clearly don't believe government is effectively responding to," McConnell said.

At first blush, perhaps the most obvious concern with McConnell's rhetoric is that all of the crises he lists were either left over by a failed Republican administration and/or the result of a failed Republican approach to governing.

But there's more to this than just McConnell's sins of omission. Ezra Klein has a great item on this.

Implicit in McConnell's remarks is that the American people not only want, but deserve, a more effective government response to these crises. And though you can argue with the size of the Democrats' package, they're trying to give them one: State and local aid are crucial to preserving jobs and services, while direct help to small businesses is a sensible way to jump-start hiring. Doing either thing, however, requires a short-term jump in deficits.

McConnell's statement offers a nice sense of why it's so difficult to legislate against an irresponsible minority.... [T]his is just an attack on anything the Democrats are doing that doesn't poll well, even if the two things contradict. The public doesn't like debt and they don't like high unemployment, so McConnell hits both notes in an attack against a proposal to mitigate unemployment. It's effective politics, but it's not productive in the sense of forcing a policy synthesis Republicans find acceptable or hastening a solution to the underlying problems.

I've been trying to think of a way to explain this in a way Mitch McConnell would understand. As 2009 got underway, Republicans had left two huge messes related to the economy: 1) a nearly-catastrophic recession and unemployment crisis; 2) a budget mess, including a $1.3 trillion deficit and $10 trillion debt. Both problems were simply left for the Obama administration to clean up.

The economic question of 2009 was which problem would be addressed first, but there was a catch that went largely unstated. Whichever mess policymakers chose to clean up first would necessarily make the other mess worse. It was simply unavoidable -- investing in a recovery would increase the deficit; lowering the deficit would take money out of the economy and exacerbate the recession.

Questions of sincerity notwithstanding, it was the main difference between the Democratic and Republican approaches to the economy -- Dems wanted to focus on one of the messes Republicans created (growth and jobs); the GOP wanted to focus on the other (deficit and debt).

That is, it would be the difference if lawmakers like McConnell approached governing with even the slightest bit of seriousness. Notice in his response that there's nothing even close to coherence -- he wants Obama to spend less, and more. He wants the administration to take on a larger role, and smaller. He wants the White House to care more about debt reduction, and less. He wants the president to prioritize investing in job creation, and to stop prioritizing investing in job creation.

Why anyone could take such policy gibberish seriously is a mystery to me.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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Comments

You're far too kind to McConnell implying that he doesn't understand why what he's saying makes no sense. He knows that perfectly well. He just believes (with considerably justification, alas) that a large fraction of the population doesn't understand that what he's saying makes no sense, and will thus tend to support the GOP. They're not dumb, just evil.

Posted by: DavidNOE on June 14, 2010 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

It does not have to make sense, simply - it is tea bagger talk, the problem is that most of the simple folk who are repub followers do not seem to have the slightest idea about the deficit, the national debt and the economy, they get all the information they need from Beck and Limbaugh - the two idiots who did not even finish school.

Posted by: JS on June 14, 2010 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

davidnoe, i partly agree with you, but i partly disagree: there's no actual reason to think that mcconnell is a person of sufficient intelligence to "know" anything perfectly well, so it's entirely possible he is saying these things because he is too dumb for words.

i'd like to think that wasn't the case, but then again, i'd like to think the median intelligence of the senate is higher than that of the country.

but it isn't.

Posted by: howard on June 14, 2010 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

The point is that if Obama (and therefore the Democrats) help the states, the people will know it and be grateful to Obama (and therefore the Democrats) in an election year. McConnell (and the Republicans) would rather see their own states collapse than to give Obama a victory. For them to win big in the fall, things have to get worse. They cannot afford politically to help their own states if they want to increase power. The Democrats need to call them on this.

Posted by: Vicki on June 14, 2010 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

"Republicans are not serous about governing"

There's the slogan for 2010. They have no interest in governing, only in regaining power. They have no answers to solve the problems this country faces. If they are returned to power they will return to the same policies that brought us financial, diplomatic and ecological disaster.

Republicans cannot be trusted with power.

Posted by: Atlliberal on June 14, 2010 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Why anyone could take such policy gibberish seriously is a mystery to me.

Umm... voters don't take policy seriously. Not seriously enough to become informed voters, at least.

Posted by: Equal Opportunity Cynic on June 14, 2010 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

But......OBAMA IS NOT SENDING ENOUGH MONEY TO THE GULF!!!! BIG GOVERNMENT DOESN'T WORK...SEND ME THE MONEY! Isn't THAT what the GOP is saying these days...oh wait, they're saying we need to reduce the deficit...no...wait...

Posted by: SYSPROG on June 14, 2010 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

IT is not clear that Benen "gets it".
"investing in a recovery would increase the deficit; lowering the deficit would take money out of the economy and exacerbate the recession."

Actually:investing in a recovery would increase the SHORT TERM (1-3yr) deficit BUT DECREASE THE LONG-TERM DEFICIT; lowering the deficit would take money out of the economy and exacerbate the recession AND INCREASE THE DEFICIT IN THE SHORT TERM (By the 2nd year, if not the first) AND THE LONG TERM.

Posted by: gdb on June 14, 2010 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

"And though you can argue with the size of the Democrats' package..."

Actually my inclination is to point and laugh.

We need a more and better Democrats in the Democratic Party, and the Democratic leadership seems to be committed to making that ... not happen.

Posted by: Fleas correct the era on June 14, 2010 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

McConnell's tack here is to play to the "haves", people with secure income, property, and other assets. That's also the GOP base in large part. You could also make a connection between their interest in lower taxes long-term and deficit reduction.

The real question is about the efficacy of a political strategy based, well, on class warfare. This is where the tribalism of the right has become self-justifying and self-perpetuating. It also exacerbates social tensions in the process. For the party and the nation as a whole, it's a suicide pill but one that late-stage nihilists - Republicans - apparently don't mind swallowing. They have a Dolchstoss theory, a little bit of time, and a nation hungry for "us vs them" explanations.

Posted by: walt on June 14, 2010 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

Why people take repub gibberish seriously is because for 30 years the dems haven't explained the BS flowing from the convervatives (with minor exceptions like Dr Dean) and the Obama admin is incompetent, thinking they can work with the knuckle-draggers.

Posted by: coloradoblue on June 14, 2010 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

Tis is wrong:
"Dems wanted to focus on one of the messes Republicans created (growth and jobs); the GOP wanted to focus on the other (deficit and debt)."

You had it right at the beginning; Republicans focus on debt and deficit only because it's something they can bash Democrats for and something that if the Democrats pursue, it will serve Republican interests by stifling the emergence of social programs.

But if Republicans were in power they would in NO WAY do anything to reduce the deficit or the debt. They would in fact blow them both up larger and then ignore them.


Posted by: Daddy Love on June 14, 2010 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

Focusing on deficit reduction right now is obviously the wrong way to go (see gdb above, for instance), but, if one wants to include deficit reduction at the moment then the solution is obvious:

Raise taxes on higher incomes, cuz, you know, that's where the money is. Sure, it will be somewhat uncomfortable for the rich, but according to the Repubs, pain is ok. At least that's what they say when it comes to hurting the non-rich.

Posted by: Ian on June 14, 2010 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

"I've been trying to think of a way to explain this in a way Mitch McConnell would understand."

Let's hope this complete waste of effort is not happening at Dem headquarters. You don't try to convince McConnell. You take his statements, expose the hypocrisy by contrasting it with the past GOP policy, and rhetorically beat him to a bloody pulp. And you do it on national TV as much as possible.

Posted by: bdop4 on June 14, 2010 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

I wish that the Dems were as good at soundbites.

Republicans have been training at this stuff since at least Lee Atwater in the '80's.

Something simple, truthful, and easy to remember.

"Every time the Republicans are in power, they raid the treasury and give the money to their friends; they blow up the deficit and run the economy into a ditch, and they let the foxes in to guard the henhouse, endangering the health and safety of the whole country. We're left to clean up their messes every time. Now they want to have a say in running things again. Do you really want that back?"

Posted by: Churchyard on June 14, 2010 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

Atlliberal said ""Republicans are not serous about governing" That's the slogan for 2010.

I'd like to suggest a slight change;

"Republicans have no idea how to govern"

and then show the last 30 years of history with the positive proof.

Posted by: Vandal on June 14, 2010 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

"...that the American people clearly don't believe government is effectively responding to,"

I don't care for the fact that liars get to speak for this American person without ever asking me how I feel about anything.

This one American Person believes that the Obama part of government is responding just fine. This one American Person believes that the GOP part of government is clearly not responding effectively, and certainly not making the least positive contribution to this nation on any front.

Posted by: SKip on June 14, 2010 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

howard, Mich McConnell is as slimy as the day is long. There are many, many things he is guilty of, but 'dumb' he is not.

Posted by: Paul in KY on June 14, 2010 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

"It's effective politics, but it's not productive..." Ezra Klein, quoted by Steve Benen.

I wouldn't even call it "effective" politics, as the aim of politics is the managing of a governmental unit without employing armed force on an habitual basis. Since Mr. McConnell is doing his best to prevent ANY form of governing taking place, perhaps we should consider whether he thinks that the results of government by armed force are to be preferred?

Posted by: Doug on June 14, 2010 at 10:31 PM | PERMALINK

Great share, thanks for the post.

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