Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 14, 2010

THE POLITICAL CONSEQUENCES OF ECONOMIC KNOW-NOTHINGISM.... Four months before the midterm elections, "virtually every Republican" in Congress agrees that the country can't afford $30 billion in extended unemployment benefits, but it can afford $678 billion in tax cuts for the wealthy. Rep. Joe Barton's (R-Texas) apology to BP instantly became a key moment in this cycle, as did Rep. John Boehner's (R-Ohio) dismissal of the importance of the crash of 2008.

But this new issue is a development to build an entire campaign around.

This week, the Senate Republican leadership made one of the single dumbest policy arguments imaginable: policymakers shouldn't even try to pay for massive tax cuts for the wealthy, because they pay for themselves. GOP officials see the overwhelming evidence that Bush's tax policies helped produce a massive deficit, but they reject it, preferring to believe a ridiculous fantasy.

As a substantive matter, this is insane. But what about the politics? Ezra Klein had a smart take on this earlier:

In recent weeks, Republicans have gained a lot of traction -- and hung a lot of tough votes -- on their concerns for deficits. Now they're stuck between two untenable positions: That tax cuts needn't be offset as a matter of principle, or that they needn't be offset as a matter of policy. The first suggests they don't really care about deficits. The second suggests they don't understand deficits. Meanwhile, they're filibustering an extension in unemployment insurance based on concerns about deficits. Democrats are ecstatic: Tax cuts for the wealthy versus insurance for the unemployed is, for them, the first hint of solid ground in some time.

This isn't a slam dunk for Democrats. Tax cuts remain popular, and not paying for them has been, in the past, a popular position. But where Democrats were on the defensive on deficits last week, Republicans are going to spend the next week trying to sync positions that will radically increase the deficit with a political message that emphasizes the need for deficit reduction.

Republicans are a creative bunch, especially when it comes to selling garbage, but I'm not sure how even the GOP can spin this: "We really care about the deficit, so we have to reject popular aid to jobless Americans. But we don't really care about the deficit, so we demand massive tax breaks for the wealthy."

Even the increasingly-conservative Washington Post editorial board isn't buying the GOP line, calling it "nonsense."

Yesterday, in a story about public opinion, the Post noted the concerns of a New Jersey man named Dwight Michael Frazee, who's struggling badly in this economy. He was barely getting by on unemployment benefits, before a Republican filibuster left him with nothing.

"My life has been total stress. I sleep maybe four hours a night, worrying about money," he said. "I understood the president and Congress had to stabilize the banks, get Wall Street going. I figured something would be done for middle-class Americans, that they couldn't abandon us. But I was wrong."

The story wasn't explicit about Frazee's politics, but the implication was that he blamed Obama and congressional Democrats for failing to help him. It's a reminder of what Dems need to tell voters: Republicans blocked unemployment aid, but keep demanding hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for millionaires, regardless of what it does to the deficit.

One party wants to fight for those struggling; one wants to, in Frazee's word, "abandon" them. This is the stuff campaigns are made of.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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Comments

And yet, these Republican lawmakers (and wanna-be Republican lawmakers) will be rewarded in November. USA! USA! USA!

Posted by: mikeg on July 14, 2010 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

"Democrats are ecstatic: Tax cuts for the wealthy versus insurance for the unemployed"

-not to worry; the D's will find a way to F' it up!

Posted by: DAY on July 14, 2010 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

"Dems need to tell voters: Republicans blocked unemployment aid, but keep demanding hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for millionaires, regardless of what it does to the deficit."

The problem with that, it seems to me, is that the Democratic leaders cannot make that point to the voters effectively without throwing the conservaDems under the bus at the same time. How do the Democrats make it clear to the voters that the Republicans are the problem when there are so many Democrats like Ben Nelson that claim to be Democrats who are making the exact same position with impunity?

Coddling the conservatDems while trying to attack the Republicans for the same behavior they accept from the conservaDems shows that the Democrats are not any more serious about helping the unemployed than the Republicans are.

Posted by: Rick B on July 14, 2010 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Don't underestimate the Democratic Party's ability to squander a campaign theme with bad messaging. And don't underestimate the countervailing GOP ability to present nonsense as fact in a unified way, and get willing media to report it as if it was legitimate, calling it "balance."

You and I know that the Bush tax cuts didn't stimulate the economy and didn't pay for themselves, but most of the public will believe whatever they are told by earnest sounding GOP scumbags parroted by the media.

Posted by: biggerbox on July 14, 2010 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Now if somebody would just fashion a bill that includes unemployment insurance extension AND middle class (

Posted by: cr on July 14, 2010 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

NONE of this matters. None. At all. Many political scientists who have studied election-predicting models have converged on the same result: If Joe Average Voter has more money in his pocket he rewards the ruling party, if less he punishes it. Simple as that.

If the Dems had understood this and moved aggressively to create jobs, they'd be in clover. But they listened to their ruling-class paymasters instead, and they're fucked. And as long as the economy improves, even at a snail's pace, the Republicans who take power this November will be rewarded. (They knew this all along and secretly didn't mind the Dem victories in 2008 at all.) One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on July 14, 2010 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

That originally said:

Now if somebody would just fashion a bill that includes unemployment insurance extension AND middle class (

Posted by: cr on July 14, 2010 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

Surprised the RepuGs do not attempt to pass the American version of the Greek holiday, that being, "Ohi Day" - Ohi in Greek means "No" and comes from a reply by General Metaxas to Mussolini about pulling the Greek forces back in Albania.

Seems as though every day in Congress is an Ohi Day for the RepuGs.

Posted by: berttheclock on July 14, 2010 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

must be doing something wrong here??

Now if somebody would just fashion a bill that includes unemployment insurance extension AND middle class (less than $250k) tax cut extension, then D's would have something to fight for that many R's couldn't assail.

Posted by: cr on July 14, 2010 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

You make people understand by actually fighting first, then winning. I am old enough to remember the first Bush opposing unemployment extension, we know what happened to him. Unemployment sounds like the correct spot to nuke the filibuster. Then slam through a jobs bill, real Wall St reform, climate change legislation and everything else they promise but don't deliver on. Enough whining about the R's, they MUST find a way to move them out of the way or they are just effectively handing the keys back. Time is running out, lead!

Posted by: KK on July 14, 2010 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

Rick B. has Steve LaBonne's answer.

Coalition Government Is Very Difficult.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on July 14, 2010 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

cr,
They do not care about those making under 250,000. They will not budge. Or, maybe they do, worth a shot.

Posted by: JM on July 14, 2010 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

Sure, let's nuke the filibuster right before a mid-term election where we could very possibly lose the Senate. That makes sense. Talk about "handing the keys back."

Posted by: cr on July 14, 2010 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

Right, I'm sure after the Republicans take over the Senate they will hesitate for at least 10 nanoseconds before going ahead and nuking it themselves. Come on people, THINK.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on July 14, 2010 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

Under $250k is only 98% of households in the U.S. Why should they care?

Posted by: cr on July 14, 2010 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

A- it might help avoid handing the keys back
B- Mark my words, they will do it the minute they get 51.

Posted by: KK on July 14, 2010 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

Well yeah but ...
didn't revenues actually go up during the Bush years? It's no excuse for not paying the bills, but it's kind of non-responsive when the Republicans say revenues went up, to just say that "yeah well the deficit did too."

http://www.usgovernmentrevenue.com/downchart_gr.php?year=1995_2015&view=1&expand=&units=b&fy=fy11&chart=F0-total&bar=1&stack=1&size=m&title=&state=US&color=c&local=s

Posted by: 6079smithW on July 14, 2010 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

They didn't do it from 95 to 05. What makes you think they would now?

Posted by: cr on July 14, 2010 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

GOP: Garbage Opportunity Politics favoring Aristcatic Totalitarian Theocratic Oligarchy
(ATTO) policies

Posted by: iyouwemeus on July 14, 2010 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

They will do it because they have re-written the rules on obstruction.
Anyway, it is not the preferred means of advancing. The administration must realize that running against the party out of power is a sure loser. They need to deliver. They are getting roasted on the lack of an extension and they clearly are not responsible. Doesn't matter with such an ignorant population. It is extremely frustrating trying to defend them. Lately, they reminds me of the Carter administration, woefully out of tune with the electorate.

Posted by: KK on July 14, 2010 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

Agree that they need to deliver... but without teh stoopid. And nuking the filibuster now would definitely be stupid. Changing the rules for filibuster after the election with a renewed majority...that's change I can believe in.

Posted by: cr on July 14, 2010 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK
They didn't do it from 95 to 05.

They didn't need to- there were plenty of craven Dems to give them what they wanted, whether it be welfare "reform", war, reactionary judges, or tax cuts for the rich. The minute they actually feel obstructed, out will go the filibuster (or they'll again get what they want with Blue Dog help which is effectively just as bad.)

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on July 14, 2010 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

It's true that they should have done it after the LAST election. And it's too late now to make people feel better off before November.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on July 14, 2010 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

@6079

Revenues did not increase for several years after Bush's largest tax cut in 2001. Most revenue increase from 2004 to 2007 was because of the grossly inflated housing market. If you want to credit Bush tax cuts for that, and the resulting bust and near-depression, feel free.

Posted by: cr on July 14, 2010 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

But there have been so many 'slam dunk' issues for Democrats that were dribbled out of bounds instead.

As written on Open Left and Digby, if elections are to be won, there must be more income in the pockets of voters at election time than less. No money in pockets equals blame to the incumbents, even though the Republicans are to blame.

That is because most people don't have time to peruse blogs like this one, or to sift through the lies by the establishment media. All they know is that they don't have money, and thus the vote for 'the other guy.' All according to Republicans' plans.

Posted by: terraformer on July 14, 2010 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

Oops, Steve LaBonne beat me to the same point - sorry bud.

Posted by: terraformer on July 14, 2010 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

No problem, great minds think alike. ;)

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on July 14, 2010 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK
All they know is that they don't have money, and thus the vote for 'the other guy.' All according to Republicans' plans.
Hole in one for terraformer. Here's the rock on which all ships founder:

Presidential elections are referenda on the economy. Period. Everything else moves the digit to the right of the decimal place.

All paths towards an improvement in the present economy run:

a.) through the Senate, where Obama doesn't have a 60-vote majority (it's a Senate in which there are three parties, but only two labels, two caucuses)

b.) and/or the Fed's FOMC, where he doesn't have a majority either -- though that may be self-inflicted, see Bernstein.

As Rabbi Hillel said, the rest is just commentary.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on July 14, 2010 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

And yet, these Republican lawmakers (and wanna-be Republican lawmakers) will be rewarded in November. USA! USA! USA!

Posted by: mikeg
===================================
Gee !
Too bad we don't have Presidential Leadership to call the Goopers on this

Maybe when Obama is finished polishing his Nobel Peace Prize .......

Posted by: Frisco, SF on July 14, 2010 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

I am mystified by the tepidness of the Obama WH where job creation is concerned, and I think it is fair to criticize them for this. I expect the Republicans to be okay denying unemployment compensation and favoring more tax cuts for the wealthy, because Repubicans are heartless devils who feed on the suffering of others, but it breaks my heart to see so-called Democrats so la-di-dah about creating jobs. Where is the Federal jobs creation program?

I'm discouraged and feel so helpless. I live in a state with outstanding senators, Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar. My Congresswoman, Betty McCollum, is competent as well (though I'm annoyed that Michelle Bachmann has become a poster child for crazy while McCollum, also a Congresswoman from MN, is mostly invisible.) Thus insofar as I have a vote, Minnesota's house is in order. But come November, because Barack Obama has failed to create jobs, I'll be standing on the sidelines watching fellow citizens in other districts make ignorant, disastrous choices that are going to end up hurting me. I don't know what I can do to stop the pain that is barreling down the tracks at me.

Other than read blogs obsessively, of course.

Posted by: PTate in MN on July 14, 2010 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

@cr

That seems like a good response to me, and way better than a non-response.

Posted by: 6079smithW on July 14, 2010 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

I have no idea how anyone could be confused about what they're gonna say. How about:

"Tax cuts keep money in the hands of the people who create wealth. They use the tax cuts to invest and build businesses that create jobs-- which produce the revenue to offset the taxes.

"This has been proven ever since Ronald Reagan used the Laffer Curve to end Jimmy Carter's recession and created 'Morning in America."

Yes it's nonsense, but once you've got the opponent spewing out statistics, you win the debate. And, usually, that's what Democrats do.

There are responses that work, but they require a little more sand than the party is usually willing to do.

Posted by: Woodrow L. Goode, IV on July 14, 2010 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

Not to be too nit-picky, but the title analogy fails. Historically, "know-nothingism" did not refer to willful butt-headed ignorance as your article implies. It was the motto of a semi-secret political party (with striking similarities to the current day Tea Party) whose members were instructed to say they "know nothing" when asked about it. So, "know-nothingism" actually describes a crypto-racist political tactic, not an anti-intellectual stance. The comparisons between the 1850's "Know Nothings" to the modern day "Tea Party" are so rich and fertile that it would be a shame to lose the original meaning of the phrase.

Posted by: GP on July 14, 2010 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

The GOP message to Frazee: Get a job, loser.

Posted by: josef on July 14, 2010 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

I saw a lot of website but I conceive this one has got something special in it in it

Posted by: Stormy on January 5, 2011 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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