Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 15, 2010

ECONOMIC ILLITERATES.... It hasn't been an especially good week for the Republican Party and economic literacy. Indeed, with each passing day, it appears the GOP simply has no idea what it's talking about when it comes to one of the nation's most pressing issues.

It started with Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) insisting that spending increases need to be paid for, but lawmakers shouldn't even try to pay for tax cuts. California Senate hopeful Carly Fiorina (R) soon followed, declaring, "You don't need to pay for tax cuts. They pay for themselves." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) soon added that Bush's tax cuts, which created huge deficits, actually "increased revenue." Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) agreed that "tax cuts should not have to be offset."

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) appeared on C-SPAN yesterday and managed to sound even dumber.

"Continuing the [Bush] tax cuts isn't a cost, if you added new taxes, new tax cuts, I would agree that's a cost. It's not a cost. That's where we are today. That's the baseline. It doesn't score anything to continue them. It costs money if we increase, which I would be willing to do. I think we ought to cut corporate taxes."

This makes absolutely no sense. Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy were approved nearly a decade ago, and they helped add $5 trillion to the debt. They're now due to expire. If policymakers extend the cuts into the future, Coburn thinks it would cost literally nothing. He's only off by at least $678 billion.

This week's developments have made abundantly clear that conservative Republicans don't care at all about reducing the deficit, but that's really just the beginning of the larger revelation here. By embracing economic gibberish with such enthusiasm, Republicans are also making it painfully obvious that they don't care about reality, either.

Krugman's label -- "invincible ignorance" -- continues to ring true.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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Um, no. They're not really that stooopid. They ARE that disingenuous. They think their media enablers and the American people are that stooopid. Unfortunately, in perhaps enough cases to turn over the House leadership this fall, they are right.

Posted by: bluewave on July 15, 2010 at 8:05 AM | PERMALINK

Sadly, "invincible ignorance" doubles down when presented with reality. Part of human psychology...

Posted by: NTodd on July 15, 2010 at 8:08 AM | PERMALINK

They think their media enablers and the American people are that stooopid.

Um, no. The media enablers know better, but aren't willing to do their jobs.

Posted by: pol on July 15, 2010 at 8:09 AM | PERMALINK

These "Economic Illiterates" are playing to their base- the 'Murrican Pipple, because a new poll suggests that the populace thinks the stimulus was a mistake.

-these same financial illiterates believe they will be hit by the 'Death Tax", and that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy took money out of their pockets. . .

Posted by: DAY on July 15, 2010 at 8:10 AM | PERMALINK

My question is: why isn't the Obama administration, and Obama specifically, exploiting this basic fact? "Polite" and "deliberative" don't cut it in politics. Slowly but surely the Republicans are eroding Obama's support and power.

Posted by: sjw on July 15, 2010 at 8:10 AM | PERMALINK

All this is well and good, but. What's the consequences of this?
Any society truly ruled by adults, with a rational, funtioning fourth estate media, would recognize this and laugh the current Republican party out of the corridors of power for a generation or more.
Instead, our media mostly nods along with what these Republicans say and allow it to become conventional wisdom without even once confronting the intellectual inconsistency and dishonesty. Anyone who points out how irrational this is is labelled shrill and partisan.
And large swaths of our population, willingly or not, swallows this up and internalizes it, inconsistencies and all.
And Democratic senators fall all over themselves to echo this ideology.
And the White House is split by this and trying to play catch up and coddle them.
And now this same laughable party is poised to take back one or both houses this fall.
It's getting very depressing.

Posted by: Anon on July 15, 2010 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

This week's developments have made abundantly clear that conservative Republicans don't care at all about reducing the deficit. . . . Republicans are also making it painfully obvious that they don't care about reality, either.

It's only obvious to those of us who don't depend on the corporate-controlled media for our "news".

That would change if we had a president who passionately believed in and advocated for the progressive ideals that he campaigned on. But we don't.

So once again our president will find a "common ground" -- probably by extending 85 percent of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy for another five years and cutting assistance to mothers and children to pay for it.

Posted by: SteveT on July 15, 2010 at 8:14 AM | PERMALINK

Based on the comments here, I feel a defeatist attitude setting in.

Posted by: pol on July 15, 2010 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK

Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy were approved nearly a decade ago, and they helped add $5 trillion to the debt. They're now due to expire.

Which means that if Republicans want to call the sunset a "tax increase," it's one passed by Republicans and signed into law by President Bush.

Posted by: Gregory on July 15, 2010 at 8:18 AM | PERMALINK

If, there is a single glue holding the RepuGs together, it is the mantra of cutting taxes, no matter how it harms society. In Washington State, currently, Tim Eyeman is trying to pass another of his lucrative, to him, initiatives. This one would set a super majority for passage of any tax increases. This is the type of legislation which has placed a strangle hold on California's legislature. BTW, the HMS "Invincible Ignorance", that vessel of BP's sailed into Elliot Bay and deposited $65,000 into Eyeman's coffers. The major oil companies operating in Washington State are trying to fight off legislation which would create a hazardous cleanup fund for any spills in Puget Sound. So, BP has the spare change to pony up 65 grand to stop future cleanup.

Posted by: berttheclock on July 15, 2010 at 8:20 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, this is like your fiftieth "how can the Republicans ignore the facts???" post. It makes you sound ignorant. The Republicans believe that the proper roles of government are limited to killing people and transferring resources from workers to the wealthy. What is surprising or inconsistent about what they are saying now?

Republicans don't believe in markets, they don''t believe in democracy, and they don't have normal human emotions. They don't care about the federal budget, they don't care about the economy, and they don't care about human suffering. What they want is a monarchy with the formal appearance of a democracy.

And since the average American voter is a complete fool, there is no reason for the Republicans not to be blunt about their actual beliefs. Their hardcore base loves it, and since the economy sucks the majority of voters will vote Republican in November regardless of where the actual fault lies.

Posted by: Mark on July 15, 2010 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

"That's where we are today. That's the baseline. It doesn't score anything to continue them."

Fine. Let's not consider a continuation of the '01/'03 cuts a "cut"; let's consider it a continuation of the current baseline. That doesn't help fix the deficit. The sunset clause was included in the package to minimize the long-term deficit, and Republicans put it in place, as Gregory notes.

(How many extra votes did the sunset clause bring in? Was that an example of the GOP compromising to reach across the aisle, the way Dems have been watering down bills for Republican support that never materializes?)

Posted by: Grumpy on July 15, 2010 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

To continue beating this dead horse, the 2001 tax cut and 2011 tax rise is almost entirely due to the efforts of President Bush and congressional Republicans. This is THEIR baby, and every effort they make to blame Dems for the return of 2001 tax rates is a LIE.

Posted by: danimal on July 15, 2010 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

"Economic Illiterates" Hah!.

Should have name this post "Political Illiterates".

As in, the Dems just allow these false but popular statements to go on unchallenged in the court of public opinion.

It's almost as if they want this to happen so that people in the Village and bloggers such as Steve will blame Republicans for their inaction.

Posted by: Observer on July 15, 2010 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

A number of posters are on to the real truth here.

The whole GOP argument is based on the premise that government should be about 1/10th the size that it is today. If that were the case, then continuing the cuts MIGHT not cost anything.

So Dems have to attack this premise. They have to explain what kind of world it would be if 90% of government services were gone and the only function of government was to lock people up and create massive armies to invade other countries.

Other than the obvious ones like elimination of social security and medicare, ads should target government services that everyone uses but takes for granted. Scenarios like (1) No national parks, or parks that charge $100 entrance fees and escalate camping fees based on the "value" of a certain campsite; (2) even less environmental and regulatory oversight that we now have, resulting in more massive financial and environmental disasters; (3) a massive sell-off of public lands to private corporations, resulting in less freedom and mobility for citizens.

We have to spell it out for people in very stark terms, and the entertainment industry needs to be brought in to help dramatize these situations.

Posted by: bdop4 on July 15, 2010 at 9:09 AM | PERMALINK

I think we ought to cut corporate taxes.

Right there. That part of the clip belongs right along side Barton's BP apology in a national ad campaign for this November.

Posted by: Oh my on July 15, 2010 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

I would call it intentional invincible ignorance.

Posted by: gregor on July 15, 2010 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Even to the extent that the Laffer curve was right, any advantage to lowering rates wouldn't kick in unless we were already at really high rates. I still think Kennedy and even Reagan were right to cut rates over 50% (but Reagan overcompensated.) Laffer's argument surely falls flat in the thirties. But the bigger fraud is the lower capital gains rate, just a sop to the wealthy. Sometimes conservatives do have maybe good ideas, like their (?) FICA holiday for a year that might spur employment. But that means the lucky duckies pay even less of their income compared to the rich!

One thing we need is a sales tax on financial transactions. How about, we agree not to raise base rates in return for having other taxes added like for trading, lift FICA cap, etc?

Posted by: neil b on July 15, 2010 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

bdop4 said:
Other than the obvious ones like elimination of social security and medicare, ads should target government services that everyone uses but takes for granted . . . .

Agreed. But the ads to be more direct and need to talk about programs need to be closer to home, like:

Republicans want to take away your freedoms
-- for safe food
-- for pure water
-- for clean air

Posted by: SteveT on July 15, 2010 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

Not economic illiterates - they know exactly what they are doing: whoring for vested interests by throwing obfuscation, confusion, flak and all that other shit into our need to have a reasoned, rational national discussion to produce policy reflecting all of America's needs and citizens, not just one sector that can funnel mega-$ into Republican coffers! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on July 15, 2010 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

"Polite" and "deliberative" don't cut it in politics.

Really? So you imagine that "rude" and "knee-jerk" is the winning formula for us?

Sure, "polite" and "deliberative" is what won us the Whitehouse, which most progressives insisted was a sure formula for defeat. But now we're to imagine that we can woo over more people, if only Obama would insult Republicans more. Great.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on July 15, 2010 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

Another trick dextros like to use, is to conflate and confuse non-linearity of tax response with the more dramatic and unlikely claim that the net proceeds will actually be more or at least hold their ground under a cut. So maybe cutting the tax rate by 10% (not to be confused with, by ten percentage points! - another common confusion) might result in only e.g. 8% revenue loss. That does show non-linearity and the need for dynamic scoring, but not the core thesis - since the cuts just didn't lead to *as much* proportional loss as the rate change.

Posted by: neil b on July 15, 2010 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

I've got a question for all those who "know" that Republicans realize that what they're saying is wrong: What exactly is your basis for this claim?

Seriously, these same guys say incredibly stupid things about EVERYTHING. I mean, Senator Coburn is notorious for saying stupid things, things that even hurt him politically and showcase his complete lack of understanding about some of the most basic issues of the day. So why is it that we should imagine that these guys are any brighter about economic policies?

I'm sorry if this troubles you, but these guys really ARE this dumb. They don't really know what they're talking about, and if they DID know what they were talking about, they'd be making money on Wall Street, rather than mucking around in politics. For Republicans, politics is what you do when you're good at talking but can't think of anything useful to say.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on July 15, 2010 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

Doctor Biobrain said:
Really? So you imagine that "rude" and "knee-jerk" is the winning formula for us?

. . . we're to imagine that we can woo over more people, if only Obama would insult Republicans more. Great.

No, but "passionate", "visceral" and "provocative" are a potentially winning formula.

Democrats need to demonstrate to the people who are convinced that Washington doesn't care about them that the Democrats do care. "Passionate" means standing up for principles instead of trading them away or scurrying for cover when those principles are challenged. "Passionate" also means getting a little angry when someone tries, either through malice or ignorance, to hurt the people you care about,.

"Visceral" means that when Republicans talk about how a bill includes "death panels that will kill grandma", you don't reply by explaining how your bill will reduce the rate of growth of health care costs which will, in turn reduce the percentage of the GDP taken up by health care and will ultimately slow the growth of the deficit. I'm not saying reduce politics to bumper stickers, but your talking point should fit on a medium-sized poster.

And "provocative" is necessary to cut through the corporate-controlled media's conservative filter. How did Alan Grayson get on the teevee so often? The media loves a good cat-fight.

And while Democrats are being "provocative" -- I don't know if Mitch McConnell is lying or if he's just ignorant -- Democrats should take a swipe at the media's pro-Republican bias -- If you only get your news from the mainstream media you won't have heard about this, but . . . .

Posted by: SteveT on July 15, 2010 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

SteveT - I agree with what you're saying, but fail to see how being "passionate" and "provocative" is the opposite of "polite" and "deliberative." I'd like to see Obama do ALL of these things, which is what he did to get in the Whitehouse. And, I daresay, is what he's doing now.

And the big knock on him is that he's not doing more to attack Republicans, getting into the mudfight that they wanted him to get into with McCain. They assured us that being polite was a surefire way to get buried, yet Obama was the one doing the burying.

And I'm convinced that we'll see the same thing as the election approaches. The "likely voters" are skewed towards activists who are still angry at Obama. So while rightwing activists say they're more likely to vote, leftwing activists say they're LESS likely to vote. And the bulk of people don't really have an opinion, because they don't really pay attention to politics until Election Day approaches. And the main thing that turns them off is rude politicians who engage in mudfights and have nothing useful to say.

This has been the pattern we've seen for years, so I fail to see why it won't continue now. As a reminder, at this point in 2008, McCain and Obama were neck and neck.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on July 15, 2010 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "Krugman's label -- "invincible ignorance" -- continues to ring true."

Krugman's label is baloney.

It's not invincible ignorance -- it's incorrigible dishonesty.

There's a big and important difference.

The Republicans are neither "invincible" nor are they "ignorant".

What they are is bought-and-paid-for, lying stooges for the corporate oligarchy.

Please try to get it through your head that you are not up against crazy, confused, ignorant whack jobs extemporizing ideological nonsense.

You are up against ruthless, crafty, lying shills, reading from a corporate-sponsored, Madison Avenue-scripted, focus-group-tested, talk-radio-programmed, pseudo-ideological litany of talking points.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 15, 2010 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

When history writes about the legacy of President Obama, I believe it will say that his most significant failure was that when he was elected he had Republicans on their knees and reeling. But instead of delivering a knockout punch that would relegate "Supply-side Economics" to the scrap heap of debunked ideas alongside alchemy and the Earth-centered universe, Obama reached down and helped them back to their feet. He said they had good ideas and would find "common ground" with them (as if you can find common ground with someone who says that the way to put out a fire is to pour gasoline on it).

So Obama practically guaranteed the he would be succeeded by another Republican supply-sider and that the United States will face another economic collapse.

But it looks like Obama miscalculated and he could face the loss of the House or the Senate, which would mean two years of gridlock and endless subpoenas and "investigations".

Americans are, too often, a brainless mob following the leader who loudly offers simplistic solutions. You don't head off a mob with thoughtful academic arguments.

Now I would love to see Obama stay above the fray. Usually the vice-president plays the attack dog. Unfortunately, Biden can't be trusted to speak in public without a shock collar to keep him on script. And Democrats in Congress are too self-important (or two cowardly) to follow talking points from the White House. So only Obama is able to bypass the the media's pro-conservative filter.

Posted by: SteveT on July 15, 2010 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

I wish some reporter would ask these morons that if cutting taxes increases revenue, why have taxes at all? I mean if the best way to grow revenue is to cut revenue, why not cut taxes to zero and really grow revenue? Isn't that what they are saying, that tax cuts increase the amount of money collected, then why not just cut taxes to zero? That should really increase taxes collected.

Posted by: tenbellies on July 15, 2010 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

Steve T - Your argument sounds good, but was completely contradicted by the previous election. And oddly, it was the same thing people were saying BEFORE the last election, insisting that Obama would get buried because he didn't attack Republicans enough.

Or are you suggesting that Obama won by loudly offering simplistic solutions instead of academic arguments, and promised to attack Republicans? In fact, what you say was his miscalculation by finding common ground with Republicans was one of his key platforms. It was something he said repeatedly and you people attacked him for it. And now you're attacking him for doing what he said he'd do.

And of course, if Republicans win in November, it will be in no small part due to progressives who attack him for not attacking Republicans enough or being even more bold. Sure, they can't actually explain how being more bold could possibly have finished off Republicans, but it's their meme and they're sticking to it.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on July 15, 2010 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

LOL -- it's not clear if you guys think that Krugman invented the concept of "invincible ignorance", but he didn't. It's a theological, not a political (much less an economic) idea, that goes back at least to Aquinas -- quite apt, here, and savagely ironic. (Also the sort of thing that a NYT editorialist, or perhaps whoever wrote the headline, would know.)

Aquinas defined 'invincible ignorance' to mean the way some would be damned through no fault of their own, because they would have had no way of knowing how to save their souls: "...invincible ignorance is precisely an instance of men failing to obtain their good, which failure must be for the completion of the universe to be effected."

The idea is that in order for God to manifest his goodness, some have to be damned: can't have heaven without hell. In a political or economic discussion, it means that it's not enough to be right.

Someone else HAS to be wrong -- and not just in error: it has to be impossible to convince them, so they are and must be doomed to suffer the consequences of their failure.

Krugman (or at least the headline) is, oddly, arguing that conservatives simply cannot recognize that reality contradicts their ideology -- because that inability is what makes their ignorance "invincible". If they were capable of realizing when they were wrong (the way Christian orthodoxy teaches that someone who knows and rejects the Faith is damned), then they would not be "invincibly ignorant".

It is a very odd idea for a progressive to endorse.

Posted by: theAmericanist on July 15, 2010 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

Benen writes a perfectly good republican-bashing post, and a few self-righteous commenters try to turn it into Obama-bashing.

There's an old union song, "Which Side Are You On, Boys". As these commenters become more and more belligerant in their attacks against the leader of one party, particulary as we approach a defining election, it becomes more and more obvious that their allegiance is to the other.

Posted by: cr on July 15, 2010 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure if that's the theme I'm often on, here, but it sounds like it: lots of folks INSIST more on the how the other guy is wrong, than on why they're right.

Self-government is a series of very practical decisions. I don't see how the notion of "invincible ignorance" works for it.

Posted by: theAmericanist on July 15, 2010 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

Who cares what worked or didn't work for Obama during the campaign? This is not the campaign. Obama is not running for office right now. The rhetorical requirements of actually running the government successfully are different from the rhetorical requirements of winning a campaign.

Besides, Obama barely won the election. How do you know that he wouldn't have done far better if he had attacked the Republicans mercilessly the entire time? You don't. All that stuff about how voters hate negative campaigning is horsecrap. Voters love negative campaigning and they respond to it by voting for the negative campaigner. McCain did so well because he ran a sleazy, disgusting campaign that attacked Obama. Obama would have had the advantage in a mudfest, in that he would not have had to lie to portray McCain as sleazy and disgusting.

Americans respond positively to politicians that go after the other side. They do not like weakness, period. Obama appears weak when he will not attack the Republicans who are attacking him. Aggressiveness can change the narrative -- you can shift the foundation of the debate by attacking your enemies, and then what was "off the table" becomes a possibility. The media will always report favorably whatever is said by the more vicious politician, and most people see that aggression as strength and reliability.

The fact is that Obama could not have made the Republicans more irresponsible or belligerent by attacking and excluding them. But he could have changed the terms of the debate on multiple issues, helped the Democrats in Congress, and better managed the media cycle if he had been more vicious. That is what the base wants, and it is what the average voter responds to. The worst thing that would have happened, if Obama had treated the Republicans like the traitors and fascists that they are, is that everything would be the same as it is now.

Posted by: Mark on July 15, 2010 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Besides, Obama barely won the election.

Don't know how closely you watch politics, but winning 68% of the electoral votes is a pretty good win.

Facts. Opinions. Different things.

Posted by: cr on July 15, 2010 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK



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