Political Animal


November 27, 2012 9:16 AM Extremism Vindicated Once Again?

By Ed Kilgore

The way the whole “fiscal cliff” thing (itself a contrivance based on the Republican view that expiration of the Bush tax cuts and imposition of defense spending cuts would be an apocalyptic development) is being discussed in the MSM is a depressing vindication of the huge strategic advantages of partisan extremism. If you are crazy enough for a while, then agreeing to be slightly less crazy looks statesmanlike.

Mike Tomasky notes this dynamic in the Grand Revolt Against Grover Norquist:

Norquist’s anti-tax position all these years has been so totalizing that he has counted lots of things as tax increases that aren’t explicitly tax increases. You may remember the tiff he got into with Oklahoma GOP Senator Tom Coburn over oil-and-gas subsidies. Coburn, who is retiring, was willing to end those subsidies, which amount to a few billion dollars a year. To Norquist, this was a tax increase on oil companies. I can see the logic in a way, but if you’re going to go down that road, then you are taking loads of policy options off the table.
It’s an extreme definition, and it’s the very fact that it’s an extreme definition that allows Republicans breaking from it to appear to be taking a bold position while they are in fact doing nothing of the sort. Because under the big headlines about Breaking From Grover, the actual news content is that they will consider increased revenue but not increased rates.

More generally, the “compromise” position of bold, brave GOP “moderates” on the overall shape of a “fiscal solution” is, as Greg Sargent has pointed out, almost identical to that of the Republican presidential candidate who just lost the election.

The remarkable ability of conservatives to drag American politics to the Right by taking extremist positions and then offering to “compromise” by accepting policies deemed conservative the week before last is hardly a new thing; it was the subject of a fine book by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson six years ago. But the MSM keeps taking the bait, which is why we now have Lindsay Graham and Saxbe Chambliss being lionized for making fake concessions to stop America from plunging over a fake “fiscal cliff,” asking only the small concession that the Bush tax cuts, the principal cause of current long-term public debt, be extended forever, and oh, by the way, could we also cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits? I mean, you have to hand it to them: who else but American conservatives would have the audacity after losing an election to ask for bipartisan cover for their two most important long-term fiscal objectives?

If they have any sense at all, the “extremists” who are being “repudiated” by these brave Republican moderates ought to be cackling with glee.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • ex-curm on November 27, 2012 9:39 AM:

    Whomever heads the Congressional Progressive Caucus needs to figure out a way to get on these tv shows and interviewed by the print and web msm, so as to offer a real alternative to these guys and spell out how we can solve these issues without entitlement cuts.

  • T2 on November 27, 2012 9:40 AM:

    "MSM keeps taking the bait" yeah....because they are selling the bait, also.

  • Peter C on November 27, 2012 9:43 AM:

    I think they're eating the bait.

  • DRF on November 27, 2012 9:50 AM:

    But the reality is that Norquist, the "no tax increase" pledge and the Club for Growth have held sway over the Republican Party for many years, and any rejection of the pledge by Republican office holders does, in fact, require a certain amount of political courage. In voting for any tax increases, they are inviting primary challenges; the experience of the last several years shows that these challenges are not to be taken lightly.

    It may well be that the power of Norquist's pledge is in the process of crumbling, but it does require some nerve to be part of that process.

  • MuddyLee on November 27, 2012 9:51 AM:

    When a South Carolina Republican Senator is for "it",then you know "it" is the wrong policy. When do conservatives complain about the "mainstream media" when they OWN the mainstream media?

  • Ron Byers on November 27, 2012 9:52 AM:

    I have a question for all of us to ponder. We are all talking about cutting entitlements and increasing taxes. We can increase taxes some on the wealthy without much difficulty. They might have to cut back on their third or fourth home but most of the upper 2% won't go hungry.

    My question is "if we cut entitlements will the needs they are meeting go away?" I mean, if somebody is in a nursing home on medicaid can that person who by being qualified to receive medicaid meets the definition of poverty suddenly not going to need nursing home care. Can the nursing homes reduce their costs further and still provide adequate care?

  • Peter C on November 27, 2012 9:53 AM:

    The Republicans had better get a move on. The ball in their court; they must pass a measure through Congress for Obama to sign to avoid the ‘Fiscal Cliff’. They need to do more than posture and speechify; they must do their jobs and LEGISLATE. They must craft a compromise that passes the Senate AND the House. The Senate has already passed an extension of the tax cuts for money earned up to $250,000 which would avoid much of the recovery-killing austerity which is the only true ‘fiscal cliff’ we actually face. If House Republicans want something different, they must do the work of writing it out and building a majority in both houses of Congress to pass it.

    Can they do this? I doubt it. They’ve never demonstrated this skill set.

    Any pain we feel will be solely due to their incompetence and wrong-headedness.

  • c u n d gulag on November 27, 2012 9:57 AM:

    "We the people" are the bait.

    We just had our say and voted, so now no one has to listen to us for another couple of years, while they do whatever it is they want to do.

    I'm tired of them making a "Fiscal Cliff" out of a
    'Fiscal Molehill.'

    Also too - I want to punch right in their face the next politician or pundit who uses the term "Entitlements" instead of "Earned Benefits."

  • James M on November 27, 2012 10:01 AM:

    I hate to keep repeating myself (well...not exactly hate...:))but the MSM simply can't accept the fact that one of the major U.S. political parties has gone nuts. They have to pretend that both parties are still functional and that reasonable compromises are possible if the people on both sides of the aisle would just put their minds to it.

    Unlike the debt ceiling 'crisis', which was an unmitigated disaster, I am beginning to agree with Professor Krugman that BO should be willing to go off the 'cliff'. That would eliminate the Bush era tax cuts forever, and the GOP would almost certainly bear the brunt of the criticism for any ensuing damage to the economy.

    I am starting to get a sinking feeling that BO will be tempted to return to his 'Bipartisan in Chief' stance, and offer a compromise that many progressives find deeply unsatisfying. That is the risk of having a lot of so-called 'moderate' Republicans come forth.

  • James M on November 27, 2012 10:09 AM:

    Correction: in my comment above I should have written:

    "Given the differences with the debt ceiling 'crisis', which was an unmitigated disaster...."

  • Ron Byers on November 27, 2012 10:10 AM:

    By the way, Ed, the "fiscal cliff" media meme actually works to Obama's advantage. Republicans are under the gun.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on November 27, 2012 10:13 AM:

    About 15 years ago, I came to the conclusion that most people in the (MSM) media are ignorant mediocrities of middling intelligence potential. I now consider that to be a local maximum of my estimation of the media. The media has only become more stupid in those years.

    Then there's the Right Wing Noise Machine for which nothing good can be said.

  • T2 on November 27, 2012 10:14 AM:

    @RonByers....you have to keep in mind that ELIMINATING Social Security and Medicare are the long term goals of Conservatives. Norquist's constant "cut taxes but never increase taxes" is all about reducing governmental income so there's no money left for the so-called "entitlements". When Conservatives talk about "cutting entitlements" it's just a first step in getting rid of them permanently. ANY compromise that assists them in their end goal is just that - assisting in the destruction of the social safety net.

  • Ron Byers on November 27, 2012 10:23 AM:


    How does destroying the social safety net helps the country? How are the needs the social saftey net is helping meet improved by eliminating the social safety net?

    Is destroying the social safety net popular with a majority of voters? How would the voters react to seeing a lot of old people starving in the streets?

    Why are Republicans self distructive?

  • j on November 27, 2012 10:28 AM:

    The wealthy who would never dream of going to war, now want entitlements cut - in other words the middle class who fight the wars are now expected to pay for them.
    Also the Walton family who own Walmart need a few more billions so the taxpayer has to subsidize Walmart by paying for income support for Walmart employees.
    We must have the most unfair system on the planet!

  • Vicente Fox on November 27, 2012 11:00 AM:

    Can someone explain to me what, exactly, power Grover Norquist has? I'd venture that most voters have no idea who he is, so how is it Republicans are so beholden to him? Who are these huge voter blocks that they believe he controls? It doesn't make sense to me.

  • T2 on November 27, 2012 11:48 AM:

    @Byers....I can't tell you why Republicans are so self-destructive. But I'm very glad they are, and very glad they are doing such a good job of it.

  • bdop4 on November 27, 2012 1:02 PM:

    The fact that President Obama still refers to the goal of "balanced" deficit reduction is proof positive that conservatives have won the messaging war.

    With our crumbling infrastructure and stagnant economy, there's no room for deficit reduction over at least the next four years. It's bad enough when the opposition pushes bad policy. The fact that Obama preemptively meets them halfway (deficit reduction in last two years of his term) is discouraging.

    Every dollar spent on deficit reduction instead of investment in the economy delays recovery. That should be the message. If we have to agree to some back-end deficit reduction through compromise, at least we will made that compromise through honest negotiations.

  • Jeff on November 27, 2012 1:45 PM:

    @James M
    You're absolutely right. Bipartisanship is impossible. The good news now is it's not required.

    This stuff drives me nuts:
    "But while Democrats have been explicit about what they want from the GOP – a higher top income tax rate on high earners – Republicans have been vague about what they want in return."

    We have the higher tax rates! We don't need to negotiate them away. Give them nothing in return. It's like we own Boardwalk and Park Place with hotels, and the Republicans have landed on Boardwalk and owe us $2,000. They've lost that, but they're trying to say, "Oh, OK, we'll give you that $2,000, but you need to give us the railroads and the utilities."

    No, no, no.

    They'll say, OK, just the railroads.


    Just the utilities? NO! Water Works?

    Give them nothing!

    We should be screaming this. We don't have to give them anything cuz we've got what we want in the bag, it's the law. The Bush cuts were designed to go away. They are going away. Don't cave and give Republicans something. Wait until Jan. 3rd and negotiate from a position of strength.