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October 03, 2013 9:51 AM Extremists, Not “Nihilists”

By Ed Kilgore

The rapidly spreading progressive CW about what House Republicans are doing is that they are “nihilists” who have blundered into an impasse and have no clue how to get out. Jonathan Chait vividly compares them to characters in the Cohn Brothers’ tragi-comedy Fargo:

Boehner resembles William H. Macy’s character in Fargo, who concocts a simple plan to have his wife kidnapped and skim the proceeds, failing to think a step forward about what happens once she’s actually seized by violent criminals. He doesn’t intend for her to be harmed, but also has no ability to control the plan once he’s set it in motion. In the end, Boehner’s Speakership is likely to end up in the wood chipper, anyway.

Rep. Martin Stutzman (R-IN) has accomodatingly served up a quote to the Washington Examiner that will be quoted a thousand times today as proof House conservatives believe in nothing but, to use Brother Benen’s label, “post-policy nihilism:”

“We’re not going to be disrespected,” conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., added. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

So, we are all tempted to believe, there’s really nothing Obama or congressional Democrats or even sensible Republicans can do until The Crazy burns itself out or its devotees find a distraction.

Maybe that’s true in the end, but all this “they don’t know what they want” talk is both dangerous and wrong. Perhaps conservatives are unsure at the moment about which demands to make, but they’ve got plenty of them—perhaps too many of them—close at hand. They aren’t “nihilists;” they are extremists. What do they want?

* “Entitlement reform,” which means structural changes in the major New Deal and Great Society safety net programs to eliminate the “mandatory” character of spending on them and the personal “entitlement” to a reasonably fixed set of benefits.

* “Tax reform,” which means rate reductions for corporations and high-income individuals, perhaps offset by regressive consumption taxes.

* Domestic spending reductions, focused on low-income non-defense discretionary accounts (the same ones being most affected by the government shutdown).

* Higher defense spending, and particularly the relaxation of sequestration for the Pentagon only.

* Some sort of tangible progress towards the GOP’s general goal of banning abortion.

* Some sort of additional relief (they’ve already obtained quite a bit of it) for the poor, beleaguered financial sector.

* Wholesale abandonment of any limitations whatsoever on fossil fuels.

And yes:

* Sand in the gears of implementation of the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

I could go on and on, but you get the point: today’s GOP is in full-fledged revolt against much of the bipartisan policy legacy of the second half of the twentieth century and the small additions made to it since. They have a perennially rich menu of things they want once they have the leverage to secure them, whether it’s by electoral victories or horse-trading or hostage-taking. It’s a mistake to assume that they won’t get a ransom note together that they will stand by. And it won’t be a laughing matter.

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.

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