Political Animal


August 13, 2011 10:00 AM They have no idea what they’re doing

By Steve Benen

Journalistic standards and modern political norms place some restrictions on what a reporter can and will say in a news article. It’s what too often leads to unhelpful he-said-she-said reporting (“Eric Cantor today said two plus two equals five; Democrats and mathematicians disagreed”).

But the New York Times’ Jackie Calmes has a terrific piece in which she comes very close — as close as is possible in our contemporary media construct — to simply drawing the public a picture the country urgently needs to see, but usually doesn’t. In a measured tone, the NYT article effectively makes clear that when it comes to economic policy, Republicans plainly have no idea what they’re talking about.

The boasts of Congressional Republicans about their cost-cutting victories are ringing hollow to some well-known economists, financial analysts and corporate leaders, including some Republicans, who are expressing increasing alarm over Washington’s new austerity and antitax orthodoxy.

Their critiques have grown sharper since last week, when President Obama signed his deficit reduction deal with Republicans and, a few days later, when Standard & Poor’s downgraded the credit rating of the United States.

But even before that, macroeconomists and private sector forecasters were warning that the direction in which the new House Republican majority had pushed the White House and Congress this year — for immediate spending cuts, no further stimulus measures and no tax increases, ever — was wrong for addressing the nation’s two main ills, a weak economy now and projections of unsustainably high federal debt in coming years.

Instead, these critics say, Washington should be focusing on stimulating the economy in the near term to induce people to spend money and create jobs, while settling on a long-term plan for spending cuts and tax increases to take effect only after the economy recovers.

Republicans respond to all of this by … not caring at all. Some may want a weaker economy on purpose, some are too blinded by ideology to consider objective information, some aren’t terribly bright, and some, as David Brooks recently noted, simply “do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities.”

But the bottom line remains the same: nearly everyone who understands economic policy at any level is convinced Republicans — in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail — are spewing gibberish. And in this case, “nearly everyone” includes veterans of the Reagan and Bush administrations, making opposition to right-wing Tea Party nonsense bipartisan.

Also note the scope of the concerns. Current GOP officials aren’t just wrong about stimulus, the timing of budget cuts, taxes, debt reduction, or monetary policy — they’re wrong about all of them at the same time.

In fairness, the article does note one economist — Stanford’s John Taylor — who’s willing to defend the Republican line (as he always does, regardless of merit). But to appreciate the credibility of the GOP’s go-to economist, swing by Krugman’s blog and type Taylor’s name into the search engine.

Regardless, it’s an important article about the nation’s most pressing crisis. Take the time to read it, save it, and send it around.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • sick -n-effin-tired on August 13, 2011 10:16 AM:

    Quote of the day in a letter to the op ed
    Genuflecting to the Tea Party


    What the bad gang is selling is the same as it always is: extraction. They are vying for the right to set up an extraction economy. They want to extract financial and physical assets and hand the spoils to powerful friends. They want to extract truat and replace it with fear so we will turn for protection to the bad gang that demonstrates it has no restraint. They want to extract programs that are a part of the American social contract. They want to extract profits and power from the hands of the dwindling middle class. They want you to have what's left.
    --Walter Rhett

  • JEA on August 13, 2011 10:16 AM:

    I might point out that this (cuts with no taxes) has become religious fervor rather than politics subject to negotiation; if you have TRUTH on your side there is no need for negotiation, nor is it even possible.

    It's like trying to convince a devout Christian that Jesus wasn't the Son of God.

    Hysteria, hyperbole and absolutism have taken over.

    Which is why Obama's attempts at bipartisanship have fallen flat - he evidently has yet to realize he's not dealing with a political party but with religious fanatics.

    Second, today's conservatives do NOT consider either Bush or Reagan as true conservatives because they never adhered to what today is viewed as GOP Gospel. THIS Republican party feels compromise is anathema.

    So what makes anyone think they'd listen to them?

    The only way to keep Republicans from getting everything they want is to kick them out of office next year. They are an army in lockstep. If we don't, we're f--ked. There is no way this GOP will ever compromise on anything.

  • walt on August 13, 2011 10:21 AM:

    The anti-tax ideology is real, the anti-deficit ideology not so much. Even on the tax front, however, there's less consistency than meets the eye. The right is generally much softer about regressive taxes. What they oppose are progressive taxes and government that helps low-income Americans. They're Christians, you see, but from the Herod school.

    And let's not forget our valiant president who triangulates with them against progressive policies. Not bad for a "socialist".

  • c u n d gulag on August 13, 2011 10:24 AM:

    Not to worry, I'm sure Krauthammer will come to the Republicans defense on the economy (but I think even Kristol has said some disparaging things recently - he's still gung-ho for war, though).

    And I'm sure there'll be even more general support from the Op-ed 'Hiattarchy' at the WaPo.

    Also, I'm sure that Megan McArdle will chime in with some prime, USDA Grade A gibberish in defense of austerity.

    And I'm sure AP and USA Today will also good be for austerity sing-alongs.

    Because, you see, only Liberals read the NY Times, so how can you believe a word they say?

    And who can believe the scholars and intellectual authorities, who are oart of the "elites' in the Liberal Lamestream media? Or they're acadamics who are well known to be dirty Commies and Pinko's. And Fascists! Let's not forget "Liberal Fascism" in all of this.


  • berttheclock on August 13, 2011 10:31 AM:

    @sick_n_effin_tired, interesting comment about the extraction mindset. Very similar to the mindset of the extraction moguls of coal, timber, minerals and oil. They do not create. They exploit. There was a book written, many years ago, by the editor of the Aberdeen, WA newspaper entitle, "They Tried To Cut It All" about the timber barons. Same thinking. Cut it all, drain it all, mine it all and move on.

    Funny thing about Taylor absolving the RepuGs. After serving Ford, Reagan, GWHB, Dole and GWB, what else could he do? Yeah, how 'bout his days with working for Shrub. How did that part of the economy work out?

  • kevo on August 13, 2011 10:31 AM:

    Going into this election season, I will make sure all my lefty friends know they are to blame for the early 21st century malaise hoisted upon us all by the Republican brand!

    Starting with that Ralph Nader thing in 2000, and continuing to the sit-on-their-hands routine in 2010, the professional left has screw themselves up, and have relegated themselves to reactionaries! (We can't let those Crazies rob us of our entitlements!)

    It is encouraging to see the Calmes article, as maybe it may begin to help far left ideologues to be more participatory in our citizens' sovereign nation! (Crazies participate!)

    Voting for Barack Obama in 2008, and then sitting out the 2010 cycle was an insult to real politik! If "lefties" do not to vote for President Obama's re-election and return a Democratic House to our nation in 2012, therein would be when the injury occurs!-Kevo

  • Larry Reilly on August 13, 2011 10:32 AM:

    But I recall just a few weeks ago, after the "deal" was struck, Colmes wrote one of those faux-balanced analysis pieces touching on how neither side could agree on what was needed.
    Yeah, right.

  • Registeredguest on August 13, 2011 10:35 AM:

    "as David Brooks recently noted, simply 'do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities.' "

    And Brooks along with the MSM is a major part of the problem. Instead of having legitimate scholars and intellectual authorities discuss the issues the MSM will offer us food fight journalism with David Brooks, David Gergen, Gloria Borger, Bill Bennett, Chris Matthews, Republican operatives vs. Democratic operatives to explain what we should think.

  • stormskies on August 13, 2011 10:44 AM:

    sick and tired comments about 'extraction' are so, so true .. beyond a thousand examples that could be used to demonstrate it consider this from the sadistic state of Texas ....


    Texas utility customers pay a little extra on their bills that is supposed to go into a fund to help the poor cover their own utility payments. But in a year of record heat, less than half the fund is being paid out, forcing people to do without air conditioning in triple-digit temperatures.

    CBS reports that the Texas legislature has repeatedly approved raiding the fund in order to balance its budget without raising taxes. By 2013, there will be $900 million sitting unspent, with no plans to ever pay it out.

    And not only are the poor being shortchanged, but members of the middle class who pay utility bills are being charged that extra fee which does nothing but subsidize keeping taxes low on the wealthy.

  • Old Uncle Dave on August 13, 2011 11:28 AM:

    As long as both parties refuse to make any cuts that would negatively impact the profits of the military industrial complex, the US will continue on the road to financial ruin.

  • You Don't Say on August 13, 2011 12:17 PM:

    Comments section a little depressing, though. So many seemingly-intelligent people (at least they can write a coherent comment) saying the story is all wrong, taxes bad, cutting good, ooga, ooga.

  • zeitgeist on August 13, 2011 12:23 PM:

    i'm on a mobile device so it is too hard to do a link, but John Avlon also has a piece up at CNN.com arguing that Republicans are at war with reality. Also very much NOT a "false equivalence" piece. Good to see.

  • Mimikatz on August 13, 2011 12:42 PM:

    I listened to lots of CNBC this past week, what with the market gyrations, and I was amazed at the numbers of commentators,hosts, fund managers, economists, traders, CEOs etc who were saying the same thing. I wanted to scream at them, where have you been fir the past year? Of course there was the usual assortment of ideologues, including their resident loon Rick Santelli, but the overwhelming consensus was on the other side. It was amazing.

  • Mimikatz on August 13, 2011 12:48 PM:

    I mean the consensus was for minimal cuts short term and some stimulus, especially of the roads and bridges variety. They thought the debt ceiling theater was absurd, except of course for Santelli, e original Tea Partier.

  • PTate in Mn on August 13, 2011 12:54 PM:

    I am encouraged to see that MSM journalists are starting to criticize Republican delusions and the harm that Republicans are doing to the nation. I hope these articles are the first sign of a journalistic paradigm shift that will result in a cascade of truth-telling (rather than continuing the useless he-said-she-said reporting.)

    That would be a good thing, imho.

  • denim on August 13, 2011 1:10 PM:

    Perhaps a few journalists are beginning to realize that they too will have to live in the economic ruins left by arrogant, conceited, know-nothing politicians.

  • yellowdog on August 13, 2011 1:47 PM:

    Not nearly tough enough. Better than average, but still gives too much credibility to right-wing nonsense. I don't think reporters really understand how radicalized the GOP has become.

  • SecularAnimist on August 13, 2011 2:58 PM:

    Steven Benen wrote: "They have no idea what they're doing."

    The Republicans know exactly what they are doing. They are lying. They are very deliberately, systematically, consistently, repeating scripted, focus-group-tested, talk-radio-programmed lies.

    It is frustrating when "liberal" journalists and bloggers either cannot see this, or are unable or unwilling to bring themselves to say "the Republicans are lying", and instead suggest that the Republicans are confused, or ignorant, or deluded, or crazy.

    The Republicans are not crazy ideologues -- they are bought-and-paid-for corporate stooges who play crazy ideologues on TV.

  • G.M. Smith on August 13, 2011 3:31 PM:

    The first question for the Republican hopefuls in the next debate should be: "Will each candidate please name their choices for the Secretary of the Treasury and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve?"?
    The answers will be as follows (hopefuls are listed alphabetically):

    Michele Bachmann: "The Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve should be abolished. And that's an un-American question."
    Herman Cain: "What Michele said."
    Newt Gingrich: "That's a 'gotcha' question."
    Jon Huntsman: "Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke."
    Thaddeus McCotter: "Who's available?"
    Sarah Palin: "I'll take care of both jobs as well as the presidency. I can multi-task!"
    Ron Paul: "What Michele said."
    Tim Pawlenty: "I'm not sure."
    Rick Perry: "God will let me know."
    Mitt Romney: (Crickets)
    Rick Santorum: "Pope Benedict."

    I hope I didn't leave anyone out...

  • ToyotaBedZRock on August 13, 2011 6:28 PM:

    That was a horrible article on NYT. It misses the many of the problems and for gets history.

    First, we used to pay for wars with a tax.

    Second the private prison industry is using prisoner labor to construct bombs and the electronics. Which means the massive war spending is deflating the economy instead of helping it.

    Third welfare needs a comeback Clinton should be shamed for his short sightedness. If the Rich do not have a economic penalty to not employing people they always take the easy route.

    Forth the people who caused the problem where not punished so there is no reason for anyone else to follow the law.

    And finally, Medicare was reformed LAST YEAR, the annual increase is spending has been cut in half http://www.healthbeatblog.com/2011/08/medicare-spending-slows-sharply-few-seem-to-notice-part-1.html

  • Doug on August 13, 2011 7:10 PM:

    It IS good to see even a limited amount of actual "journalism", as opposed to the mass of current "he said/he replied" crap presently being passed off as "news".
    Newspapers appear, usually, once a day. One newspaper provides, usually, local news, national and foreign news, if important enough, sports, weather, local happenings, economic news, aka "sales" and opinion, both local and national, depending on the paper's budget.
    To get the same information via your television might require four or more specialized channels. The days of the nightly news program being a network's subsidized "trophy" are long gone. Cable "news", and by that I mean national and foreign news, is on 24/7 and HAS to pay for itself. "News" has become just another product requiring sponsors and viewers. In my opinion, it's the desperate scramble for ratings more than anything the right has done ("media bias", etc), that's responsible for what passes for "journalism" in this country today. We DON'T need a "liberal" cable network to counter Fox, we need either a television network that isn't totally dependent on income from its' "news" programs to counter all of them, as in ABC, CBS, NBC, or, what with the steady increase in home computer use, an internet "network" providing "news" qua factual information and not as something to increase ratings. I know the former would be very expensive, it's why the networks don't do it anymore. I have no idea the cost of the latter, but I imagine it would be much, much less.
    I have to disagree with SecularAnimist @ 2:58 PM, that Republicans are just whores and not ideologues. There're always SOME whores in politics, it's one of the things that gives that profession its' not-so-stellar reputation. However...
    There are 40+ Republican Senators. 240 Republican Representatives. They're ALL lying? ALL their staffs would also have to be in on the deal, too. 30+ State Governors are Republican, ALL of them are lying, too? A majority of the members of State legislatures and THEIR staffs are Republican and ALSO are lying? Then there are the Republican Mayors and City Council members and THEIR staffs. More liars? Finally, we have Republican County and Town Council members and School Board members, most of them without staff but, according to you, lying for their paychecks. And not a single, solitary "whistleblower? Perhaps the Mafia is acting as the corporations' "enforcers"?
    Yep, that would be SOME conspiracy...

  • Bonnie on August 13, 2011 8:28 PM:

    The problem is that I believe (as a journalism major a long time ago) that the press when printing the following:
    Eric Cantor today said two plus two equals five

    The press has an obligation to report that, of course, "two plus two really equals four." Then, we can evaluate whether we want to believe someone who can't do elementary math or to believe the truth. Basically, now the press does not provide us with the most important information from which to make a good judgment. That is why newspapers are going to die. It used to be that you could depend on newspapers to provide the truth; now, they just spin like every one else.

  • Peter on August 14, 2011 1:15 PM:

    Yeah Steve, I know you have a lot of contacts and so does Jackie over at NYT. Could you possibly ask Senator Reid why the Dem led Senate has not performed their Constitutional Duty of producing and passing a budget for over 815+ days?

    Could you also help everyone to understand why @BarackObama and the ENTIRE Congress doesn't understand:

    Spending more than you ever take in never works. Ever.

  • Jack Lohman on August 14, 2011 1:22 PM:

    This has absolutely nothing to do with Republicans versus Democrats and 100% to do with the wealthy Fat Cats that want tax breaks and are willing to bribe their congress members to get them.

    Jack Lohman