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Hullabaloo


Monday, January 14, 2013

 
We just disagree

by digby

This kind of analysis is why I love Ed Kilgore. He discusses the latest GangofNoLabels bipartisan conceits, this one led by Joe Manchin and Jon Huntsman, in which they predictably conclude that the only challenge is for Washington Pols to come together and get along so they can get under the hood and "solve our problems."
[I]t would be nice if partisans did not treat their differences as equivalent to the divisions that produced the Thirty Years War. But there are a few, well, problems with this abstract ideology of problem-solving.

One of the most obvious is the false-equivalency meme, the idea that all partisans are equally culpable for gridlock in Washington and thus must in equal measures abandon party discipline to “solve problems.” It’s understandable that any bipartisan group would accept as a point of departure this fiction, but it’s still fiction. One party is dominated by people who believe in a fixed, eternal set of principles and policies that are required of anyone expressing fidelity to the Constitution, to American traditions, and (for many) God Almighty. And the other is an unwieldy coalition of people who believe in all sorts of things, but is generally innocent of the conviction that its party platform came down from Mount Sinai or Mount Vernon on stone tablets.

But put that aside for a moment, if you can. The other problem is the conviction that reconciliation of the two parties’ points of view is simple if politicians agree to compromise.

At the moment, the impasse that is creating crisis after crisis in the fiscal management of the country is that Republicans contend the only real problem we have is the proliferation of domestic spending, mainly in “entitlements.” Congressional Republicans are largely unwilling to identify specific “reforms” that must be initiated to “solve” this problem—in part because they have selectively championed unrestrained entitlement spending (i.e., for Medicare) when it was to their electoral advantage. To the extent a Democratic position can be identified, it is that we have a short-term economic problem that militates against deep short-term spending reductions, and a long-term fiscal problem that must be addressed with a combination of economic growth, restraints in both domestic and defense spending, a reform of a tax system that is insufficient to pay for the government Americans consistently profess to want. Democrats, moreover, typically believe the key to domestic spending restraint involves reductions in heath care cost inflation that require more, not less, government intervention of a type that Republicans have denounced in terms usually reserved for the great totalitarian movements of the twentieth century.

A fiscal compromise between these two points of view that just “splits the differences”—i.e., the type that can be produced by Washington pols cutting deals across party lines—will not only be messy and offensive to ideologues and the two parties’ “bases” and interest groups, but will also be incoherent and internally self-cancelling to a degree that it may not solve any problem other than the most recent impasse in Congress.

Thank you. Unfortunately this seems to be the only approved alternative to the equally fatuous John McCain method:
“One of the things I would do if I were President would be to sit the Shiites and the Sunnis down and say, ‘Stop the bullshit,’”
Solving these impasses really isn't a matter of just "knocking some heads together" or coming up with a compromise that will "please no one but which everyone can live with." And that's assuming they have even identified the right problem in the first place (which I would argue they have not.) But as Kilgore rightly points out, even then the majority of the two parties disagree on how to fix it.

And this is a real disagreement, not just some tantrum by a bunch of spoiled citizens who can't be trusted to understand what's good for them. Many of the politicians these Very Serious People find so reprehensible are just responding to their constituents' legitimate wishes. I know that's inconvenient, but it happens to be the democratic process. Sorry.

But I think what Kilgore identifies here as the real problem is important: that this alleged "split-the-difference" form of centrist compromise doesn't split the difference at all. It's a forthright position of its own. He quotes Manchin and Huntsman to make the point:
"We need to attempt those things and to seek solutions now from the system and the leaders we already have. Businesses are not hiring, and investors are not investing as a direct result of the uncertainty created by Washington. Too many would-be workers are not working. The coming generations are being doomed to a worse standard of living than previous generations."
Kilgore writes:
This, folks, is an ideological statement, not a statement of pragmatic abandonment of ideology. Our principal economic problem, it is asserted, is “uncertainty.” If that is true, then any long-term set of fiscal and economic policies is desirable.

But what if liberals are right and the real problem with the economy is a dearth of aggregate demand? What if conservatives are right and the real problem is the perpetuation of the twentieth-century welfare state and regulation of “job-creators?” Compromises that pull in opposite directions on the basic diagnosis of what is wrong with the economy—particularly the preferred Beltway Fiscal Hawk “consensus” of adopting both sharp spending reductions and tax increases—are very likely to damage and reverse our fragile economic recovery more than all the “uncertainty” in the world.
And yet, isn't that what we are in the process of doing? I'll just put this chart up again:



And we have every reason to fear they are going to slash spending even more in the next round. (Even the Democrats' best case has more tax hikes and spending cuts.) In other words, Manchin and Huntsman may not be able to bring together a new GangofNoLabels --- but they don't really need to. So far, they are getting exactly what they want.  And when this plan fails to revive the economy, the Republicans will rush to blame the tax increases and the Democrats will rush to blame the spending cuts and the Village pundits will insist that these same Centrist Goldilocks "grown-ups"  offer up more of the same. And the wealthy will do fine, as they always do, while the middle class and the poor will be squeezed even more than they already are.

I believe the Republicans are dead wrong on almost everything.  I loathe the idea of allowing their agenda to pass.  If they had won the election I would hope (futilely, I'm sure) that the Democrats would fight them with everything they had, within the boundaries of responsible governance (i.e raising the debt ceiling.) And I am not surprised that the Republicans are fighting dirty.  It's in their nature.  But it's important to understand that this centrist mush is just making things worse. 

If we have to have this fight, let's have it.  And let the people hold those who do it accountable for what happens. This insistence on a consensus or grand bargain is hurting the country not helping it.

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