Ed Kilgore wrote a great article over at Talking Points Memo last week, Our Economic Problems Keep Changing, but the GOP’s Answers Stay the Same. Of course, it isn’t surprising that I love it; it perfectly encapsulates something that I’ve been writing about for years. The ideological rigidity of the conservative movement only allows them a couple of tools, and so they apply those tools to every problem they come upon. It is pathetic.
Put bluntly and broadly, the tools are (1) take money away from the poor; and (2) give money to the rich. My favorite example of this is the Republican Party mainstay “tort reform.” This is something that Republicans hate in all cases because they don’t like the idea that poor people could sue rich people and corporations for harm done. But it takes on its greatest form as “healthcare reform.” The idea is that doctors are over treating patients because they are so afraid of being sued. As a result, healthcare costs are high because doctors are covering their behinds with a bunch of unnecessary tests.
The reality is rather different. It turns out that doctors over-treat patients (if you want to put it that way) because — Here’s a shocker! — they actually care about patients getting better. Studies have found that reducing malpractice damages has little to no effect on this so called defensive medicine. Thus, “tort reform” would not make medicine more cost effective. It would, however, keep money in the hands of the rich and out of the hands of the poor. And since that is the ultimate goal of the Republican Party, no amount of evidence about their supposed justifications is going to change their thinking on the matter.
Kilgore put it well:
Ironic as it may seem that an expat Jewish lesbian avant-garde writer famous in the 1920s could articulate the operating principle of the Republican Party nearly a century later, it sort of does sum it all up. For today’s ideologically rigid GOP, the “answers” to national challenges are clear; the trick is to adapt them to different “questions.”
This is most obvious with economic and fiscal policy, where the conservative movement and the Republican Party have embraced a largely static agenda of deregulation, top-end personal and business tax cuts and sharp reductions in domestic spending, with periodic attacks on New Deal and Great Society entitlement programs, with “devolution” as an instrument for “reform,” for well over thirty years, or about halfway back to Gertrude Stein’s death in 1946. There has been a “minority report” on taxes among conservatives favoring a consumption tax—the “Fair Tax” promoted by Mike Huckabee and many others being the most popular contemporary iteration—but the distributional thrust is the same or even more regressive. And there has also been persistent interest among social conservatives in “family-friendly” tax policies, usually a big boost in the child tax credit. But it’s pretty much a regular menu with the occasional refresh.
What’s fascinating, though, is how these policies are offered again and again as an agenda for all seasons and all circumstances—good times (like the late 1990s), bad times (like the last few years), budget surpluses (in 2001, when George W. Bush marketed his huge package of tax cuts as a “rebate”), budget deficits (the 1980s through the early 1990s, and again since 2009), and just about every climate in between the extremes.
This relates to another political myth: Republicans are for small government. What’s so awful about this myth is that the kinds of government that Republicans want is exactly the kind of government that most oppresses people. As I’m fond of pointing out to people, it isn’t the public library that limits freedom. It is rather institutions like the police, the military, spying agencies.
Of course, conservatives counter that it is unnecessary taxation that enslaves people. But this clearly isn’t the case. Paying a high tax rate might be unpleasant, but it isn’t oppression. And that argument really sounds hollow for a group that thinks that the 20% of our federal budget spent on military — representing almost half of all the military spending in the world — isn’t enough. This is also the group that seems to think that no level of oppression is unjust if it is applied to a pregnant woman — including penalizing her for not living a healthy enough life.
This is why it is best to think of the Republican Party in the way I mentioned above: they believe in impoverishing the poor and enriching the rich. So I’m sure that the Republicans will eventually come up with some new ideas. If any conservative wonk comes up with a new way to take from the rich and give to the poor, the Republicans will be right on it. Otherwise, it will be the tried and true methods. The United States government has a proven record of helping the rich and the expense of the rest. And given that it works so well, who needs new ideas?