I just watched the first Republican presidential “forum.” It was incredibly painful because it was just an excuse for all the candidates to come by and spout their talking points. I’m all for a non-combative environment where politicians can talk about their policies. But there was literally none of that. It was all posturing. By far, the most serious person at the “forum” was Rick Santorum. And this kind of thing always makes me think just how far the Republican Party has sunk. But I’m thinking back to the 1950s. Because I’m not at all sure that the Republican Party has gotten worse in my lifetime.
Paul Krugman recently wrote, Cap and Trade and Polarization. In it, he counter the idea that the two parties have been symmetrical in their extremism. And he pointed out that Republicans were originally for ideas like cap and trade and what would eventually become Obamacare. But Jonathan Chait has addressed this regarding Obamacare, The Heritage Uncertainty Principle. That’s the idea that Republicans are only in favor of healthcare reform if the plan is unrealistic. The moment that it becomes possible legislation, it is, “Socialism! Socialism, I tell you!”
But that’s clearly the case with just about everything for the last 50 years. In 1961, Reagan was saying that Medicare would be the end of freedom in America. Today, Medicare is pretty much untouchable. But there is no doubt that if it came up for a vote today, the Republicans would never vote for it. But that’s actually the opposite of the Heritage Uncertainty Principle. In general, what goes on is that Republicans pretend to be for some centrist policy, only to turn against it when it becomes reality. The Heritage proposal came out in 1993. The only reason it came out was to counter the more liberal Clinton healthcare reform. And the only reason the Republicans were for cap and trade was to counter more direct forms for environmental regulation.
So at least for 30 years, Republicans have brought up proposals that they had no intention of ever supporting — only as a way of destroying more liberal policies. Obamacare itself is a great conservative victory. That’s not because it is a conservative law. It is fairly liberal. But it is not as liberal as it would have been if there hadn’t been an alternative around. The fact is that our healthcare system could not continue on as it had been. We were going to get something one way or another. And the Republicans managed to stop us from getting a single payer healthcare system.
Scott Lemieux wrote a very interesting article over at The Week, John Roberts Has Been Trying to Gut the Voting Rights Act for Decades. It is about how the Republican Party has had an explicit policy to not counter the Voting Rights Act in the legislature. It’s too politically hot. But at the executive and judicial levels, they have been trying to destroy it. This goes right along with what I’m talking about: the Republicans know that their ideas are toxic.
And the whole thing reminds me of something some blogger said a while back about how exhausting it was to be a Republican, because he always had to pretend to believe something that he really didn’t. This was well on display at the “forum.” We heard lots of stuff about helping the middle class. But the ideas were all the same things that they always want to do. Somehow, we are supposed to believe that they want to cut the taxes of the rich because it will provide good jobs for the rest of society. Or we have to repeal Obamacare so that Americans will have the “choice” to go without insurance.
It’s really pathetic. Republicans always get about half of the votes in any election in this country. But they don’t care a lick about the vast majority of Americans. They lie again and again. And they get caught again and again. But it doesn’t matter. There is no accountability.
Update (5 August 2015 1:02 am)
John Whitehead at Environmental Economics wrote, A Note on the Accuracy of Krugman’s “Cap and Trade Began as a Republican Idea.” It turns out that environmentalists were the first to push cap and trade. But the point is the same: conservatives picked up on it as a way to avoid a more liberal approach to climate change. By the way, I just discovered Whitehead and he’s a very interesting guy. I encourage you to check out his blog.