Monday, December 17, 2018

Back to the Republican future

By Nellie Bly
Washington Bureau

It's the eternal search: Republicans who don't rape, steal, collude with Russia, incite race war, paint their pates brown, or just plain don't suck.  Washington columnists have been looking for them for years.  Jennifer “Luv U Bibi” Rubin has been pushing some Republican governor who isn't terrible.  David “Complete National Disgrace” Brooks tried to sell us on Dakota Empty Suit Jim Thune.  And now New York magazine's Jonathan Chait, having correctly concluded that no living Republican politician can be taken out in public, has started mooning over a non-existent alternative: the ex-libertarian.

Apparently all it took was a free breakfast at some right-wing think tank in Washington named after some dead grifting libertarian who, having spent his whole life with his snout and trotters in the DC libertarian dark-money trough, came to realize that it was all a crock.  We hope Jon at least got the the full bacon-and-egg breakfast and not the chintzy yogurt and fruit cup that so appalled Empty Barrels Kelly.

Let's let Jon lovingly describe the moment of enlightenment:
Economist William Niskanen worked for the Reagan administration, and then proceeded to chair the Cato Institute, a redoubt of the firm anti-government verities that define conservative economic thought. Toward the end of his life, though, Niskanen began to express some doubts about the efficacy of supply-side economics, the unquestioned foundation of the Republican domestic platform. Cutting taxes without cutting spending, Niskanen observed, simply hadn’t worked. The small-government movement needed to “convince voters to reduce their demand for the services financed by federal spending,” he wrote. “Until that time, some increase in federal taxes appears to be a necessary part of a fiscal policy to balance the budget.”
Wait, you mean that when St. Ronald of Bitburg cut taxes for the rich in an effort to bludgeon Democrats into cutting Social Security and Medicare it was all horse hockey?  Who knew?  Well, those of us who were there at the time remember who knew.  We did.  And we sure as f*** don't recall Niskanen or any other highly-paid supplier of plutocrat-friendly statistics telling us otherwise.  Anyway, Niskanen is dead and can't defend himself so let's hear what his acolytes are saying 40 years after their fiscal fantasy exploded the national debt:
Niskanen’s scholars have criticized the failures of conservative policy you might expect — climate science skepticism [Presumably Chait meant to say denialism – Ed.] , the Republican health-care plan  . . .. But Niskanen has gone beyond point-by-point rebuttals and has developed a broad and deep argument with the movement’s core assumptions. . . . Last year, Will Wilkinson argued . . .  in favor of a social safety net to “increase the public’s tolerance for the dislocations of a dynamic free-market economy,” and identified libertarianism with hostility to democracy, resulting in persistent Republican efforts “to find ways to keep Democrats from voting, and to minimize the electoral impact of the Democratic ballots that are cast.” . .  .These are frontal assaults on the basic orientation of the libertarian political project. By recognizing the value of social transfers as a backstop to a free-market system, and acknowledging that the right’s obsession with the protection of property has made it hostile to democracy itself, they forced themselves to rethink not only the methods but also the goals of libertarian politics.
Let Republicans fight over their own future, we say
Gee, emphasizing the importance of a social safety net to remedy market failures (like racism and hurricanes) in the context of a democratic market economy sure sounds . . . familiar.  You might recognize it as the platform of the Democratic Party since about 1932.

You might also recall the commitment of the Democratic Party to social justice and the remediation of past wrongs done to persons of color, women, and anyone else who doesn't look like Mike Pence.  But to these ex-libertarians climbing out of their anchor holes into the bright light of reality, such a commitment is like the most exciting new idea ever:
Niskanen’s paper concedes that the simple small-government vision fails to capture important facts about political and economic life. Merely ending de jure racial discrimination does not wipe away a racial caste system that permeates multiple institutions in American life. “You can get very strong intergenerational transmission of subordinate status,” the paper importantly allows, “even in the absence of contemporary unjust acts.” The libertarian dream of a meritocratic capitalist system has to account for massive inequality that was originally produced by brute force, which requires “a strong presumption for widespread opportunity and an openness to redistribution.”

Who actually drafted this mother lode of wisdom?  Tony Lip?

Somewhere around paragraph 96, Chait does admit that his recommended future for the Republican Party sounds a lot like a Joe Biden beer blast:
Niskanen’s manifesto contains multiple points of overlap with the prevailing orientation of the Democratic Party, and almost none with the prevailing orientation of the Republican Party. One can imagine a future in which the Democrats move toward socialism, opening a void in the center for the ideas espoused by Niskanen to take hold in something that perhaps shares the name, but otherwise none of the important ideological traits, of today’s Republican Party.
So Chait admits that a party financed by reactionary plutocrats and maintained in power by white bigotry with a helpful assist from Comrade Putin's Internet Playpen might not gravitate toward the revealed wisdom of the Niskanen Center. But someday, when those unnamed horrible Democrats propel their party into the black depths of Socialism by for example offering single-payer health care (the policy faithfully followed by those Stalinist stooges, the UK Conservative Party) or a government-paid transition away from fossil fuels and towards a reliable clean-energy infrastructure (a policy also endorsed by the 161 other Commie puppet regimes attending the latest climate change conference), then maybe the Republicans will, like the highly-paid gasbags of the Niskanen Center, see a bright future based on Hillary Clinton's 2016 election manifesto.

Uh, we don't think so.  David Koch and Sheldon Adelson aren't known for throwing their money away, and we doubt greatly whether they would pony up hundreds of millions to elect nouvelle vague Republicans who want to raise their taxes to repair the social safety net.  Nor do we think that the current intellectual elite of the Republican Party – Louie Gohmert and Steve King – will embrace a future without 20-foot-high walls separating Mexico from the United States and people of color from polling places.  And don't get us started about Lamborghini-driving “Christians” who pontificate about women's duty to obey their husbands and bear their rapist's children, or the anti-U Bum neocons just waiting to invade Iran.

It's pretty to contemplate a Republican future of moderate policies and rainbow unicorns, though, and if the bacon is crisp and the eggs not too dry, there's no harm in letting Chait indulge his fantasies, as long as we don't let his fantasies distract us from the important work of building a strong, diverse Democratic Party that doesn't depend on a bunch of white male nerds suddenly waking up and smelling the coffee.

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