The Republicans recent political posturing over President Obama’s stimulus package and the California budget reminded me of the 1980s pop hit “Sunglasses at Night” about a man who retreats to darkness rather than deal with harsh realities. While the song may be a nostalgic guilty pleasure, it is no recipe for sound public policy. Apparently someone forgot to tell this to the Republicans whose Ray Bans have been in full display.
In California the harsh reality was a $42 billion budget deficit and a requirement that any tax increase pass with two-thirds approval (which meant two Republican votes in each house). The Republicans’ blanket opposition to any tax increase caused a four-month stalemate that forced the governor to halt public works projects and issue layoff notices to 20,000 state employees in a state that already has the fourth highest unemployment rate in the country.
With a government shutdown imminent, the Senate Republican leader committed political heresy by endorsing a budget deal with $14 billion in new taxes and conceding that the deficit was too big to be closed without them.
The Senate Republicans responded immediately in Gingrichian fashion by installing a new leader who wanted to reopen negotiations to “pass a no tax budget” (of course without offering any such plan). Luckily, a second Republican stepped forward the next day to support the deal and save the state from a fiscal catastrophe and his fellow Republicans.
That the Republicans would rather deal a body blow to the world’s eighth largest economy during a recession than yield an inch on taxes is nothing new. Since the passage of Proposition 13, which cut property taxes and established the two-thirds vote requirement, the Republicans have turned a blind eye to the Mississippification of the once Golden State in pursuing their “all taxes are bad” agenda.
As a result, a state that once led the nation in education and infrastructure for example, now ranks 47th in key education indicators and last in highway spending.
The Sacramento Republicans, however, are mere amateurs when compared to the Ray Ban kings in Washington. Republicans still cling to the myth that tax cuts not only cure all problems but even pay for themselves (something even Bush’s budget director conceded was not true). In 20 years of supply-side economic rule, our national debt has grown by $7.5 trillion, which shockingly is $3 trillion more (in current dollars) than during the many challenges and crises of the Roosevelt-Truman era (which included the New Deal, World War II, the GI Bill, the Berlin Airlift and the Marshall Plan).
With the country facing its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the Republicans’ proposed solution was to follow the same policies that have led us to the current crisis.
Even worse, the Republicans argued that the Obama plan would only exacerbate matters claiming that similar efforts under the New Deal had prolonged the depression. While there is no doubt Roosevelt left the Republicans in a deep depression, by his second year in office GDP was up a remarkable 17 percent — an increase that only Roosevelt himself surpassed during World War II.
The Republicans’ denial is part of a pattern of pretending that problems that do not fit their neat little world view either do not exist (e.g., global warming) or can be easily solved (e.g., abstinence will prevent the spread of AIDS). This is, after all, the party that had three presidential candidates who refuse to believe in evolution.
While the Republicans at least agree that the world is not flat, by failing to offer any meaningful alternatives to our current problems other than the very policies that created them (or merely parroting sound bytes from the Reagan era) the party is engaging in its political equivalent.
The same is true for threats by Republicans governors, such as South Carolina’s Mark Sanford (whose state has the third highest unemployment rate), to refuse stimulus money for their struggling states.
Sacrificing their citizens at the altar of ideology merely demonstrates how out of touch the party has become.
If the Republicans are going to ever regain political supremacy, they are going to have to take off their sunglasses and recognize the wreckage they have caused and, ultimately, that taxes (and even government itself) are not always bad.
Republicans also would be wise to study rather than deny the New Deal, since in a matter of four years the party went from controlling the White House and Congress to holding only 17 Senate seats and 89 House seats. If they continue with their Ray Ban induced, “world is flat” politics, the Republicans may face a similar fate and be left “Dancing with [Them]selves”.
Bennet Kelley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.