This week, my two favorite periodicals, the New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, had articles on the Republicans in the House. The first, by Xer Ryan Lizza, is entitled The House of Pain; the second, by Silent Elizabeth Drew, asks, "Are the Republicans Beyond Saving?" (It, alas, is available only to subscribers.) Both of them discuss the recent Republican retreat at Williamsburg and the arguments between Speaker Boehner and the Tea Party wing, and both suggest that Republican extremism is going to doom their party to extinction. In my opinion, both these articles are 1) entirely wrong in their implications and 2) very representative of why civilization as we know it is going down the tubes. Both Drew and Lizza are products of New Deal America, and they cannot apparently understand not only that the Republicans are determined to destroy what is left of it, but that they are succeeding in doing so.
The point to which both articles return repeatedly, naturally, is that Mitt Romney lost the election and that demographic trends suggest that it will be very difficult for a Republican to win one any time soon. The first contention is undeniably true; the second is much more dubious. Lizza scores a very funny point in his lengthy account of the Williamsburg retreat when he quotes the CEO of Domino's Pizza, who turned the company around, as he explained, by doing some research and discovering that he was marketing a terrible product. He also scores some points off of Eric Cantor, who gave a speech at a conservative think tank trying to explain, very unconvincingly, how Republican policies could actually help average Americans. He concludes suggesting that Cantor is beginning to accept the realities of leadership. Drew also patronizes the Republicans in many ways, but she concludes more realistically that the real danger they pose is to the ocuntry, not themselves. The articles of course were written before the sequester, but it could easily have been anticipated.
The reality is that the Republicans have enacted into law the progressive dismantling of the federal government as we know it, and stage one began today. Defense spending and discretionary spending are essentially frozen in constant dollars for the next eight years under the sequester, even though the population of the United States, economic growth, and tax revenues are not. This means an $83 billion cut over the next nine months. It means, I am reliably informed, massive cuts in aid to school districts around the country. It means hundreds of thousands of layoffs. It means, in short, that we are repeating the disastrous experiment run by the British Tories, which has kept Britain mired in recession. But the Republicans, from Boehner on down, are trumpeting their victory: this is their fantasy come true.
I share Lizza and Drew's opinion that the Republicans in Congress are clueless regarding the demands of a modern civilized society and what it takes to pay for it, but that, in a sense, does not matter. I share their opinion that they cannot govern, but that misses the real point: they don't want to. They don't want America to be governed: they want a nation ruled by hedge fund managers, health insurance companies, the big processed food manufacturers, and above all, energy magnates. Most of the Republican Congessmen, as Lizza points out, come from the South and the mountain states and from thoroughly gerrymandered districts in the Midwest, with a few left in the middle Atlantic. Financed by superpacs, they owed nothing to John Boehner nad now have forced him to dance to their tune. They will never agree to any more tax increases and none can be passed, for the foreseeable future, without them.
I am rather terrified that Jacob Lew, the architect of the sequester, is now Secretary of the Treasury, because I think it must have been amazingly self-delusional to believe that the current Republican Congressional delegations would back away from implementing this sequester. Of course they wouldn't. I'm amused that Bill Kristol, bless his heart, is apoplectic about the defense cuts, because he and his fellow neocons and allies in the old Bush Administration did so much to make the Tea Party possible. The Tea Party couldn't care less about foreign policy, except for knee-jerk support of Israel to please Sheldon Adelson. Their enemy is the federal government, not Iran, and they have no struck a big blow against it. (One fellow Boomer who gets it is Robert Reich.)
For half a century now the Left--the readers of the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books--have focused mostly on social issues like abortion and gay rights, and on criticism of US foreign policy, which has offered plenty to criticize. They have assumed that the economic achievements of the New Deal and Great Society were simply part of life, like the seasons, and worse still, they have assumed that everyone else felt so too. That is why we have no mass oRef Democrats just as determined to preserve those things as the Republicans are to destroy them. That is why Barack Obama has so foolishly compromised, time and time again, with Republicans who are determined to destroy him and everything he stands for. And that, I suppose, is why the White House is now trying to divert attention from this debacle by attacking Bob Woodward for telling the truth, namely, that the sequester was their clever idea.
I suspect we will see more crises in the next two months over continuing resolutions and the debt ceilings. It is at least possible that when the cuts go through, the Republicans will be willing to keep things where they are. But they are not going to reverse policy, and that will keep the economy work. Some of them undoubtedly think that will help them in the next Congressional elections--a possibility that I don't think either Lizza or Drew mentioned. That is their trump card. Because we need government, weakening government makes the people mad. The Republicans have been quite successful in channeling that anger against the government itself. They are counting on that strategy to overcome their demographic disadvantage.