Sunday, September 29, 2013

What Republicans should do…

Of course I have no standing whatever to advise anyone about how they should conduct their politics, or how they should pursue their political goals.  But the current course on which Ted Cruz and his acolytes---or maybe his victims---in the house are set seems to me, and to almost everyone, as dangerous to the country, to the economy of course, and drastically dangerous to themselves.  They disagree.  We’ll see, I guess.

But I really don’t want to write about the House Republicans or Obamacare; they will do what they will do, and no amount of warning will slow them down.  The Washington Post this morning quoted Michelle Bachmann saying that this threat to the Government of the United States (the budget issue), and later in the month to the economy of the world (the debt ceiling issue), is exactly what the Tea Party conservatives wanted to do, and that they have arrived exactly where they wanted to be. 

Ok.  Maybe.  And there is nothing I can do or say that will change the next month.  But in a longer sense, beyond the present turmoil, there is a nit I need to pick. 

I live in a blue state, and in a very blue district in that state.  We aren’t frozen in a fixed party devotion; our representative in Congress for many years---8 terms---was a Republican named Connie Morella, but she was a moderate, and in fact a charming moderate.   People here voted for her at the same time that they were voting for Democrats for every Senate seat, for Governor, for President.   She was a brand of Republican that is currently extinct.  That is not just my opinion.  That is Connie Morella’s opinion. 

So of course, at the last Labor Day parade through Kensington, the town where I live, dozens of Democratic politicians who hold office or want to hold office drove by, walked by, waved themselves by, threw candy to the children, and generally behaved like politicians in a safe town.  And there was also one Republican running for office who carried a sign that read, if I’m remembering it right:

“Fiscal Responsibility, Low Taxes”. 

Yes.  That seems to be the Republican stand on the issues.  But in this blue district in this cobalt blue state, where the majority of the people vote for Democrats most of the time, I doubt if I could find a single person who disagrees with that slogan.  I wanted to do a quick poll, asking each person I met whether they favored fiscal irresponsibility, or taxes that are high just for the sake of having high taxes. 

So my nit is this: the slogan above has no bearing on the distinction between Republican stands on issues and Democratic stands on issues.  No matter which side you ask, they will tell you that they are being as fiscally responsible as it is possible to be while still meeting the proper responsibilities of government.  And they will tell you that they are trying to keep taxes as low as they can keep them while still being fiscally responsible. 

Republicans need a much more substantive slogan if they want to get votes from people with even moderate views: they need a slogan that distinguishes them from Democrats.  They have to tell us what they mean by “fiscal responsibility”, and why the policies that Democrats are proposing don’t meet that test.   And they have to tell us how they plan to lower taxes and still maintain enough revenue to run the government, and meet all of the government’s responsibilities, without huge deficits.   

But much more is riding on this than the votes of moderates.  Because right now we are butting heads over issues on which I think we may all substantially, or at least partially, agree in principle.  For example, you don’t want people taking welfare, or food stamps, or unemployment insurance, from the government---meaning from those of us who still have jobs---if they are healthy, able, and simply choose not to work.  Guess what?  Neither do I.  If people are able to contribute and have that opportunity, they should contribute.  On that the difference between us is our belief about the facts, not our underlying principle:  my facts are that the great majority of people on foodstamps come from households in which at least one person is working (for a very low wage), and most recipients are off the program within a year.  You may have different facts you want to bring to bear: but if we can recognize an underlying agreement about framework, and make this a discussion about the facts, we may get somewhere. 

So, House Republicans: I get that this confrontation and its consequences are the product of the elections that took you into office, and that the wreckage of a government shutdown and a default on debt is something that right now it’s hard for you to avoid.  But let’s start talking about real ideas, real facts, and real underlying principles, starting right now.  Default is truly a catastrophic result: the dollar is the currency on which the world depends, and Treasury notes are the safe refuge to which international money turns when the world is uncertain.  If those two lose the world’s trust, the 2007-2008 financial panic will seem mild by comparison.

So let’s talk, not in silly slogans and fake distinctions, but in real fact and real principle.  Maybe, if we’re all still standing after we clear the rubble from this fall’s unavoidable confrontation, we can maintain a discussion that avoids the next nation-threatening, global-economy-threatening showdown, or the one after that, or after that.  We can’t keep doing this, we can’t keep governing by showdowns at high noon, even if we always find last-minute escapes, without courting true disaster.  Eventually this drama will wear the world’s credulity too thin to bear the weight of the vast structure of international finance.   

And when that snaps we come to a very painful place.  

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