osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

As Ezra Klein Goes . . . .

I was struck by this column by Ezra Klein in today's Washpo called "the Keynsian case for Romney." To summarize:

1. If Obama wins, Rs will crash the economy by refusing to do anything and maintaining gridlock.

2. If Romney wins, he won't really be as extreme as he pretends to be to win the primary, so he will manage to get to the compromise Obama can't get.

3. Therefore we need Romney to win and Rs to control Congress.

This is an extremely common human pattern. Consider how many times the crazy person in your office, or in your family, or your club or whatever controls the agenda and always gets his or her way. Lots of people hate this person and don't want to do what this person wants to do. But opposing the person is too painful because they can hold everyone captive by creating total gridlock and being personally obnoxious. Rather than organize in opposition, people focus on placating Crazy Person. In fact, people actively resent efforts to oppose Crazy Person, because they will fail and make Crazy Person even worse whereas placating Crazy Person is less painful and we understand how to do that.

The problem here is that Klein (and those following this strategy) make several errors in basic assumption. After 4 years of intense purging, the Republican party now consists of people ideologically committed to a particular path and who regard any form of compromise, no matter how pragmatic from a traditional political standpoint, as anathema. These hardliners will feel that a victory is a mandate to pursue a policy of fiscal austerity and small government and will reject efforts by party leadership to "moderate" this approach. To the contrary, such an effort would be regarded as a fundamental betrayal.

Klein and others are not understanding that not only are Republicans not Democrats, they are not even the Republicans from 2001-08. The assumption that a Republican majority in Congress with a Republican White House will behave as they did in the Bush II administration is utterly wrong. While there are still a lot of folks in leadership who know what's for real and what's for show, a huge segment of the Republican party are absolutely committed to a repeal of the New Deal and a return to the legal and social framework of the Gilded Age. i.e., not only is it inappropriate for the government to provide a social safety net at tax payer expense, it is inappropriate for government to interfere with the "liberty of contract" as found in Lochner v. New York.

That means elimination of a lot of things industry likes, and willingness to tell business to shove it on the 5% of issues (like the debt ceiling) where they disagree with industry. The new Republicans also have a fundamentally different belief in the economy. These are people who really believe the Fed is evil and we need to go back to the gold standard. People like Klein insist that is whacky crazy stuff and the majority know better. But it is not crazy. It is just wrong.

Whatever Romney may think personally, he is bound by two constraints. First, he can only sign into law what Congress sends him. If Congress sends him the Ryan Budget, that's what gets signed. Given that Republicans are running on the Ryan Budget, it is difficult to imagine that they will not pass it within the first month of 2013. It is also unclear that Republicans will vote for a debt ceiling raise in 2013 even if they control both elected branches of government. I think they will, but serious pushback from the base may make it difficult.

Second, no President makes the day to day decisions on government. What matters is the quality of his appointments. Romney's appointments will almost certainly come from the hard-core ideological wing of the conservative movement. That means that at every level, we can expect a policy of deregulation and privatization to resume no matter what Romney may personally think.

In other words, the election really is a referendum on two vastly different economic ideologies. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Given the polarization of the country, lurching to the extreme may in fact be the only way to break gridlock and we will just have to live with the results. But no one should kid themselves that a vote for Romney is somehow a vote for Obama-lite.

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