Economic Groundhog Day

(warning, unhinged rant ahead) ;o)

photo of Strother Martin in Cool Hand Luke
Some men, you jest cain’t reach…

Paul Krugman had a column in yesterday’s New York Times which was simultaneously great and cringeworthy. How could it be both? Because reading it feels like a discovering an old diary you wrote when you were deep in the throes of a misguided love affair with someone who twisted up your ability to think clearly so badly that reading it years later feels like watching a train wreck in slow-motion. With the gift of hindsight, you know how badly it turned out, and you can hardly recognize the obliviousness and self-delusion of the person – YOU – who couldn’t see what everyone else could at the time: how obvious – and how avoidable – the mistakes you were making were, as you made your way toward romantic doom. And perhaps most of all, how the object of your affection and cause of your heartache was truly not interested in your well-being at all.

Not that Krugman himself is oblivious or self-deluded. Far from it; in fact, Krugman’s column reads like the older, wiser you, looking over the shoulder of the younger, more foolish you. Mr. Krugman must feel like he is in some kind of bad remake of “Groundhog Day,” in which he’s being forced by university administrators to teach Intro to Economics to a particularly dull and dim freshman class…over and over and over again.

What about this is hard to understand, people? As Obama himself said the other day, spending IS stimulus. And Krugman is right on the money with his analysis, of course – but at this late date, why on EARTH is it even necessary for him to write such a column? I just saw Mitt Romney on CNN with Kiran Chetney, saying that Christina Romer once wrote that tax cuts have TWICE the stimulative effect of ANY form of government spending. I wanted Chetney to ask him: “really? Which paper of hers was that in, Governor Romney?” Because Christina Romer never said any such thing.

And as for President Obama? Glad to hear he’s finally begun using lines like “Americans won’t stand for executives being rewarded for failure” and referring to “failed economic theories of the past,” but why in HELL has it taken Obama more than two weeks (as well as a PR-shellacking at the hands of ideologically rigid, know-nothing blowhards like Rush Limbaugh) during what he has steadfastly maintained throughout the campaign (since at least September) is the most critical and pressing problem we face, to stop acting as if our country’s most worrying problem and important objective is actually obtaining buy-in from the party-before-country hacks in the GOP who caused and enabled the current mess, instead of passing the best bill possible with or without Republican support?

I am so tired of the stupidity of smart people. Cripes, Barack. Quit acting like the moony lover who keeps thinking that if he’s just nice enough, just compromises or sacrifices enough, the object of his desire who jilted him will have a change of heart and want him back. Time to move on. The truth is, the Republicans just aren’t that into you, to use a well-worn phrase. And most of them never were; you just didn’t see it. You apparently still haven’t realized that just because you say it’s a new era of post-partisanship, with “no red states and no blue states, but instead the United States,” doesn’t immediately and automatically call that era into being, out of nothing. The zero Republican votes – that’s right, count ’em, ZERO – that you got in the House of Representatives on your stimulus bill, even AFTER you watered it down and made it worse, weaker and less likely to do the job it has to do, by throwing bones to Republicans’ lust for tax cuts only, ought to have taught you that the vast bulk of the elected leadership of the modern GOP is far more interested in trying to prove their own discredited economic theories right and win elections at the expense of actual Americans’ well-being, than they are willing to man up and put country ahead of party, even when many of their own constituents (and everybody else) are in some of the greatest need in decades.

As Strother Martin, playing the sadistic disciplinarian prison warden in Cool Hand Luke says to a bloodied but unbowed Paul Newman: “some men, you jest cain’t reach.” That’s a pretty good description of the people running the GOP these days, Mr. Obama: unreachable. Or, perhaps more accurately, unwilling to compromise even an inch. I can’t even really blame them for not budging. Sure, it’s shortsighted of the Republicans, and so venal it borders on cartoonish, but that’s what I’ve come to expect from the people leading the GOP lately. But if you are capable of setting aside the damage done to real Americans by such machinations, and look at it from a purely tactical, strategic point of view, that kind of approach makes perfect sense. Someone smart in the GOP caucus figured out that some kind of bill addressing the crisis is inevitably going to pass. Everyone in Washington knows that doing nothing isn’t an option. But if Congressional Republicans all “go along” with you, Mr. President, and the stimulus ends up working, it will be your victory, because they were (mostly) your ideas. And in fact, it would even be a double victory for you, because you’d get credit for having “shown the GOP the error of their ways,” managed to get them “on board,” and then magnanimously welcomed them back into the fold. But there’s NO tactical downside to opposing your stimulus plan: if they oppose it and you pass it without them, and the stimulus succeeds, Republicans actually lose LESS face (in the eyes of guys like Limbaugh) because they can always say they stuck to their guns and their solution would’ve been even better. It will, of course, be a transparently ludicrous claim…but there’ll be no way to prove the performance of a course of action which wasn’t taken, so they’ll be able to claim it without being laughed off the stage.

And – horriffically – the GOP strategists’ best-case scenario would actually be if they oppose your plan and are able to bully you into watering it down enough so that the economy stays crappy well into 2010, 2011, 2012. If that unfortunate result happens, then the GOP spin-meisters and elected officials can use the one remaining thing they seem to do well – stagecraft – to go on talk shows and campaign trails and tell the American people “I told you so.” They’ll say that the public really should have listened to the daddy-knows-best party all along, instead of that inexperienced upstart Obama. They’ll say that the GOP would’ve saved the country’s economy (just like they saved us from Saddam’s WMD), if only we’d all been wise enough to listen…(pause for dramatic sigh, stare earnestly into camera). And sadly, because most people don’t have the time, inclination or in some cases, intellectual horsepower, to wade through the reams of competing data (much of it bogus) on an issue this complex to determine the truth from the spin, such public disingenuousness will win the Republicans seats back in both houses, and maybe even the White House again. We have a habit in American politics (like American sports, though sadly NOT in American business) of firing the manager if things don’t go well.

But if the last eight years of “my-way-or-the-highway” governing by Bush and Cheney taught us nothing else, it should have taught us – should have taught YOU, Mr. President – the hard truth of that old Strother Martin line: “some men, you jest cain’t reach.” These guys currently running the GOP ain’t gonna compromise with you, not now, and (probably) not ever. They hate you, some because they’re racists, some because they think, like that poor, deluded woman with the frizzy gray hair at the McCain campaign event last fall, that you’re “an Arab,” and some just because you’re a Democrat. Most of all, perhaps, they simply want to WIN – not to help the most people out.  Facing that, the best, and perhaps ONLY, way to get these guys to ever return to understanding the value of REAL compromise and bipartisanship (instead of “my-way-or-the-highway”) is by crafting and implementing better policies that actually help Americans, and thereby dealing these entrenched ideologues in the GOP defeat after defeat, until they realize that if they want a place at the table, they need to stop putting party before country, bring their best ideas, and be willing to actually bend a little.

So here’s a tip, Mr. President:  if the GOP wants to continue to be inflexible and wedded to failed policies, make them pay for it. Ask Harry Reid to force them to actually take to the floor of the Senate and mount a REAL filibuster, not just threaten one. Deliver them electoral loss after electoral loss, in places like North Carolina and Indiana and Florida, until they realize that their current heading leads to the final resting place of the Whig Party. Stick to what you know will be best for the country and keep working to shore up a consensus around those ideas among Democrats and the vast bulk of independents who are not dead-enders like the hard-core, Bush-loyalist GOP. And for God’s sake, stop weakening your own bills in a misguided attempt to get Republicans to vote with you, because they’re never going to: it’s not in their private or party interest, which is what really matters to them in the last analysis. So wise up – start talking to the people who’ve been RIGHT all along, on everything from the war to the economy, people like…say…Mr. Krugman. Read “The Great Unraveling.” And try, for crying out loud, to remember that political capital, much like a tax break given in a time of economic downturn, to the already-wealthy, isn’t WORTH anything if you hoard it all and never spend any of it.

Now. I’m gonna hit that “snooze” button ONE MORE TIME, and when I wake up again, it had BETTER be a new day: the one we overwhelmingly voted for. You know….”change?” From the “failed policies of the past?” Get to work, Mr. President. Your job as a candidate was to get as many people as you could to like you so that you could get elected. You did it. But that’s not your job any more, and you should stop behaving as if it is.

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