The perennial question about wingnuts has been, “Are they crazy? or stupid? or is this apparent craziness and stupidity just the façade of evil genius?” The answer, to me, was always that some of ’em know what they are doing and some of ’em are just stupid/crazy true believers of the façade.
We started many years ago with people like William Buckley and Bob Novak, who were not stupid and not crazy, but who were master propagandists. They brilliantly framed issues in ways that made the liberal perspective seem stupid and crazy. Now conservative thought is being promoted by the likes of Marc Thiessen.
This is not to say that, years ago, there was no stupid or crazy in the GOP. Joe McCarthy was both, and an alcoholic to boot, and for a time he was a soaring power in Washington. And the GOP supported and protected him until he started to attack Dwight Eisenhower. (It was Eisenhower who insisted the Army-McCarthy hearings be televised so that people could see McCarthy for what he was. Source, which isn’t on the web.) As soon as he started to be a liability, Senate Republicans turned on him and ended his career. But not before.
The problem for today’s GOP, however, is that as the older generation of wingnuts dies off they are being replaced by more and more stupid/crazy wingnuts who believe the propaganda. Some of the long-time GOP pols, I suspect, know good and well they are selling bullshit to stay in power. But the newer ones coming in actually believe the bullshit and confuse it with reality. See also The Long, Sad, Corrupted Devolution of the GOP, From Eisenhower to Donald Trump.
Yesterday I wrote that the Republican Party, and Donald Trump, are in disarray. Here are some more details, from Eric Levitz at New York magazine.
Mitch McConnell’s Senate caucus has had four months to prepare for the possibility that the U.S. economy would not be strong enough in late July to withstand the sudden cessation of enhanced unemployment benefits. It has had two months to prepare an answer to House Democrats’ blueprint for the next coronavirus relief package. Instead, it botched its attempt to unveil such a bill this week and now appears unlikely to pass a new one before 30 million unemployed Americans see their weekly incomes suddenly crater.
As I wrote yesterday, that’s partly because Trump appears to have thrown a fit and cancelled out a lot of what McConnell, Mnuchin, and Mark Meadows had negotiated while the Senate was in recess. But Levitz says there’s more:
When it passed the CARES Act in March, the congressional GOP insisted on having the bill’s $600-a-week unemployment-benefit bonus phase out at the end of July. Since then, the party has refused to approve any additional fiscal aid to states, households, or other needy constituencies on the grounds that a V-shaped recovery might soon obviate the need for further federal largesse.
If it wasn’t clear in March that the U.S. was in for a prolonged period of high unemployment, it has been since mid-June, when new COVID cases began climbing across the Sun Belt. But even if we postulate that it was reasonable for the GOP to wait until the last possible minute before extending benefits, there would be no excuse for the party’s failure to have a relief bill ready to go just in case. Even the most bullish economic forecasters didn’t rule out the persistence of double-digit unemployment this August as a significant possibility. So why then did McConnell wait until federal unemployment benefits were about to expire to start crafting another stimulus package? And why did Republicans fail to rally behind his outline this week, forcing the majority leader to abandon the bill’s rollout on Thursday morning?
The answer to both questions appears to be this: Many congressional Republicans earnestly believe that the reason unemployment is high — in the middle of an uncontained pandemic that is killing 1,000 Americans a day — is that the excessive generosity of federal benefits has rendered the unemployed unwilling to work.
See? That’s just stupid. There aren’t enough jobs, you morons, because of the freaking pandemic. Businesses are closed, a lot of them for good. Argh.
It’s possible McConnell isn’t a total moron, although that’s an assumption without evidence as far as I’m concerned:
McConnell’s procrastination has been widely interpreted as a means of gaining leverage over House Democrats: Since the Donkey Party cares more about the unemployed than the GOP, best to conduct negotiations while the calendar is slowly lowering the jobless into a pit of molten lava. And this may have been part of the intention. But the majority leader doesn’t just need leverage over Nancy Pelosi to get his preferred bill enacted; he also needs leverage over his own party’s anti-spending fanatics. Given McConnell’s failure to rally Republicans behind a package this week, it seems quite likely that his procrastination was born partly out of the hope that proximity to a fiscal cliff might chasten his caucus’s anti-Keynesian true believers.
Alas, they remain unchastened.
[Wisconsin Republican Ron] Johnson said he simply doesn’t want to spend any more money and plans to oppose the bill he hasn’t seen. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas told CNN he’s a “hell no” on a $1 trillion package, while Rand Paul of Kentucky told another reporter that Republicans were acting like “Bernie Bros” behind closed doors as they discuss among themselves how many hundreds of billions to spend, a reference to ardent supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist. …
… Worries among Republicans that they would catch the blame for checks stopping for millions of workers across the country had them briefly discussing another temporary patch in the middle of the week before dropping the idea. Senators like Cruz and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina warned against what they consider to be excessive aid, arguing they were hurting the economy by paying people an extra $600-a-week unemployment bonus.
I would say that the Dem attack ads write themselves, except that I don’t trust the Dems to pursue what is an obvious big, fat issue they could use to slam Republicans. Maybe the Lincoln Project folks will do it.
Back to Levitz:
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed Thursday, Johnson elaborated on the hard-liners’ case for doing nothing. Here’s the core of it:
Recent economic forecasts have predicted a decline in gross domestic product of between 4.6% and 8% for 2020. The damage from Covid-19 has been significant, but not catastrophic.
Congress authorized $2.9 trillion of Covid-19 relief, which represents 13.5% of 2019’s U.S. GDP. No one knows exactly how much of the Covid relief has been spent or obligated, but 60% ($1.75 trillion) seems to be a consensus figure in Congress. Let that sink in. We’ve authorized enough spending to replace 13.5% of annual economic output, and more than $1 trillion of it hasn’t yet been spent or obligated. So why is Congress rushing to pass at least $1 trillion more?
To this point about GDP, Johnson adds the argument that COVID-19 is not much more deadly than the flu, and thus, “there is no need to continue broad economic shutdowns with fatality rates in these ranges.”
This last point is the most patently mad.
Anybody who is still arguing that “it’s no worse than the flu” at this point is both mad and stupid.
In April, Johnson’s reasoning was reckless; today, it’s hallucinatory. We already ran the senator’s desired experiment! Texas, Louisiana, and Arizona reopened. Their economies rebounded for a few weeks, then COVID-19 cases surged, consumer demand fell, businesses started failing, and state governments were eventually forced to stall or reverse their reopenings to preserve hospital capacity. Texas’s economy isn’t suffering because its (Republican) political leadership overreacted to an overhyped flulike virus. It is suffering because that leadership cannot force consumers to shop or eat out when a potentially fatal infectious disease is running rampant in their communities, nor persuade voters that allowing the infected to overrun hospitals is an acceptable price for sustaining business as usual.
Johnson’s belief that “We have nothing to fear but fear (of a virus that has already killed 147,000 Americans) itself” is a winning argument testifies to both the power of motivated reasoning and the strong incentives that ideologically committed conservatives have for denying the reality of a crisis that admits no “small government” solution.
Johnson is a true believer. If reality doesn’t fit one’s ideology, then deny reality.
And we haven’t yet hit the big layoffs from state and local government jobs that will drive unemployment even higher, and which are inevitable if Congress doesn’t get off its butt to throw a whole lot of money at states and cities. And by “Congress” I mean “Senate Republicans,” because they’re the ones holding it up.
Such willful blindness to economic empiricism and the plight of nonaffluent Americans would be unremarkable with a Democrat in the White House or Election Day further in the future. During the Obama years, the GOP made its willingness to put partisan advantage above the general welfare perfectly clear. In ushering a historically unpopular tax-cut package through Congress in 2017, the party demonstrated its faith in the amnesia (and/or indifference to policy details) of the median voter.
But Johnson, Cruz, and Paul are imploring their party to chart an economic course that leads straight to electoral ruin. All historical precedent indicates that voters will hold the president’s party responsible for economic conditions. If Republicans do as Johnson advises and allow the typical unemployed American to see her monthly income fall by $2,400, while states and cities lay off public workers en masse and landlords kick millions of families to the curb — during the home stretch of a general-election campaign — then Democrats will almost certainly secure full control of the government next January. Which is to say, dogmatic adherence to conservative orthodoxy is not even in the best interest of the conservative ideological project.
This is what I mean by believing the bullshit and confusing it with reality. And what’s especally sad is that Republican senators are, on the whole, geniuses compared to Republican members of the House, who probably shouldn’t be allowed to hold sharp objects
If your primary concern is curtailing progressive redistribution, preventing the Democratic Party from taking power in the midst of a historic economic crisis should be a top priority. But a critical mass of congressional Republicans missed the memo differentiating what the conservative movement actually believes (that economic policy should be directed toward maximizing plutocratic prerogatives) from what it pretends to believe (that countercyclical spending doesn’t work). And so McConnell must reason with colleagues who genuinely think the party can revive the economy by removing all fiscal life support.
Again, this assumes McConnell knows better than his colleagues, and that’s an assumption not backed up by evidence. Economists are, in fact, calling for a big relief/stimulus package now, and they believe the economy will need many trillions of dollars over the next few years to undo the damage. The longer this waits, the deeper the damage.
Stuff to Read
Dean Obeidallah, Daily Beast, It’s Not Just Trump—the GOP Is Getting Crueler and Crazier
Dana Milbank, Washington Post, The Great American Crackup is underway