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Hullabaloo


Monday, August 25, 2014

 
Too extreme to take the opportunity of a lifetime

by David Atkins

Jon Chait has a good piece on the GOP's demographic trap, and how it stops them from taking up the President's misguided Grand Bargain on cuts to earned benefit programs like Social Security. Chait's thesis is essentially that the GOP has cornered itself into becoming an older party that can't afford, electorally, to risk actually making cuts to programs it would like to, because they might get backlash from their base.

I riffed on that thesis yesterday at Washington Monthly:

The easiest way for the Republican Party to escape would simply be to abandon its pretense of fiscal austerity—it is, after all, a kabuki show that closes up whenever a Republican is president—and wholly embrace becoming a party of elderly voters driven by cultural resentment. The GOP could, in effect, treat cuts to Social Security and Medicare as equally sacrosanct with cuts to the military, and then suggest that literally everything else in the budget be cut first. If they can get a Democratic president to go along with it, then so much the better for them.

Some Republicans are doing that already, of course. But the challenge for conservatives is that a new generation of lawmakers and activists grew up actually believing the Objectivist rhetoric of fiscal austerity and intend to see it enacted. Not only are Republicans unlikely to start treating spending on retirees as a sacred cow, they’re even moving away from protecting military spending as well.

GOP leadership knows that in the medium-term it has to reach out to younger voters and voters of color. But their base rejects out-of-hand any of the policy changes that would be required to even begin to do that. In the short-term conservatives could make gains by adding Social Security and Medicare to their list of sacred cows, and watch Democrats tie themselves into foolish knots trying to be “fiscally responsible”, but their new generation of hyper-conservative activists won’t let them.

So instead the GOP just plods along incoherently, moving opportunistically to capitalize on fear and cultural prejudice, but lacking in a broader strategic vision for its future. It’s so hostage to its own extremism and demographic traps that it can’t even take advantage of an amazing opportunity to enact their policy agenda, even when a Democratic president offers it to them on a silver platter.
We can only hope that progressives within the Democratic Party help stiffen the Party's resolve against these sorts of Grand Bargains before the GOP figures out this problem and takes the deal it is being offered.

Lobbying the Dems from the outside isn't remotely enough. We need more good people on the inside, too, to get the job done.


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