Steve Benen informs me that John McCain will not be voting for the stimulus in its current form. McCain would prefer more business tax cuts and to make the Bush tax cuts permanent instead. In short, McCain prefers a bold “Leave No Rich Person Behind” response to our economic crisis.
McCain’s priorities – while unsurprising – reminded me of another problem I had with Beinart’s op-ed last week. Beinart, remember, argued that Democrats shouldn’t let the Republican incompetence of the past few years transform them into blind partisans. He noted that Republicans were right in the past on some issues, and will inevitably be right again in the future.
On some level, this is of course very sound advice. There are lots of smart, reality-based conservatives out there (Eric cited a few this weekend). And we should always be willing to challenge our own premises, rethink our positions, etc.
But that said, Beinart has drawn the wrong lesson from recent history. Beinart’s fear is that Democrats will ignore Republicans too much. My fear is just the opposite – I’m afraid they won’t ignore them nearly enough.
To be clear, I’m not saying it’s good to ignore conservative critiques, particularly on the stimulus. The problem, though, is that smart conservative policy critiques are generally confined to powerless pundits who have had exactly zero influence on elected Republican legislators and the GOP institutional machinery more generally.
The policy recommendations of the institutional GOP, by contrast, can be more safely ignored. They aren’t “serious,” but instead reflect a slavish devotion to the rich and business interests above all else. The individual legislators may subjectively care about other things, but their actions – the fruit by which ye shall know them – are only about redistributing more money to rich people and businesses. That’s all they care about.
The Palin wing – and the table scraps of power thrown to them to secure their votes – are a concern of course. But they aren’t (and weren’t) driving the ship. Looking back, what actually got done by the GOP Congress and Bush administrative state was a steady and successful effort to redistribute more money to the very top (which includes things like selective regulation or targeted deregulation).
If, however, the GOP came out and offered something sincerely intended to help struggling working families (a la Douthat), that’s something Democrats should listen to – and answer. But that’s not at all what’s going on when you hear people like Cantor and McCain. Even now – even after a stinging defeat and an economic recession – it’s still rich people first. It's always rich people first. (On an aside, Lawrence Mishel at EPI notes that the previous two rounds of tax cuts have not provided anything close to the promised stimulus).
I understand Obama’s outreach to the GOP – and I think it’s smart. But it doesn’t mean that the rest of us need to be as restrained. Wielding a few pitchforks ain’t necessarily a bad thing right now.