The Sunday shows yesterday were dominated by Republicans excoriating Mitt Romney over his claim that Obama bought off key constituencies with government “gifts.” The criticism is of a piece with a larger GOP “soul searching” effort to rethink the party’s positions.
Can we get real about this? The claim that Obama’s policies constitute “gifts” to core Democratic constituencies really is in important ways the Republican position on the proper role of government. And this matters, because it has direct bearing on the “fiscal cliff” talks.
Many conservatives really do take a dim view of the federal government’s legitimate and constructive role in broadly subsidizing health insurance for those who can’t afford it — the main “gift” Romney referred to. They regularly claim government efforts to help poor people risk encouraging “dependency.” Indeed, Bobby Jindal, one of the most vocal critic of Romney’s “gift” claim, has called for the repeal of Obamacare to end Obama’s “culture of dependence.” The idea that Obama had created such a culture was central to Romney’s campaign for months, with no objections from Republicans. Implicit in this idea of “dependence” is that in helping the poor and vulnerable, government is giving them “gifts” in a way that will not help them over the long haul. The only practical difference between this view and the one Romney expressed is one of tone (see more from Adam Serwer and Jamelle Bouie on this).
All of this will impact how Republicans handle the fiscal cliff talks, because they represent a larger ideological clash over the proper role of government in maintaining a safety net — its “gift” giving role, as it were — and over who should pay for it. As E.J. Dionne notes, the question is whether the fact that Republicans are distancing themselves from Romney’s comments will force them to “accept the idea that government measures aimed at lifting up a variety of Americans” are not payoffs to particular constituencies of moochers; they are “measures designed to serve the common good.” This in turn raises the question of whether Republicans will be less intransigent about the need for the wealthy to chip in a bit more to preserve those government efforts to serve the common good.
Michael Gerson points out that Romney lost in part because he was unable to articulate a positive role for government in meeting “human needs.” The post-election “gift” comment is not an outlier. It is further confirmation of this basic problem, one that is not confined to Romney. The conservative writer Matt Lewis is calling on Republicans to reembrace “compassionate conservatism” — George W. Bush’s rhetorical nod to the idea that government should have such a role. What remains to be seen is whether the election will force a genuine and coherent rearticulation of that role, its proper scope, and its legitimacy. In this regard, the GOP handling of the fiscal cliff talks will tell us a lot.
* Reinvigorated left pressures Obama on fiscal cliff: Tom Edsall has a very interesting look at the “rising American electorate,” the demographic coalition that asserted itself in the election, and why it is likely to mean heavy pressure on Obama to place the burden of deficit reduction on the rich.
As noted above, the fiscal cliff talks represent a larger ideological clash. Edsall’s piece idemonstrates this: The victorious constituencies — and the left — will insist on preserving and expanding government’s role in the economy, while the losing side will try to preserve the current distribution of wealth. In this telling, the election and fiscal talks are of a piece with a larger ongoing class war.
* Taxing the rich won’t hurt the economy: With conservatives (yet again) claiming that a tax hike on the rich will hurt the recovery, Paul Krugman continues reminding us that history shows otherwise:
America in the 1950s made the rich pay their fair share; it gave workers the power to bargain for decent wages and benefits; yet contrary to right-wing propaganda then and now, it prospered. And we can do that again.
And it isn’t just the right; one thing to watch for in the deficit talks is supposed centrists warning that a guiding principle for deficit reduction must be that higher tax rates on the wealthy will be bad for the economy.
* The GOP approach to deficit reduction hasn’t changed: Republicans continue to call for new revenues to be generated via closing loopholes and via economic growth — not higher tax rates on the rich. Steve Benen notes that this isn’t an actual change in position:
There is no sane economic model in which this makes any sense at all. On the contrary, every shred of evidence points in the exact opposite direction — higher rates on the wealthy does not depress economic growth ... and there simply aren’t enough loopholes and deductions in existence to pay for the GOP’s preferred approach. The larger point is simple: the shift in tone notwithstanding, congressional Republicans and their economically illiterate approach to debt reduction really hasn’t changed much at all.
It really is incumbent on news orgs to make it absolutely clear that giving ground on loopholes, and not on tax rates, does not constitute a major concession at all.
* Elizabeth Warren to Senate Banking Committee? Andy Kroll reports that the banking industry is already moving to block Warren’s appointment to the Senate Banking Committee. Warren’s consumer advocacy makes her equal parts a natural for the committee and an alarming development indeed for the industry.
* Lindsey Graham softening opposition to Susan Rice? On NBC yesterday, Senator Lindsay Graham, a leading critic of Ambassador Rice’s response to the Benghazi attacks, would not say that he would block a Rice nomination as Secretary of State. Though Graham kept up the criticism, he said: “I’m deferential to the president’s picks.”
* Setting the record straight on Benghazi: Relatedly, Post fact checker Josh Hicks does a nice job unraveling the GOP criticism of the White House response to the embassy attacks, demonstrating that there is “no conclusive evidence yet that the Obama administration misled the public or knew right away that the assault had little or nothing to do with protests over an anti-Islam video.”
It’s worth noting that conservative criticism goes far beyond this; in some cases the allegation has been that Obama actively monitored the attacks and chose to do nothing for political reasons.
* And Bill Clinton as Mideast peace negotiator? With Israel preparations to mount a ground invasion of Gaza underway, John McCain suggests it: “I would find someone even as high-ranking, frankly, as former President Bill Clinton to go and be the negotiator.”
As Robert Wright put it: “Every so often McCain has not a bad idea.”