What Republicans Think
Last week David Brooks wrote a column titled "What Republicans Think" in which he makes what, on the surface at least, seems a rather convincing case that the Republican party has not gone off the deep end and embraced reckless radicalism. No, argued Brooks, the Republicans are convinced that they're actually the ones seeing things clearly. The world's economic reality is changing, and they're sincerely trying to get the rest of us to wake up and smell the coffee before it's too late:
[M]any Republicans have now come to the conclusion that the welfare-state model is in its death throes. Yuval Levin expressed the sentiment perfectly in a definitive essay for The Weekly Standard called “Our Age of Anxiety”:“We have a sense that the economic order we knew in the second half of the 20th century may not be coming back at all — that we have entered a new era for which we have not been well prepared. ... We are, rather, on the cusp of the fiscal and institutional collapse of our welfare state, which threatens not only the future of government finances but also the future of American capitalism.”To Republican eyes, the first phase of that collapse is playing out right now in Greece, Spain and Italy — cosseted economies, unmanageable debt, rising unemployment, falling living standards.
To address this scary new scenario, as Brooks sees it, the Republicans, in contrast to Obama's plan to carefully re-balance the economy, feel something more drastic is imperative:
Republicans, meanwhile, envision comprehensive systemic change. The G.O.P. vision is of an entirely different magnitude: replace the tax code, replace the health care system and transform entitlements.
Brooks admits that how the Republicans (meaning via Romney as President) hope to do that remains "extremely vague," but that doesn't mean they're otherwise extreme. No, their goals are the same as Obama's goals, even if their plans are more vague:
The intention is the same, to create a model that will spark an efficiency explosion, laying the groundwork for an economic revival. .
Where they differ significantly, though, is on what they believe will ignite that spark. Obama's plan includes a slight increase in taxes on the wealthiest Americans (following more or less the balanced approach that saw 32 straight quarters of growth at an average of 3.8 percent under Clinton). Romney's plan takes the exact opposite approach. He favors additional tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans (following more or less the unbalanced approach that saw only an average 1.7 percent growth under Bush, as Brooks notes himself.). Romney favors that approach, however, because he thinks, as Brooks put it:
[T]he current model shifts resources away from the innovative sectors of the economy and into the bloated state-supported ones, like health care and education.
And, remember, also because Romney and the Republicans think "we are...on the cusp of the fiscal and institutional collapse of our welfare state, which threatens not only the future of government finances but also the future of American capitalism."
The original Bush tax cuts were implemented under the belief that ensuring the top 1% became even more wealthy would benefit the entire nation. In other words, money was shifted toward the top percent so that they would invest it, the economy would rebound, and we'd all benefit from the "innovative sector" doing its thing.
At least that was Bush's second rationale for the tax cuts. He only embraced that rationale as the economic situation on the ground shifted, you may recall:
Changing Rationale, But the Plan Remains the Same
Even as Bush remains firmly committed to the tax cut, his rationale for enacting it has changed. During the campaign, when economic projections were rosier, Bush said a reduction in the basic income tax rates would be a way of giving citizens money that was rightfully theirs.
“The surplus is the people’s money,” Bush said frequently during his stump speeches.
But after Election Day — and even before the outcome of the presidential race was fully resolved — Bush and his running mate, Dick Cheney, had begun saying that a tax cut would be necessary to stoke an economy showing signs of cooling, a position they continue to play up.
“I think it’s really important for members of the Congress to understand that the tax relief plan I put forward is an integral part of economic recovery,” Bush said Wednesday.
In other words, the reality was that Bush wanted the tax cuts because he wanted the tax cuts. His rationales were fungible.
But here's the thing. Bush pushed his tax cuts through, shifting more money up into the top 1%, so that (according to his second rationale) the now-even-more-wealthy would invest in ways that would help all of us by sparking an economic recovery. The deal wasn't that they'd simply keep the money (as they're doing now) when that plan didn't quite work out. That money was supposed to "trickle" down through a system that the Republicans now--now that a sliver of the top has more of the nation's wealth than ever before--claim is irrevocably broken and they want to scrap.
On top of that, now the Republicans want even more tax cuts for the wealthy and are offering us as rationale that those currently hording all the cash they amassed via the Bush tax cuts will begin to invest the additional cash they amass via the Romney tax cuts. Clearly, What Republicans Think is that the average American voter can be fooled twice.
Only this time, if Romney gets his way, the system will be different. They'll reform entitlements to ensure government can't help the poor and needy.
But that's OK, because this time the top 1% won't horde all the additional money via new tax cuts. This time, the money really, really will trickle down through the free market to the poor and needy.
Sure it will.