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Sat Mar 14, 2020, 09:34 AM

From Charlie Pierce:

This is the content of an email I receive weekly from Charlie Pierce, the political correspondent at Esquire, because I subscribe to his blog.
There is not a link, so I am quoting in its entirety. No copyright infringement is intended.

THE REPUBLICAN PARTY IS INCAPABLE OF SERVING THE NATIONAL INTEREST

I’ve been re-watching HBO’s tremendous Chernobyl miniseries. There is a scene in the third installment in which Legasov, the nuclear scientist who is trying to break through the fog of official lies and stupidity, argues that the evacuation zone around the demolished plant be extended from 30 km to 300 km, based on the
amount of radioactivity present in the ground. Legasov cannot get Scherbina, the party apparatchik assigned to his work, to listen to him. He keeps asking why the zone can’t be expanded and Scherbina keeps replying, “It was decided.” By whom, Legasov wants to know. “It was decided,” Scherbina replies, again. Finally, Legasov explodes:

Maybe I’ve just spent too much time in my lab. Maybe I’m just stupid. Is this really the way it all works? An uninformed arbitrary decision that will cost who knows how many lives made by some apparatchik? Some career party man?

Welcome to the logical end of modern conservative government. Everybody is an apparatchik. Everybody is a career party man. It began in the late 1970s, when the power in the Republican Party moved south and west, and conservatism attached itself to twin power sources: the remnants of American apartheid, and the political elements of splinter Protestantism. Then Ronald Reagan, and we were off. And now, here we sit in the middle of a global pandemic, and we see revealed in the presidency* of Donald Trump that modern conservatism has transformed the Republican Party into the Communist Party of the USSR, circa 1986: stultified, petrified, and unable to cope with an emergency people saw coming for a couple of months.

It is the logical end of all the small-government, Laboratories of Democracy, FreedomWorks bafflegab that has passed for conservative philosophy for almost 50 years. It is where you wind up if you give government jobs to people dedicated to destroying the agencies they are supposed to oversee, and that’s a straight line from Anne Gorsuch and James Watt to Scott Pruitt and Betsy DeVos. And to Seema Verna, for that matter. And, ultimately, to a press conference outside the White House that was little more than a parade of sycophantic CEOs.

And god knows, it isn’t isolated to the group at Camp Runamuck. Henry McMaster, the governor of South Carolina, announced that life must pretty much go on there. The Republican majority in the Wisconsin state senate has yet to confirm the Democratic governor’s choice to lead the state’s Department of Health Services. The Republican governor of Nebraska has set up a series of hoops through which the citizens of that state must jump to get tested. The Republican governor of Missouri bragged about his state’s having tested 17 people by the second week of March. All of these people were raised as politicians by the Republican Party of the past three decades. All of them pledged fealty long ago to a political philosophy that has proven, over and over again, from AIDS through Katrina through the Great Recession all the way to this moment, to be inadequate to the national interest. It was designed to vandalize, and it has succeeded.


What’s left is sticks and splinters, and now there’s a presidency* made inevitable by that philosophy that is wandering through the rubble and trying to sell off whatever shiny shrapnel that it can find. Sooner or later, that was going to happen. There were precedents. What Governor Sam Brownback did in Kansas was a kind of micro-version of what now has been done to the general government. But the sham of the philosophy was apparent from the beginning, even to its architects.

In December of 1981, The Atlantic published a piece by the late William Greider that featured an extended interview with David Stockman, the supply-side wunderkind to whom Ronald Reagan had handed control of the budget. Stockman proceeded to yank back the curtain.

But Stockman was confident, even cocky, that he and some of his fellow conservatives had the answer. It was a theory of economics—the supply-side theory—that promised an end to the twin aggravations of the 1970s: high inflation and stagnant growth in America’s productivity. “We’ve got to figure out a way to make John Anderson’s question fit into a plausible policy path over the next three years,” Stockman said. “Actually, it isn’t all that hard to do.”

The supply-side approach, which Stockman had only lately embraced, assumed first of all, that dramatic action by the new President, especially the commitment to a three-year reduction of the income tax, coupled with tight monetary control, would signal investors that a new era was dawning, that the growth of government would be displaced by the robust growth of the private sector. If economic behavior in a climate of high inflation is primarily based on expectations about the future value of money, then swift and dramatic action by the President could reverse the gloomy assumptions in the disordered financial markets. As inflation abated, interest rates dropped, and productive employment grew, those marketplace developments would, in turn, help Stockman balance the federal budget.


What Stockman said later, however, was what got him into trouble.

“None of us really understands what’s going on with all these numbers,” Stockman confessed at one point.

The simple fact is that the numbers didn’t work. The numbers never worked. The numbers didn’t work for David Stockman. The numbers didn’t work for Ronald Reagan. The numbers didn’t work for either president Bush. The numbers didn’t work for Paul Ryan. The numbers didn’t work for the current president*. The numbers didn’t work because the numbers could never work. You can’t cut taxes and raise revenue. Poppy Bush was right. That’s voodoo. Yet, one of the first responses to the current epidemic by the Republican Senate was…a tax cut, something of which the antibiotic effectiveness remains unproven. Even Stockman, talking to Greider, ended up admitting this.

For his part, Stockman began to disparage the grand theory as a kind of convenient illusion—new rhetoric to cover old Republican doctrine.

“The hard part of the supply-side tax cut is dropping the top rate from 70 to 50 percent—the rest of it is a secondary matter,” Stockman explained. “The original argument was that the top bracket was too high, and that’s having the most devastating effect on the economy. Then, the general argument was that, in order to make this palatable as a political matter, you had to bring down all the brackets. But, I mean, [the Reagan tax bill] was always a Trojan horse to bring down the top rate.”

That was 40 years ago, and the Republicans never gave up on the illusion, and their economic policy remained a ruse to make rich people richer. To sell it, they had to convince people that their tax money was being wasted by The Government. That part they were able to do splendidly. Meanwhile, the actual effects of the policies were rotting the party’s brain from within. And here, finally, we are.

There were other ways. Seventeen years before David Stockman sat down with William Greider, President Lyndon Johnson spoke at the University of Michigan. He spoke of something he called the Great Society. It did not all work out well. It broke on his great failure in Vietnam. But on that day in 1964, Johnson presented a vision of America that saw beyond kabuki and numbers that could not be made to work.

Your imagination, your initiative, and your indignation will determine whether we build a society where progress is the servant of our needs, or a society where old values and new visions are buried under unbridled growth. For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society. The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning.

The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community. It is a place where man can renew contact with nature. It is a place which honors creation for its own sake and for what is adds to the understanding of the race. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods.

But most of all, the Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.


This was something worth trying. This was a basis for a hundred arguments, and it was worth every one of them. It is a starting point to a road not taken, a road that, for all its faults, would not have led us here.

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Response to volstork (Original post)

Sat Mar 14, 2020, 09:45 AM

1. I recall Gingrich and Viguerie both declaring they didn't want to live in a "Great Society"

and they got their wish. Assholes.

Republicans have demonstrated time and time again they are unfit to govern.

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Response to volstork (Original post)

Sat Mar 14, 2020, 10:00 AM

2. Luvs this guy.

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Response to volstork (Original post)

Sat Mar 14, 2020, 10:12 AM

3. Thank you for posting

I have been saying this started 40 years ago ...

When the neocons were chased from the Democratic Party and embraced by the Greedy One Percent

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Response to volstork (Original post)

Sat Mar 14, 2020, 10:18 AM

4. Reagan/Thatcher neo-liberalism will be buried with all these bodies

Finally! Goodbye greedy, power hungry RW racists everywhere

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Response to volstork (Original post)

Sat Mar 14, 2020, 10:48 AM

5. Don't forget the Republicans sudden tactic of Hateful Rhetoric.

mostly there to hide the stupidity of their programs, as well as make it difficult to get anything done. A return to the schoolyard, Where Trumpm is still crying in his sandbox that everyone ELSE is hateful.

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Response to volstork (Original post)

Sat Mar 14, 2020, 11:07 AM

6. It's not supply-side economics. It's talk radio.

Every country in history has had a party dedicated, or at least amenable, to protecting the interests of the rich. Traditionally, those parties were checked by the electorate's patience: you could only shovel money into aristocrats' pockets for so long before the general public got tired of it and started ignoring your marketing efforts. The pendulum would swing back and forth.

Talk radio is where this all changed. It removed the check by taking an entire section of the population and indoctrinating them into a cult, totally isolated from reality and facts. As a result, we no longer have a pendulum. We have a small margin of statistical noise that randomly pushes the anti-democratic electoral college one way or another each election.

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Response to Azathoth (Reply #6)

Sat Mar 14, 2020, 12:04 PM

7. Well said. nt

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Response to Azathoth (Reply #6)

Sat Mar 14, 2020, 12:30 PM

10. 1930s radio was exploited by evil forces like Father Coughlin & Goebbels

the Nazi propaganda minister so in 1949 we got the Fairness Doctrine. You just explained why. And here we, are staring fascism in the face again.

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Response to volstork (Original post)

Sat Mar 14, 2020, 12:07 PM

8. The GOP own tRump and this crisis

Trump-Republicons own this crisis

Republicons plowed the ground for tRump
Republicons seeded the ground with trumpanzees
Republicons created tRump as a Republ Icon in 2015-16
Republicons elected tRump candidate
Republicons endorsed tRump
Republicons voted for tRump
Republicons enable tRump
Republicons defend tRump
Republicons lie for tRump
Republicons protect tRump

Trump-Republicons own this.

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Response to volstork (Original post)

Sat Mar 14, 2020, 12:08 PM

9. Pierce knows his shit - his mind is like a steel trap - I love when he's on TV!

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Response to volstork (Original post)

Sat Mar 14, 2020, 12:42 PM

11. Another excellent Charlie Pierce piece

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