The conservative crackup

We’re getting to the end of the conservative movement that really kicked into gear with the election of Ronald Reagan, and now we’re seeing the inevitable final stages, as the loons on the far right start reeking havoc on the Republican Party.

Future historians tracing the crackup of the Republican Party may well look to May 8, 2010, as an inflection point.

That was the day, as is now well known, that Sen. Robert Bennett, who took the conservative position 84 percent of the time over his career, was deemed not conservative enough by fellow Utah Republicans and booted out of the primary.

Less well known, but equally ominous, is what happened that same day, 2,500 miles east in Maine. There, the state Republican Party chucked its platform — a sensible New England mix of free-market economics and conservation — and adopted a manifesto of insanity: abolishing the Federal Reserve, calling global warming a “myth,” sealing the border, and, as a final plank, fighting “efforts to create a one world government.”

You can read the rest of the article for some of Glenn Beck’s greatest hits.

What’s left of the conservative movement and the Republican Party?

We have the Reagan worshipers who have become so dogmatic that they think tax cuts solve everything at every time in history, regardless of the circumstances. These folks seem to forget that George W. Bush enacted huge tax cuts that would be followed by the greatest economic collapse in 80 years. These folks also turn on former allies like Bruce Bartlett and David Frum who dare top open a debate on how conservatives might adapt to the changing circumstances of today’s economy.

Then we have the religious right, who’s leaders keep getting caught up in sex scandals. All these folks who preach morality can’t keep it in their own pants. Most of the public has tuned out these self-righteous fools at this point.

We also have moderate Republicans who would like to see the government spend less and who also tend to be social liberals. These reasonable folks abandoned the party and the conservative movement long ago.

And finally we have the Tea Party clowns. Many of these folks are angry as hell – some are angry at everybody, while others don’t know why they’re angry. As noted above, they can be a force at times, and they may be the GOP’s not-so-secret weapon in the fall as anti-incumbent fever hits new highs.

Or, they may just turn off everyone else with their peculiar brand of crazy. Nuts like Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and and Michelle Bachman can rile up these nut jobs, but they may end up giving the Democrats a lifeline as well.

Most people don’t like the crazies. The GOP did a great job for years of exploiting the loony left and painting the Democrats with a broad brush, and now the tables are turned, and the Tea Party folks are giving Democrats some good talking points for the fall.

We’ll see how it plays out.

The death of supply-side economics

One of the original supply-siders, Bruce Bartlett, explains in a brilliant op-ed why the ideas that worked so well in the early 1980′s are irrelevant today. Bartlett is promoting a new book, The New American Economy.

I continue to believe that what the supply-siders did was good for the economy, good for the country and good for the advancement of economic science. The best economists in the country were pretty clueless about our economic problems during the Carter years. It was widely asserted that the money supply had no meaningful effect on inflation, that marginal tax rates had no incentive effects, and that it would take decades or another Great Depression to break the back of inflation.

As all economists now know, these ideas were wrong. All economists today accept the importance of the money supply–perhaps too much; during the recent crisis many asserted that fiscal stimulus was unnecessary because an increase in the money supply was the only thing necessary to restore growth. (How this would have been accomplished when interest rates were close to zero was never explained.) All economists now accept the importance of marginal tax rates to economic decisionmaking, and organizations like the National Bureau of Economic Research publish vast numbers of papers on this topic.

During the George W. Bush years, however, I think SSE became distorted into something that is, frankly, nuts–the ideas that there is no economic problem that cannot be cured with more and bigger tax cuts, that all tax cuts are equally beneficial, and that all tax cuts raise revenue.

These incorrect ideas led to the enactment of many tax cuts that had no meaningful effect on economic performance. Many were just give-aways to favored Republican constituencies, little different, substantively, from government spending. What, after all, is the difference between a direct spending program and a refundable tax credit? Nothing, really, except that Republicans oppose the first because it represents Big Government while they support the latter because it is a “tax cut.”

Bartlett exposes the caricature that has taken over conservative economic thinking, the slavish devotion to dogma that makes it impossible to consider the circumstances of our new reality. Think about it. Talk to a conservative about economic policy, and the answer, regardless of the circumstances, is usually the same – spending bad, tax cuts good. I can teach a three-year-old to repeat that.

Bartlett goes on to explain why massive spending was necessary with the economic collapse we faced last year, and the obscenely stupid response of many conservatives who suggested addressing the problem with more tax cuts.

Bartlett was an adviser to Jack Kemp and helped write the Reagan tax cuts. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the history of supply-side economics and why one of its chief architects is arguing that it doesn’t apply today.

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