March 23, 2015
Every now and then I look at what I’ve written and decide that I sound like a one-note scold, constantly painting a dark picture of the state of the nation, the culture and politics. It can’t be that bad. Then I read a newspaper. It is.
Consider The Seattle Times edition of Sunday, March 22. On the front page of the local news section was an article about a man who has settled claims against King County and the State Department of Corrections arising out of an incident in which he was shot sixteen times by a King County Deputy Sheriff and a Corrections officer, who were part of a team serving a warrant on the son of the owner of the house where the unfortunate man lived. He was in bed when shot. How many categories does this incident fall under? The danger posed by guns, police officers with inadequate training, hiring of policemen who are too nervous and fearful to be trusted, our gun-cursed society which makes them fear everyone . . . . At least race wasn’t involved this time.
On the same page was a column commenting on a story making the conservative rounds about how Seattle’s new minimum wage law (not yet in effect) is causing restaurant closures. The myth had its beginning on the web site of the Washington Policy Center (Improving lives through market solutions), which tied the ordinance to "a rising trend in restaurant closures." There isn’t any, but no matter. The tale was picked up by The American Enterprise Institute (Freedom Opportunity Enterprise) which described the situation as follows: "Seattle’s new
minimum wage law government-mandated wage floor that guarantees reduced employment opportunities for many workers goes into effect on April 1 and already the city has seen a number of restaurant closings and job losses . . . ." (Typesetting in the original) And so on around the loop to the right; a living wage is a liberal policy, which interferes with the market, so it’s evil. No doubt it also interferes with underpaid workers’ freedom of contract.
On the business page was a column aptly titled "U.S. snoozes while rest of world invests in infrastructure." It pointed out that we are plagued with collapsing bridges, that we need more public transportation, and that addressing the problem would create jobs, both during construction and after. However, there’s a problem: "lack of political leadership and the consequences of wars and tax cuts." Freely translated, that refers to Republican fiscal priorities, which brings us to Paul Krugman.
Krugman noted in last Friday’s New York Times that we’ve moved well beyond the point of principled, rational disagreement about economic policies. Facts and performance do not seem to matter to Republicans; the story is always the same: cut taxes, but spend more on the military, and make up part of the deficit by cutting social spending. He describes the last as : "savage cuts in food stamps, similarly savage cuts in Medicaid . . . and an end to Obamacare’s health insurance subsidies." People would go hungry and lose health care coverage, but who cares? Those cuts don’t balance the budget, so there are "magic asterisks," promises to find revenue or cut something else, the latter probably being Social Security, Medicare, and other benefits for ordinary folk. The result would be even more upward redistribution. Krugman pointed out that this sort of budgetary fraud is a recent phenomenon, and peculiar to the GOP. The Bush administration "was no slouch when it came to deceptive presentation of tax plans, but it was never this blatant. . . . So, no, outrageous fiscal mendacity is neither historically normal nor bipartisan. It’s a modern Republican thing." Perhaps GOP budgetary fraud is peculiar to the Obama years, but contemporary Republican-conservative-right wing policies, attitudes, rhetoric and behavior are the result of a longer-term development.
An insight into the change in Republican politics was offered by Elizabeth Drew in November, 2013. The occasion was a memorial service a few days earlier for Tom Foley, former Speaker of the House. In a column on The New York Review of Books blog, she described the praise given Foley and the atmosphere of bipartisan warmth which reflected the civility of Foley’s time. Ms. Drew noted that Foley and the GOP leader, Bob Michel, met once a week throughout Foley’s speakership. "Such an arrangement now is unimaginable."
Foley was an emblem of a seemingly distant past, one increasingly difficult to remember or imagine. "The fractiousness that had been developing almost from the day he stepped down as Speaker, having been defeated for reelection in the Republican sweep of 1994, reached its apogee at the hands of some of the very people sitting there paying tribute to him." One of those was Newt Gingrich, who became Speaker in 1995, and who did much to change the atmosphere. Michel, in his tribute, with his hyper partisan successors in the audience, said, "I only hope that the legislators who walk through here each day will find his spirit, learn from it, and be humbled by it." That wasn’t likely to happen and hasn’t.