The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
School of Law

Friday, May 1, 2009

GOP should cowboy up
Tom Smith

The great question for some Republicans seems to be now whether America likes it anymore.  Some pundits are saying, if Republicans want to win elections they will have to change their message to something more "moderate".  This is pretty dumb.

A simple distinction needs to be made between politicians who want to win because that's how they intend to make a living, preferably one that brings wealth and power, and those who care about politics because they care about things such as liberty and this remaining a prosperous country.  I don't care about the careers of politicians;  indeed, in pains me that they can't all lose.  But I care about the latter.  This makes things a lot simpler.

In many ways, we live in fairly simple times.  Obama has clarified things; you have to give him that.  He and his supporters in Congress show every sign of seriously pursuing an agenda that stands a good chance of leading to if not economic ruin, at least hard times that go on for a long time.  As I have said before, I think it is unfair to Socialism to call the Obama plan socialist.  Obamaworld is a lot more like the corporatist capitalism of the 1930's variety, FDR and those Euro- New Dealers who went on to make such a mess of things. Italians.  Germans.  Japanese. You know whom I mean.

There is no reason to think it will work now any better than it did then, though I'm optimistic enough to think world war can be avoided. The Obama vision is based on a budget that is patently unsustainable several times over.  Even with much higher taxes, it could not be financed.  Unless something big changes, it will collapse of its own weight.  When that happens, somebody has to be around to pick up the pieces.  I nominate us.

On the other hand, maybe it will work.  Maybe a new green economy will pop up from out of the ground.  Maybe people will pay 60 or 70 or 80 percent in federal income taxes and happily be just as productive as at 30 percent.  Maybe the government can allocate capital as well as private companies.  Maybe GM and Chrysler will come out of bankruptcy making neat little green cars people want to buy.  Maybe a nationalized health care system will provide more care and better too.  Maybe a carbon tax will reduce our consumption of dirty energy while at the same time not cost us very much.  I view all of these things as unlikely to the point of being almost impossible. They would violate what I feel in my gut as basic principles of economics.  But who knows.

If they do work, then it will turn out that Obama really is a kind of savior figure.  He will have done things many, definitely including me, thought impossible.  If he does pull this off, the GOP should just dissolve itself, and maybe become an historical reenactment society. We could all dress up in suits from the 1980s, listen to Blondie and talk about the good old days.

But I am virtually certain this is not what our future holds.  Instead, I think the enormous sums of money our government has spent and more importantly is about to spend will mostly be wasted.  I have great faith in the ability of government to waste money, because I have seen it done.  I think health care reform, if it comes in the form proclaimed, will be a disaster, which will start to show up in patient outcomes pretty quickly.  I think if GM and Chrysler ever get out of bankruptcy, it will be to produce cars who sole rational purpose will be to make a political statement, a kind of very expensive bumper sticker.  What will happen with the banks, I don't know, but it does not look good so far.  I think if we escape massive inflation, it will only be because taxes will go up a lot. If you spend money, you have to pay for it somehow.  I think economic growth will be low for a long time and unemployment high.  I don't see how a significant downgrading of the credit of the US can be avoided.  I think we are in for a rough ride.  But if you look at the history of the world, you will see rides can get pretty rough.

So in other words, I think we are on the cusp of a big fall.  But the people have made their choices and now they (and we unfortunately) have to live with them.  But the time to start planning to rebuild is now.  If the GOP is about something other than putting its clients in office and grabbing goodies for its special interests (a debatable proposition at best), then it should be thinking about how to rebuild when this fire is over.

Of course, if any of this nonsense can be stopped, it should be.  I just think much of it is probably inevitable, barring some game changing event from out of left field.

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Tom Smith


It's funny how in one post you say Obama's policies will lead to huge economic problems in the future, yet two posts later you criticize Paul Krugman for making long term economic predictions.

But what's funnier is how you criticize Obama for leading us on a road to ruin when in reality, our economy is already on the brink of disaster thanks in large part to the policies to our last President -- a Republican.

All those "fiscally conservative" Republicans looked the other way for the last eight years, but now they come out of the woodwork and say the sky is falling.

Cowboy up? We had eight years of yee-haw economics and foreign policy. It left us up to our ears in cow manure. Now the same folks who got us there sit on their cowboy butts and yell absudities while Obama picks up a shovel and gets to work.

Posted by: Matt | May 1, 2009 3:21:43 PM

Professor Smith -- I agree with a lot of what you said, including the part about how although I don't think Obama's plan will work, I'm waiting to see if I'm wrong.

The problem is that people who supported the Republicans during the Bush years -- like you -- simply don't have any credibility on the issue of spending. You say that "if you spend money you have to pay for it somehow," and that therefore taxes will have to go up, but the Bush administration got us involved in a very costly war in Iraq all the while cutting taxes or resisting tax increases.

I don't recall you applying the same analysis you use with Obama to the Bush Administration.

Posted by: Potted Plant | May 2, 2009 9:18:52 AM

In fairness, the blog has been quite willing to criticize the Bush Administration when it deserved it. It opposed Bush on Harriet Miers, on various tariffs, and (I believe) on the Medicare pharmaceutical benefit. We're only in the fourth month of the Obama Administration and already readers are forgetting.

Posted by: Luxiana | May 2, 2009 2:30:00 PM

Here an example of what I mean. It's a quote from Tom Smith on the Right Coast during the Harriet Miers nomination, which he opposed:

"I am really going to try to stop ranting on this, but before I do: Look, anyone who has been around since RR and the founding of Fed Soc as I have, knows all about the difference between real conservatives or libertarians, and the various me-too Republican sorts who, it must be said, have long had a way of gathering around the Bushes. So here is W just frankly screwing the conservatives, and now we are being chided by Hugh Hewitt, who is not exactly the most steely-eyed guy on the planet, for complaining about the abuse. We supposed to say, oh, George, you're so wonderful. Well, I'm not in the mood. I have a headache. I have a headache from profligate spending, hacks at FEMA, and a God-help-us policy in Iraq, among other things, like, oh, I don't know, steel tariffs. People who care about the rule of law and the Supreme Court enough to write and read blogs about it should face the facts and see this for what it is: a betrayal, and one of a pretty profound sort. I will give W the benefit of the doubt by thinking he has done it more out of cluelessness than political amorality. I suspect he has been manipulated by aides and has not been clever and strong enough to appreciate the disastrousness of his choice, but that is not much of a defense of a president. No doubt someone like Rove has calculated that conservatives have nowhere to go, so W will be in the clear. And he may be right. But I prefer to think you win in the long run by sticking to what you believe in and not meekly accepting it when somebody says they agree with you, and turn out not to in the end. That's not 'winning'. That's being used."

If anything, Smith was tougher on Bush than he is on Obama. Methinks that Potted Plant was just blathering.

Posted by: Luxiana | May 2, 2009 5:56:46 PM

Luxiana -- Before you accuse me of "blathering," I'd appreciate if you focused on what I actually wrote. I was writing specifically about "spending." Your Harriet Myers example, therefore, doesn't really work, does it?

Just to repeat, in case it still isn't clear, I sense a double-standard when a Republican administration and Congress can inherit budget surpluses, then cut taxes and spend $700 billion on a war in Iraq without Professor Smith ever stating that "if you spend money, you have to pay for it somehow" -- by raising taxes. (I'm not going to try to find instances in which Professor Smith wrote that revenue can be raised by cutting taxes. I don't know if he's ever said that, but if he has it's interesting that he's now conceding that taxes will need to be increased in order to pay for Obama's programs.)

Posted by: Potted Plant | May 2, 2009 8:13:09 PM

One more thing, Luxiana. Are you actually going to disagree with me when I say that Republicans who supported Bush don't have any credibility when it comes to spending? If so, I'd like to hear your argument.

Posted by: Potted Plant | May 2, 2009 8:15:23 PM

Your statement to Professor Smith was, "people who supported the Republicans during the Bush years--like you--simply don't have any credibility on the issue of spending." As you can see from the quote, Smith actually criticized Bush rather harshly for his "profligate spending" (among other things).

And you're still blathering.

Posted by: Luxiana | May 2, 2009 9:40:44 PM

Luxiana -- I was actually about to say that you were right, and that I hadn't read the long quote carefully enough. This morning I'll simply say that I think you're half right. Certainly Professor Smith mentioned his headache concerning profligate spending. But my particular issue was that the Iraq war constituted "profligate spending" (along with being, in my opinion, a strategic disaster and great tragedy for many Americans), but I don't recall Professor Smith complaining that taxes needed to be raised to pay for the war.

As I said in my initial post, I really do agree with a lot of Professor Smith's critique of Obama. I just get tired of people's viewpoints changing depending on who is in office. I like Professor Smith's posts, but I wonder how a smart and reasonable-sounding guy can allow his biases to affect how he views the world.

Posted by: Potted Plant | May 3, 2009 7:45:04 AM