Grand Old Plebiscite: Towards a Corporate Welfare State

as a follow-up to my earlier post, here is a Bob Novak column on the tactics that the GOP mafia used against their own party members in order to force the passage of the Medicare boondoggle:

Republicans voting against the bill were told they were endangering their political futures. Major contributors warned Rep. Jim DeMint they would cut off funding for his Senate race in South Carolina. A Missouri state legislator called Rep. Todd Akin to threaten a primary challenge against him.

Intense pressure, including a call from the president, was put on freshman Rep. Tom Feeney. As speaker of the Florida House, he was a stalwart for Bush in his state's 2000 vote recount. He is the Class of 2002's contact with the House leadership, marking him as a future party leader. But now, in those early morning hours, Feeney was told a ''no'' vote would delay his ascent into leadership by three years -- maybe more.

The GOP isn't even the party of conservatives anymore. The fact that the economy has done better under the Democrats than under the Republicans for the last 40 years is well-documented (see Dwight Meredith's "For the Record" series). And the behavior of the GOP in the past few years of total control has been extravagantly pro-spending. Excluding defense and security, the GOP has been the worst offender in terms of spending earmarks and pork projects:

The subject of the report is earmarks, which are specific pet projects inserted into bills by congress critters who are eager to funnel some federal dough directly to their own districts. Bottom line: everyone does it, but Republicans do it a lot more.

In the Labor-HHS-Education bill, as the chart shows, the number of earmarks has gone up from zero in 1995, when the Republicans took over, to 1,857 this year.

In the annual transportation bill, Democrats inserted 322 earmarks in their final bill in 1995. Republicans inserted 1,818 this year. In the defense appropriations bill the number has gone from about 300 to 1,800 and in VA-HUD from 265 to 921. Earmarks in the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill have skyrocketed from 45 to 966.

Put it all together, and in just these five appropriations bills the number of earmarks has risen from about 900 in 1995 to 7,362 this year.

You can read the on the House Appropriations Committee's full report on Republican addiction to pork right here (PDF).

Conservatives have many ideas I respect. Unfortunately, their party doesn't share my view of their principles. And as a political ideology, the GOP's true corporatist colors are ultimately a serious threat to conservativsm itself. As Matthew Yglesias notes, the Democrats can't carry water against the GOP onslaught alone:

Ultimately, it seems to me that the Democratic Party is just helpless when faced with the prospect of a GOP that isn't even going to try to stand for conservative principles. A party organized as an alliance between Big Government and Big Business just has too many big guns on its side. The only real question is whether or not conservatives will try and take their party back from the Rove-DeLay-Frist domestic policy agenda and return the GOP to advocating something that resembles a small government philosophy.

emphasis mine. The GOP is the party of Government-Corporate collusion - expecting such an entity to act with fiscal sanity (let alone fiscal conservatism) is counter to common sense. And as Matt points out, the resources available to such an alliance are prodigious in the extreme.

And Bush is nothing like Reagan. As Kevin points out, the right has fooled themselves into wishing it were so, but there isn't any coherent ideology driving Bush's presidency at all, other than simple electorial interest-group politics:

I think that both liberals and conservatives have made the mistake of convincing themselves that Bush is a hard right ideologue � conservatives because they were so eager for a conservative president after eight years of Bill Clinton and liberals because it gives them a convenient object of hatred. But if you look a bit more closely you'll see that he's not.

It's true that Bush is temperamentally conservative, and it's also true that he sometimes does things that conservatives like: lowering taxes, for example, or invading Iraq. What's more, he talks the conservative talk pretty well, and all of this has fooled conservatives (and many liberals) into thinking that he does what he does out of deep devotion to conservative principles.

But he doesn't. I suspect that conservative eagerness for a conservative president has caused them to project their own views onto Bush, but Bernstein is right: Bush is just playing electoral politics. Tax cuts reward his rich contributors, invading Iraq was a crowd pleaser, the energy bill helped out his business pals, tariffs helped him with steel workers, the Medicare bill helps him with seniors, and the partial birth abortion bill helps him with the religious right. None of these things were truly driven by any kind of ideological purity.

Some conservatives are catching on, but as long as their discontent remains at the hand-wringing angst stage rather than actually fighting for their principles and sending a clear message by their votes, it will continue. Such conservatives have marginalized themselves by making a great case against Bush but then asking with great (feigned?) tremulous concern, "how can we stop this?" Simple answer: vote Democrat, and send a message.

There's really only one way to fight this. By creating an alliance of the many - and that's why Howard Dean's candidacy holds such promise. Conservatives need to realize that they can have more influence on policy under a Democratic Dean administration, rather than being paid lip-service by a GOP that takes them for granted and prostitutes their support to further their own radically anti-conservative agenda.

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