From the Other Side of the Looking Glass

At The Guardian, Michael Cohen pens a tirade with which I sympathize enormously:

Since Republicans won the House of Representatives in 2010, the country has staggered from one pointless fiscal showdown after another. In every case, Congress and the president have repeatedly kicked the can down the road rather than pass legislation that either made serious efforts to right the country’s fiscal imbalances, or would stimulate economic growth.

Cohen goes on to argue that Republicans don’t really give a damn about anything other than keeping taxes on the wealthy as low as is possible.

It certainly appears that way, and I’ve made the same kind of argument before. But it’s probably a mistake to attribute subjective beliefs to people just because they objectively seem to be true. Most of the time, it may well not matter whether conservatives actually believe what they say about their dogmas being the right answer to any conceivable national problem–e.g., that cutting federal assistance to poor people helps them, or that it’s just a fact lower marginal tax rates on the wealthy happen to perfectly coincide with better lives for everybody, always and eternally. When it comes to predicting conservative behavior, however, understanding their psychology matters, as we are reminded by Dave Weigel:

Time and again, Washington is shocked by two incredibly well-known facts about House Republicans. One: They believe all of that stuff they tell their conservative audiences, from the town halls to the Sean Hannity remote feed. They ran in 2010 promising never to raise taxes and to take a samurai sword to the budget. Whatever Paul Ryan asked them to cut, they voted to cut. Two: Most of these members come from safe districts where the only threats to re-election are primary challenges or death by natural causes.

So maybe Republican pols believe their party line, or maybe it’s just that their party “base” believes it, but you’d better believe they’ll act on these beliefs no matter how illogical or even counterproductive it seems. American Conservative ideology has evolved steadily over the last few decades from a loose set of habits and prejudices to a system of Hegelian specificity, rigidity, and self-validation. They’re not going to abandon it or even modify it due to mere trifles like a national emergency, much less a fiscal conflict.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.