Politics in the United States would be vastly easier if Democrats and Republicans shared a common reality.
Let’s take economic policy. Under an ideal scenario, policymakers, regardless of party or ideology, would recognize the fact that there’s a problem, diagnose the cause of the problem, and then fight like hell over the best solution to the problem. All available evidence tells, for example, that the U.S. economy lacks demand. At this point, common sense tells us that Democrats and Republicans can and should bicker, argue, and debate over how to increase demand, thereby boosting the economy and creating jobs.
But this can’t happen because there is no shared reality, and GOP officials don’t see the same problems everyone else sees.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) delivered a speech in DC yesterday, intended as something of a bookend to President Obama’s joint-session speech last week. The point of Boehner’s remarks was to diagnose the problem and point towards a solution. But what quickly became apparent is the fact that Boehner, who’s struggled with economic illiteracy in the past, is looking through a prism that badly skews the basics of reality.
As Ezra Klein noted yesterday, the House Speaker “never mentioned Wall Street, or foreclosures. There was no talk of consumer debt or weak demand. Nothing about underwater homeowners or European crises.” In Boehner’s strange world, the federal government is simply standing in the economy’s way. That’s it. That’s the whole scope of the problem. Full stop.
For lack of a better word, this is just dumb. It’s a conclusion based on nothing but ideological wishes and a partisan agenda that’s wholly unrelated to actual economic circumstances.
Consider this gem:
“In New York City back in May, I warned that if we don’t take action soon, the markets will do it for us. Last month, the markets took action, in the form of a downgrade and the possibility of future downgrades that caused the markets to tumble.”
None of this makes any sense. The downgrade was almost entirely Boehner’s fault, and the drop in the major Wall Street indexes had nothing to do with S&P’s opinions about American politics. Indeed, global investors have generally ignored the downgrade of U.S. debt as irrelevant. In Boehner’s reality, the way to prove Republicans right is to make up nonsense.
Or how about this one from the same speech:
“[I]f you talk to anybody outside of Washington who has to meet a payroll, they’ll tell you that out-of-control spending in Washington is one of the things that concerns them the most about our future. […]
“Job creators in America are essentially on strike. The problem is not confusion about the policies — the problem is the policies.”
This is just gibberish masquerading as an economic assessment. Small business owners “outside of Washington” freely admit they need more customers. More demand would mean more workers and more growth. In Boehner’s reality, the private sector is collectively engaged in some kind of political protest against public investments. No sane person could possibly believe this.
And perhaps most memorably, the Speaker told his audience, “[I]f we want to create a better environment for job creation, politicians of all stripes can leave the ‘my way or the highway’ philosophy behind.” In the exact same speech, Boehner declared, “Tax increases … are not a viable option for the Joint Committee.”
What about future prospects? The Speaker argued, “Private-sector job creators of all sizes have been … hurt by a government that offers short-term gimmicks rather than fundamental reforms that will encourage long-term economic growth…. Gimmicks, however, are unacceptable. As I told the president’s economic team during the debt limit negotiations: we’re just not doing that anymore.”
In Boehner’s mind, even trying to lower unemployment is a bad idea, since any initiative constitutes an “unacceptable gimmick.”
I’d find it much easier to take John Boehner’s wrong answers if he could at least ask the right questions. That, alas, is asking too much of the leader of a radicalized House GOP caucus.