Sun, Jan 09, 2011 - Page 9 News List

US Republicans excel at theater, but are dismal at government

The past three Republican presidents, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, have added about US$848 billion to the US national debt

By Michael Tomasky  /  The Guardian

It’s often said in Washington that Republicans are better in opposition than at governing and the past two years have borne out this observation with a vengeance. It sure looks like it’s been fun being a Republican. The economy was terrible and the other guys were in charge.

Even though it was mostly the Republicans who messed up the economy in the first place and who started the wars that neither former US president George W. Bush nor (probably) US President Barack Obama will really and truly be able to count in the win column, they knew that they could rely on US citizens to forget that over time — and forget they did. All they had to do was sit back and throw darts.

Into the bargain, and probably to the great surprise of many of them, the “Tea Party” movement erupted out of the rage of some at the government and at their fellow citizens who took out mortgages they couldn’t quite afford.

The media often write about the tension between Tea Party insurgents and establishment Republicans and it’s there. However, mostly the movement has been as pennies from heaven for the Grand Old Party: You have a bunch of extremists running around comparing the Democratic president to Hitler and Stalin. If they go too far, you can gently denounce them, but mostly, you just let them carry on with their wild analogies, which work their way into the civic bloodstream but for which you do not get blamed. It’s been a great racket.

However, now the times they are a-changing. Having taken control of the US House of Representatives as of Wednesday, Republicans now have to govern. They have to do things like make a budget. And not just a fake budget, like in a campaign, but a real budget, that adds up, more or less. They have to negotiate with a US Senate still in Democratic hands over the final shape of appropriations to the various US federal agencies. All that sounds suspiciously like hard work and Washington Republicans, for all their thumpety-thump rhetoric about hard work and personal initiative and so on, are largely lazy and unserious people. They won’t do the work, and in two years, it will show.

How can I say that? Alas, recent history bears it out. When I say lazy I don’t mean that they fail to arise from bed. They manage that. I mean intellectually lazy and yes, unserious. Let’s look at the last three Republican presidents, going back to 1980. In that time, Republicans have been screaming about the budget deficit. So what did they actually do to fix it? Former US president Ronald Reagan opened up a gaping hole, which was somewhat repaired from its worst point by the time he left office but was still far larger than that of his predecessor Jimmy Carter. On the whole, Reagan lost the US US$81 billion. Think that’s a lot? Former US president George H.W. Bush cost the country US$135 billion. Think that’s a lot? His son cost the US — get ready — US$632 billion. Former US president Bill Clinton, meanwhile, made the country US$526 billion.

Most liberals call this hypocrisy and it is that. However, it’s something even worse than hypocrisy. It’s a complete and utter lack of seriousness about governing. Hypocrisy is, at the end of the day, just an allegation about character. However, that combined US$848 billion they’ve added to the deficit: that’s real money and they don’t do a thing about it, really. They yell and scream that it’s all the Democrats’ fault. A little of it is, but most of it is the fault of the massive tax cuts Republicans have pushed through, which have left revenues and expenditures wildly out of balance.

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