I have marveled in recent weeks at the steadfastness, in opposition to the Obama administration's stimulus proposal, of the GOP rump caucus. It isn't that I necessarily admire that steadfastness, or that I despise it; indeed, I don't much care, to be honest, either way. The GOP is correctly interpreting the fundamental political incentives contained in the present configuration of power, and this is neither to be praised or blamed. It simply is: If the GOP lends some measure of support, through the defection of some of its members, to the stimulus proposal, and that proposal proves efficacious in reviving the economy, or, at a minimum, halting its slide into the the abyss, then the American people will laud the Democrats, as the party in power, for the success; whereas, if the GOP opposes the stimulus to a man, and that measure fails to revive the economy, or, still worse, exacerbates the recession, the GOP stands to benefit from the foreseeable public disaffection with the Democratic majority and administration. It is this calculus, and this calculus alone, which has led the GOP to oppose the stimulus, a fact reinforced by the profligacy of the GOP under the Bush regime; principle has not been rediscovered, for that it is not how this GOP rolls, but naked self-interest has been awakened. If this rediscovery happens to coincide with the perceived interests of GOP supporters, all the better for the party - potentially - as this rediscovery will be something of a novelty in light of recent history.
It must be observed, however, that the GOP probably lacks any consciousness of the magnitude of the wager being made. If the stimulus, again hypothetically, at least halts the slide in the economy, it is probable that the American people will not only reward the Democrats for presiding over (the appearance of) prosperity, but will punish the GOP for its acts of obstructionism, and for its anachronism, acts certain to be noted in campaign advertising by the Democrats. In view of the potential downside, therefore, the GOP must be supremely confident that the stimulus will fail, and fail utterly - and, apropos of this, it should be observed that, even if the stimulus fails, the Democrats might be rewarded for at least the appearance of concern and engagement, and the GOP dismissed for its monomania, its positing of the One Thing as the answer to all political problems. The GOP is increasingly perceived as obsessed with tax cuts, and in its articulation of tax cuts as a universal palliative, subverts its own credibility. Tax cuts cannot be the answer to every political or economic situation, whether the government is running a surplus, or the nation is flirting with Great Depression 2.0. The categorical political imperative is an ideological fiction.
The GOP, therefore, confronting plummeting party identification and an electoral map affording not even the slightest margin of campaign error, is making a tremendously risky wager, one which, made wrongly, won't necessarily doom the party to the (richly merited) fate of the Whigs, but will herald a fate nearer to that of the Whigs than any GOP partisans, I am confident, are consciously acknowledging, in the still hours of the night.
As regards the stimulus proposal itself, I have no special confidence, as it will not address any of the structural, precipitating causes of the financial crisis; to be certain, it is not intended to address all of them, but insofar as it may be taken as redress of one of them - an insufficiency of economic demand, specifically, stable (or growing) demand emanating from the middle classes of the nation - it is every bit as much the band-aid measure as the expansion of easy credit in the years antecedent to the crisis. Real incomes grew only marginally, if at all, and the compensation for that increasingly lopsided distribution of the aggregate gains was the expansion of credit, along with - extending back a generation or so - the increasing workforce participation of married women, among other factors. The replacement of credit expansion with Keynesian stimulus will merely exchange one unsustainable compensation for another. Neither do I have much confidence in the alternative GOP proposals of various tax reductions, inasmuch as the overwhelming majority of these proposed reductions would benefit quintiles with little additional marginal propensity to consume; additionally, the ostensible motivation for these proposals - the encouragement of additional investment, and therewith the creation of employment - seems not to take into account the evidence of the past decade (or more), during which these invitations to investment, under the conditions of globalization (and financialization, though this seems to be in at least temporary abeyance, thank God) and the vast structural imbalances of the global financial and trading system, generated mainly overseas investment and speculation in the fantasy world of derivatives. Succinctly stated, the problem is not the tax code - at least not in the way this is commonly assumed to be the case - but the underlying economic foundation, the architecture of the system and the interests that have elaborated it, and rejiggering marginal rates is as much a superficial band-aid for these problems as easy credit and stimulus have been, or will be, for demand insufficiency in the broad middle classes. Genuine distributive issues are implicated in this economic crisis, and conservatives will do themselves no favours, and no credit, by maintaining that alterations to the tax code will be sufficient to pull the nation up by its bootstraps, in a manner of speaking. The unheralded lesson of the economic crisis is that the concentration of the economic gains in one sector, at the top of the income pyramid, practically an entailment of globalization and its corollaries, is unsustainable in economic terms, let alone productive of numerous ethical quandaries.