Tuesday morning on CNBC, the spazzy white guys in lower Manhattan were debating how the administration and Congress can best repair the economy, and mainly the jobless numbers. At one point, Rick Santelli, the hyperkinetic shoutcaster and instigator of the tea party movement, began to flail around, waving his arms above his head while yelling, "Stop spending! Stop spending! Stop spending!"
And contrary to accusations from one of the other spazzy white panelists, Santelli insisted he wasn't calling for more tax cuts. Just a freeze in government spending. Somehow.
Fine. Show us another time in American history when a spending freeze -- and a spending freeze alone -- jump-started an economic recovery following a deep recession and high unemployment. Show us. Where in the world is Santelli getting this?
It doesn't really matter from which hole Santelli's latest television meltdown was extricated. Suffice to say, there is no historical precedent for any such thing. In fact, the often-referenced spending cuts of 1937 caused the opposite effect: a backslide in the economic recovery during the Great Depression. Oh, sorry. There we go again -- referencing actual "history" instead of just screeching incongruous, contradictory and unsubstantiated nonsense, which seems to be the accepted style of discourse these days.
Santelli's rant is just another performance in a broader strategy by the Republicans and tea party movement to deliberately sabotage the economic recovery. Not unlike Santelli's "stop spending" idea, this is a strategy which also, to the best of my knowledge, has no historical precedent. For the first time ever -- and this is worth repeating -- one of the two major political parties in America is sabotaging a delicate economic recovery for the sake of humiliating the president and his party, and subsequently recapturing a political majority.
More than a year ago, Rush Limbaugh both predicted this and set the table for it to occur. They want the president to fail, and now it's clear that they're willing to take the economic recovery down in order to make it so. Is there any doubt who leads the Republican Party?
Most recently, the Republicans have been filibustering all efforts to create jobs and to offer a safety net for the millions of Americans who continue to seek employment. They successfully filibustered the jobs bill after they, along with their Conservadem enablers, whittled the thing down to nothing. And this week, House Republicans successfully blocked the extension of unemployment benefits due to a two-thirds majority rule (who said super-majorities were reserved for the Senate?).
So how does this sabotage play out?
It begins with the cynical exploitation of the angry, screeching Republican base. Unlike the Democrats during a Republican congressional majority, it's clear that Republican voters generally don't care whether their lawmakers actually attain any legislative accomplishments short of blocking the other guys. In other words, there's no political demand from the GOP base to actually pass anything resembling a conservative piece of legislation. Consequently, there's no need to barter or compromise with the Democrats.
All they have to do is to block, and they'll use any means necessary to do so, be it self-contradiction or utter ridiculousness. Speaking of which, we have Tom Coburn (R-OK) who insists he's a fiscal hawk beating the "stop spending" drum, voting against unemployment benefits and filibustering jobs bills, while, at the same, time voting to continue paying $35 billion in corporate welfare to Big Oil every year. Yesterday, Coburn and Mitch McConnell, blocked the Homeless Women Veterans and Homeless Veterans With Children Act. Why? "Stop spending!" of course.
So the president has no choice but to zigzag his agenda through this Senate with those arcane filibuster rules, and in an era when the Republicans are given a free pass from their dittoheads and tea party hooples to scrap the GOP legislative agenda in lieu of obstructing the economic recovery (among other things).
They're counting on independents and voters in both parties to not grasp the intricate realities of the Senate. The Republican-enabling Conservadem senators often stymie the Democratic majorities, and the complicated filibuster/cloture procedures grant lopsided power to the minority party. They're counting on the most simplistic and obvious reaction: the Democrats are the majority party so they should be able to do... something. And since they can't, maybe the Republicans can. That's precisely how the Republicans might end up winning.
But if anyone believes a Republican majority in Congress will suddenly make things better, they're absolutely mistaken in so many ways. At least now, Congress and the president are able to pass reforms that will actually help real people regardless of party or politics. These achievements are often compromised and watered-down (how can they not be with this Senate?), and we might not agree with the motives of every line item, but despite how it's being painted in various circles, there hasn't been an era of significant reform like this one in generations. Yet, if the Republicans manage to take the House or Senate or both, not only will Congress "stop spending," but literally nothing will get done. Nothing. Except for endless investigations of the administration by zealots like Darrell Issa.
That's precisely what they want.
To get to that stage, the next step in the sabotage has to be continued high unemployment with the added stink of unemployed Americans losing their benefits and health insurance (no COBRA subsidies). In the simplest terms, the economic ripple effect will radiate concentrically into a decline in consumer spending, increased foreclosures, a lag in the house market and so forth. And due to a lethal mixture of Republican cynicism, voter ignorance and traditional media hackery, the president will ultimately be blamed for the continued pain -- paving the way for Wingnut Republican President X and mission accomplished.
"Stop spending!" is bullshit. Yes, long term debt at this level is ultimately unsustainable but so is long term unemployment and economic misery -- what Paul Krugman is calling the "Third Depression." But the president and the Democrats are trapped inside a box made of Johnny-come-lately deficit-reduction hysterics. There's very little the president can do at this point to ameliorate the jobless numbers, and that's proof the sabotage is working. Spending on job creation is no longer a practical option, so those numbers will remain trapped in this dead zone of nine or ten percent. Somehow, the Republicans have been able to convince enough people that "Stop spending!" is a better idea than creating jobs and providing unemployment benefits to one out of every ten Americans. One out of ten!
The Republicans are willing to let one out of every ten of your friends go broke in the name of foiling the president and reclaiming control over the government (which they say they hate). Think about that. They have no plan for fixing unemployment. No matter how often the president acquiesces to Republican demands, they still vote against anything the president intends to sign into law. They're using the filibuster. They're exploiting ignorance. They're lying about deficits. They're contradicting their own positions, sometimes in the same day or even the same sentence. They're passing off gibberish as statesmanship. They're holding the American economy hostage in the most obvious political ratfuck since the Nixon years, only this time, the stakes are deadly serious. Your job. Your money. The future of the economy. They're sabotaging all of it.
But "stop spending" fits nicely on a t-shirt or on a misspelled protest sign. So that's something at least.
(With apologies to the Beastie Boys.)