Kmiec on the Death of the GOP

Thom Lambert —  17 February 2009

I must begin this post with a clarification: I am not a Republican. Nor am I a Democrat. I really have little interest in defending one party over the other. I agree with the GOP on some matters, with the Democrats on others, and with neither party on a host of matters. In general, I don’t get worked up when academics and commentators criticize one party or the other.

I do, though, expect smart people to be fair and principled in their criticisms of either party. For that reason, I was greatly disappointed when I read this op-ed by Prof. Douglas Kmiec, who I understand is very smart.

The op-ed, entitled “The death of the GOP?,” appeared in today’s Chicago Tribune. I suspect it was written in haste because it’s, well, not very good. I’ve reproduced the entire op-ed below, along with my best guesses as to what its author was thinking. (My guesses are in italics.)

***

The death of the GOP?

After barely four weeks in office, President Barack Obama signs into law Tuesday a legislative achievement that eclipses entire terms of some contemporary presidents. The stimulus legislation has the real potential of creating more than 3 million jobs, most in the private sector and many rebuilding an aging public infrastructure. The new law assists those most in need of basic health care, job training, and in the near term, unemployment benefits and food.

[I’ve heard that there may be some downsides to the stimulus legislation. People talk about stuff like unprecedented deficit spending, crowding out of private investment, inefficiencies resulting from political misallocation of productive resources, the potential for wasteful rent-seeking (which is distributive rather than productive conduct), etc. In this new political dawn, though, we don’t need to think about costs. If we just focus on the immediate benefits of this legislation, it is undoubtedly “a legislative achievement that eclipses the entire terms of some contemporary presidents.” I mean, it’s really, really big. That’s gotta count for something.]

No one could blame Obama for being a bit chagrined at the GOP’s disengagement from all this, notwithstanding the president’s charm and offers of substantive compromise. [Seriously, why do we pay those people? If they were really “engaged” in this process — you know, doing their jobs — they definitely would’ve gone along with exactly what President Obama wants. I mean, he’s just so charming!] Republican Judd Gregg’s withdrawal as the nominee for the Commerce post was thus true to form. The only reason Gregg gave for withdrawing was that he didn’t want to help. “It just occurred to me that it would be very difficult . . . to serve this Cabinet, or any Cabinet, for that matter, and be part of the team . . .” Confessing that one won’t or doesn’t know how to play with others is not an adult reaction to the urgent needs of the time. [If Gregg weren’t such a baby, he surely would’ve sacrificed his principles to make our immensely popular and goodlooking President happy. That’s what adults do.] Has the GOP been reduced to the sum of its worst parts: namely, a political party with scarcely an original thought that now only remembers how to secure office largely by denigrating the values, hopes and planning of others? [I mean, honestly people. That Nancy Pelosi worked her butt off drafting the stimulus bill. How dare those meany Republicans try to dash her hopes and squander all her hard planning.]

The Republicans need to break free of an economic theory that was drafted on economist Arthur B. Laffer’s napkin. [Opposition to spending $505 billion as detailed here was entirely based on that Laffer Curve thing, right?] Supply-side theory may have sufficed at a different time, but giving the wealthy more reasons not to notice that 90 percent of the wealth is held by 1 percent of the nation takes no account of the present economic reality. Trickle-down tax relief, by definition, trickles, and when you’ve got a nation losing jobs monthly by the hundreds of thousands, trickling is not the answer. [There were, you know, only two options here: the $787 billion bill we got or lots of tax cuts for rich people. Cutting marginal tax rates across-the-board wasn’t an option.]

In 1980, Ronald Reagan won many Democrats and independents over to his side by paying special attention to “family, work, neighborhood, peace and freedom.” [Reagan never really talked about cutting tax rates, did he?] In the last eight years, peace gave way to military occupation with a decidedly murky objective. The freedom of Americans and others has been likewise put at risk by the provocation of hatred and suspicion in cultural circumstances we know little about. [Much the way my own outspoken opposition to same sex marriage rights puts the freedom of Americans at risk and provokes suspicion in cultural circumstances I know little about.] And now the GOP is apparently confessing little or no interest in family, work or neighborhood. How else can one explain total disinterest [failure to support = total disinterest, right?] in a stimulus bill that provides $116 billion in direct tax relief for workers, another $70 billion in tax relief for the middle class and that provides economic incentives to buy energy-efficient cars, houses by first-time home buyers and provides $2 billion for health care for the needy and the elderly? [Yes. How else could one explain the failure to support this bill? They must simply loathe families, work, and neighborhoods!]

One of the “irreconcilable differences” Gregg had with the president apparently was over how to get an accurate census count of poor and minority citizens who often take an additional Commerce Department effort to locate given their relocations in pursuit of work and opportunity. The census is an important constitutional determinant of legislative representation as well as the allocation of public money and it should not be manipulated. The GOP is right to resist statistical extrapolation that distorts reality. Yet, a justifiable concern with numerical honesty is not the same as a Machiavellian desire to leave the less fortunate out of the electoral equation because you think (probably correctly) they won’t support you if you have ignored them. [And make no mistake — Gregg’s concerns were of the Machiavellian variety, not the “justifiable concern with numerical honesty” variety. I know because, well… I just know.]

The Republican Party had a noble beginning in 1854, disavowing the pro-slavery inclinations of the 19th Century Whig Party. It would be a national loss if the party of Lincoln were to suffer the same fate for its current unwillingness to responsibly work to find common ground. [As Lincoln realized, unity (finding common ground) is far more important than principle.] So while I am reluctant to recommend that the president give another Republican a chance at joining the Obama team, there is someone who seems ideally suited by personality and preparation: Mitt Romney. Romney’s skill as a capable financial workout artist saved the 2002 Olympics from almost certain failure and successfully restructured innumerable private firms. [And since restructuring private firms is now primarily the responsibility of government, Romney’s perfect!] In the GOP presidential primary, the ultrapartisanship of Mike Huckabee and John McCain [the quintessential partisan] derisively hung the “flip-flop” label on Romney or his intelligent open-mindedness, but in the light of day, that is better understood as a badge of honor. [So Romney sacrificed a professed principle or two to get ahead politically. Big deal. We’ve all done it.]

The GOP needs to abandon its suicidal ways before it’s too late—for them and, more important, for a nation that benefits from the contest of liberal and conservative ideas and the hard work that it takes to meld them into responsible and prudent policy. [And when I say “contest,” I mean “charade of debate in which the popular, unifying President’s preferred policy emerges as the unscathed victor.”]

Thom Lambert

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I am a law professor at the University of Missouri Law School. I teach antitrust law, business organizations, and contracts. My scholarship focuses on regulatory theory, with a particular emphasis on antitrust.

2 responses to Kmiec on the Death of the GOP

  1. 

    The underlying assumption that all opposition to the stimulus is based on a thinly veiled desire to starve children, kick puppies and raise the unemployment rate is getting very old. The intellectual dishonesty is thick.

    Reading this made me miss Krugman.

    Nice job Thom.

  2. 

    I think Doug Kmiec’s GOP would espouse government even bigger and more invasive in individuals’ lives than any most in the existing Democratic party could possibly imagine.