The Positive Republican Message, Annotated

After South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley gave the official Republican response to the State of the Union address, the media focused all its attention on the anti-Trump implications of her call to “resist [the] temptation” to “follow the angriest voices”, particularly where immigration was concerned.

But I was more interested in where she went from there: If the GOP is going to be more than just a megaphone for anger and fear, it needs to present a positive vision for America’s future. In other words, it needs to compete for the hope-and-change vote that Barack Obama monopolized in his 2008 landslide. So Haley laid out this hopeful program for the next Republican presidency, which I quote in full:

If we held the White House, taxes would be lower for working families, and we’d put the brakes on runaway spending and debt.

We would encourage American innovation and success instead of demonizing them, so our economy would truly soar and good jobs would be available across our country.

We would reform education so it worked best for students, parents, and teachers, not Washington bureaucrats and union bosses.

We would end a disastrous health care program, and replace it with reforms that lowered costs and actually let you keep your doctor.

We would respect differences in modern families, but we would also insist on respect for religious liberty as a cornerstone of our democracy.

We would recognize the importance of the separation of powers and honor the Constitution in its entirety. And yes, that includes the Second and Tenth Amendments.

We would make international agreements that were celebrated in Israel and protested in Iran, not the other way around.

And rather than just thanking our brave men and women in uniform, we would actually strengthen our military, so both our friends and our enemies would know that America seeks peace, but when we fight wars we win them.

Growth, jobs, education, better health insurance, liberty, the rule of law, stronger diplomacy, and seeking peace but winning wars when we’re forced to fight them — what’s not to like? That’s a far more attractive vision than the Great Wall of Mexico, or invading ISIS’ godforsaken desert, or bombing Iran, or watching a special police force round up and expel 11 million Hispanic immigrants.

My only argument with Haley (other than the issues she leaves out completely, like climate change, voting rights, the environment, racial justice, and so on) concerns the Republican policies that are supposed to produce these wonderful outcomes. And that’s why I think her litany needs some line-by-line annotation. Let’s start at the top:

If we held the White House, taxes would be lower for working families,

Maybe. But the tax cuts proposed by all Republican candidates focus their benefits on the rich. As was true of the Bush and Reagan tax cuts, anything working families get is just shiny wrapping on a package addressed to the wealthy.

Typically Republicans deny that their tax cuts will explode the deficit, but they always do, and then the next step is to seek cuts in programs working families count on, like Social Security and Medicare. (That small tax cut you get will be eaten up pretty quickly if you have to support your aging parents.) The following chart is from 2012, so the right side is a little out of date, but the general point is still valid.

No party could openly propose: “Let’s slash rich people’s taxes and make up the difference by cutting Social Security and Medicare.” But that is the Republican agenda. They will pass it by breaking it in two: First pass huge tax cuts that mainly benefit the rich, and then treat the resulting deficit as an emergency no one could have foreseen. Working people will have to “sacrifice” their Social Security and Medicare benefits to deal with the “emergency” created by the tax cuts.

and we’d put the brakes on runaway spending

As this chart from the libertarian Cato Institute shows, federal spending has been fairly level during the Obama administration, after increasing sharply under Bush.

and debt.

Republican candidates do propose cutting spending on things like food stamps, but after accounting for increased defense spending, the net spending cut is typically far smaller than the tax cut. So the deficit is likely to jump sharply during a Republican administration (after falling under Obama), as it did when Reagan and Bush cut taxes.

We would encourage American innovation and success instead of demonizing them,

Listening to Haley, you might imagine Democrats spouting absurdities like, “Damn that iPhone!” or “What good is this Internet fad anyway?” — which we never do. Her statement only contacts reality after you realize that innovation and success is a euphemism for billionaires. Democrats haven’t “demonized” billionaires, but we have been (correctly) pointing out that billionaires soak up just about all of America’s economic growth, leaving little for anyone else.

so our economy would truly soar and good jobs would be available across our country.

The theory that making the rich richer will produce growth and good jobs for everyone is known as trickle-down economics. In the history of humankind it has never worked, for a simple reason: When the poor and middle class have more money, they buy things that somebody needs to produce, creating new jobs and industries. But when the rich have more money, they bid up the prices of limited goods like stocks, Van Gogh paintings, and beachfront property, inflating speculative bubbles that eventually pop and damage the economy the rest of us depend on.

We would reform education so it worked best for students, parents, and teachers, not Washington bureaucrats and union bosses.

No one has gone after teachers’ unions harder than Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. The benefits of this to students and parents are virtually invisible, and teachers are undeniably worse off. Sam Brownback’s Kansas exemplifies another Republican approach to education: When his tax cuts for the wealthy didn’t produce the economic boom he promised (because trickle-down economics doesn’t work), he made up the deficit by cutting money for public schools.

But Republican education reform would definitely benefit one group: corporations who want a bigger chunk of the education market.

We would end a disastrous health care program, and replace it with reforms that lowered costs and actually let you keep your doctor.

The “disaster” of ObamaCare continues to exist mainly in the conservative fantasy world. In reality, the percentage of American adults without health insurance has dropped from 16% when Obama took office to under 9% today, is still dropping, and would have dropped much more if Republican governors hadn’t refused to expand Medicaid. Predictions that ObamaCare would “kill jobs” have not proven out.

The Republican replacement for ObamaCare is also a fantasy. Six years after the Affordable Care Act became law, Republicans have still not agreed on an alternative, and no GOP presidential candidate has anything more than the barest sketch of a plan. Any claims about what such “reform” would do are meaningless until enough details get specified that outside experts can analyze the program’s costs and individual families can tell whether or not they’re covered. Those details are still a long way off, and may never arrive.

We would respect differences in modern families,

Would they? I think the vagueness of this claim speaks for itself. No Republican candidate will openly say, “I respect gay or lesbian couples who get married and raise children” or “I respect transgender Americans.” Large parts of the Republican base would be offended if a candidate said, “I respect blacks and whites intermarrying.”

but we would also insist on respect for religious liberty as a cornerstone of our democracy.

Americans’ freedom to worship the deity of their choice has not changed during the Obama years. But in conservative rhetoric, religious liberty has expanded well beyond any previous meaning, to become code for conservative Christians controlling the behavior of others. No one has been able to explain how this expanded religious liberty can be granted to non-Christians, particularly atheists or Muslims, so the Constitution’s guarantee of “the equal protection of the laws” is out the window.

We would recognize the importance of the separation of powers and honor the Constitution in its entirety. And yes, that includes the Second and Tenth Amendments.

But what about the 14th Amendment? After Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices undo the recent decision legalizing same-sex marriage — as numerous candidates have promised — how will gays and lesbians receive the equal protection of the marriage laws? And conservative legal arguments against birthright citizenship — another guarantee of the plain language of the 14th Amendment — are far more convoluted than any alleged “judicial activism” of liberal judges.

It has also become common for Republicans to get misty-eyed talking about the sacred writ of the Constitution, and then demand drastic changes with their next breath.

We would make international agreements that were celebrated in Israel and protested in Iran, not the other way around.

When President Obama and Secretary Clinton got the world to agree to harsh sanctions on Iran — which forced them to bargain seriously about their nuclear program for the first time — I doubt the Iranians celebrated. And I can’t help wondering: who would these agreements Haley is talking about be with? Actual agreements require compromise. If you want to dictate terms to other countries, you have to defeat them in war first. Is that the plan?

And rather than just thanking our brave men and women in uniform, we would actually strengthen our military,

Actually she means instead of thanking our brave men and women in uniform. Republicans are good at starting wars, but not so good at taking care of the people who fight them.

so both our friends and our enemies would know that America seeks peace, but when we fight wars we win them.

The last Republican administration started two wars and won neither of them. And yet, the last eight years have seen no Republican soul-searching or new approaches to foreign policy. (The exception is Rand Paul, who has barely any support.) If a Republican wins the presidency in November, expect to see the Pentagon and State Department led by the same people who invaded Iraq and had no plan for what to do next.

In short, I would love to see the eventual Republican nominee run on a positive vision for America rather than on anger and fear. But it would be even more wonderful if the candidate offered proposals that stood some chance of achieving that vision. That’s something neither Haley nor any other Republican has yet attempted.

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Comments

  • Barb Mantegani  On January 18, 2016 at 10:22 am

    Thanks for doing this work, as I listened to Gov Haley speak I kept thinking huh? wha? does she understand what the party OF WHICH SHE IS A MEMBER actually stands for? And I started rebutting her in my head with what I thought was true but hadn’t done the research to prove. This post is brilliant. Thanks.

  • Guest  On January 18, 2016 at 11:05 am

    “If a Republican wins the presidency in November, expect to see the Pentagon and State Department led by the same people who invaded Iraq and had no plan for what to do next.”

    I wonder if we could or should include Clinton with the Republicans in that equation. She voted and supported invading Iraq in the first place, probably the biggest red flag, but her current campaign apparently gets foreign policy advice from the same Washington strategy firm that encourages Jeb, Fiorina, Rubio, and Cruz towards “hawkish positions”:

    https://theintercept.com/2015/12/18/beacon-global-strategies/

    And despite her support of the Iran deal, she’s never been shy about beating the war drums:

    https://theintercept.com/2015/09/09/hillary-clinton-goes-militaristic-hawkish-think-tank-gives-militaristic-hawkish-speech/

    • weeklysift  On January 18, 2016 at 12:23 pm

      Clinton does admit the mistake, and I doubt she’ll appoint Paul Wolfowitz to anything.

      • Guest  On January 18, 2016 at 3:49 pm

        Ok, but, gosh, that’s setting the foreign policy bar pretty darn low. The Republican primary front-runners (and Paul Wolfowitz himself!) clear that as much as Clinton does. She has admitted the mistake, yes, but given her ties to Beacon Global Strategies and her hawkish rhetoric, it’s not clear what, if anything, she has learned from it.

      • weeklysift  On January 18, 2016 at 9:09 pm

        Seriously, the Republican foreign policy establishment is unchanged since Bush/Cheney. Those are the people who will be appointed to all levels of State and Defense in the next Republican administration, whichever candidate (other than Paul, I guess) that they elect. None of those people would be in a Clinton administration.

        I’m also not willing to equate Hillary’s authorization vote in the Senate with the full botch that the Bush administration made of Iraq.

  • Alan Cooper  On January 18, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    Excellent, as usual. Thank you. I thought you missed a point in your response to the comment about “American innovation.” The large corporations are happy to allow the current patent office behavior that encourages patent trolling and cross licensing that is extremely repressive to innovation. Unlike what most people imagine, innovation typically comes from tiny companies and not from large ones, yet the laws give very little protection to the little guy and give much power to the giants. Those big companies either suppress innovation or collect rents from it.

    • weeklysift  On January 18, 2016 at 1:07 pm

      Lawrence Lessig makes a similar point about copyright: new creators are hamstruck by over-zealous copyright laws, since re-using and re-interpreting what came before is the essence of culture.

      • Anonymous  On January 19, 2016 at 10:31 pm

        These are both campaign finance issues. The big companies use lobbyists and campaign contributions to be sure that the rules are written to benefit them. We need campaign finance reform to fix both of these.

      • weeklysift  On January 20, 2016 at 8:47 am

        That’s exactly what Lessig says.

  • coastcontact  On January 18, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley would be an excellent candidate for president. But alas she is obviously in the minority of the GOP. Angry is leading in the polls. Sanders attracts the big crowds and so does Trump. The reason is obvious. No matter which party is in control, nothing consequential is done in Washington. Both Sanders and Trump have put their finger on the problem. The wealthy and big business control this country. They (those with the money) are happy with the way things are now.

    • Geoff Arnold  On January 18, 2016 at 7:53 pm

      Let’s see: the article enumerates many ways in which the experience of GOP and Dem Presidencies have been different, and then coastcontact adds a comment saying “No matter which party is in control, nothing consequential is done in Washington.” WTF? (Are wars, deficits, and human rights not “consequential”???)

Trackbacks

  • By Standing Up | The Weekly Sift on January 18, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    […] week’s featured posts are “The Positive Republican Message, Annotated” and “There’s a Lot to Know about the Militia Takeover“. As always on MLK […]

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