September 19, 2010
Pyrrhic Victory? Right Diagnosis, Wrong PatientBy Randall Hoven
I would like to speak for the math-challenged, self-indulgent, and irresponsible wingnuts who wanted Christine O'Donnell to beat Mr. 52-Lifetime-ACU-Rating in the Delaware senatorial primary. I know that geniuses like Mark Murphy and Charles Krauthammer are better than I am at predicting elections. So when the lights of the firmament say O'Donnell is "unelectable," I will accept that premise (for argument's sake). But the story does not end there.
Assume the geniuses are right. In fact, assume the worst case: O'Donnell loses the general election and the Senate ends up 50-50, with the tie-breaking vote going to Joe Biden. If we wingnuts hadn't screwed things up by electing O'Donnell in the primary, the Senate would be majority Republican in 2011-12. How much better would a majority-by-one outcome be?
We do not have to hypothesize such a situation. Exactly that happened in 2001. And this is what happened: Jim Jeffords, nominal Republican, left the Republican Party to caucus with the Democrats, putting them in majority control for the remainder of that Senate term.
Jumpin' Jim had gone through an election just eight months prior to his defection. All that time, the geniuses told us Republicans to support guys like Jeffords. He's running in Vermont, for goodness' sake -- whaddaya want? You can't expect a Jim DeMint Republican to win in the Northeast. We need such "moderate" Republicans in order to control the Senate.
January 2001 was the first time in 46 years that the president, the House, and the Senate were Republican. That state of affairs lasted from January 20 to June 6. After that, meaning after Jumpin' Jim's jump, the Democrats controlled the Senate and blocked everything that might have been worthwhile coming from the Republican House and ready to be signed by President Bush.
When we really, really needed him, Jumpin' Jim jumped. To be clear, all of the good do-bee Republicans who supported our "moderate" Republicans from the Northeast still got screwed. They lost the money they sent him and lost the Senate anyway. Strike one.
Move to the next northeast state, Pennsylvania. Pat Toomey ran against Arlen Specter in the GOP primary in 2004. There was nothing wrong or "wingnut" about Toomey. He had served in the House for the previous six years. He was a Harvard graduate, for goodness' sake. But he wasn't the choice of the Republican Party geniuses. The geniuses knew their incumbent, Arlen. And Arlen proved, if nothing else, that he could win elections in Pennsylvania. So Arlen got the GOP money, the GOP backing, and President Bush's endorsement.
Then, when we really, really needed it -- when it might have been possible to filibuster Obama's stimulus in 2009 if a mere 41 GOP senators could hang together -- three GOP senators, all from the Northeast, broke ranks: Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Arlen Specter. Strike two.
Then, when we really, really, really needed him to defeat ObamaCare by filibuster, Arlen did Jumpin' Jim one better and became an out-and-out Democrat. He ended up voting for ObamaCare as a Democrat. He took GOP money when he ran in 2004, and then voted against the GOP when it counted most. Strike three. And I'm out.
It does the GOP no good to be in majority "control" of the Senate if that majority is lost when the votes really count. And every time the votes really counted, we could count on a wet Republican like Jeffords, Specter, Collins, or Snowe to flip sides.
Even more frightening, the 2000s taught us conservatives that the GOP is not the conservative party; it uses conservatives to win elections. As much as I loathe the Jeffords, Specters, and Crists of the world, the GOP itself has shown that it couldn't care less about limited government or fiscal responsibility. Those were merely nice-sounding themes for the back-home troglodytes during campaign season.
I'll give you a giant case in point. Back in 1995, when Bill Clinton was president, the GOP-controlled Congress passed a significant Medicare reform bill. It was a good bill, with genuine reform, not tinkering at the edges or a layering-on of benefits. It would have helped control the otherwise out-of-control entitlement growth. Clinton vetoed it.
Why, then, in 2003, when the GOP again controlled both houses of Congress, did it not simply pass this bill again for George W. Bush to sign?
The GOP not only did not do that, but it came up with Medicare Part D and jammed it down our throats in 2003 just as much as the Democrats jammed ObamaCare down our throats seven years later.
Medicare Part D was no minor tinkering. It had all the beauty of a Democrat bill. (1) It would cost a trillion dollars over a decade (but decades in the future). (2) It was passed by a slim and partisan vote, literally in the dark of night, using high-pressure politics otherwise known as bribery. And (3), its costs would not really kick in until those who passed it were safely out of office or long forgotten for the vote.
The Government Accountability Office, way back in 2006, put the total liabilities of the federal government at $50.5 trillion at that time. (That was before the great financial crisis, before the Great Recession, and when deficits were in mere triple-digit billions.) Medicare Part D, something that did not even exist prior to 2003, was $7.9 trillion of that, more than the liability of future Social Security payments.
This is a big point, so I want you to have the source: a presentation by David M. Walker, Comptroller General of the U.S. at that time. Medicare Part D, a new entitlement forced on us by the leadership of the Republican Party, would account for 16% of all future federal liabilities -- more than future Social Security payments! Eight. Trillion. Dollars.
Now why did the Republicans do that? It simply added to Medicare; it did not reform it in any way, shape or form. It added to entitlement costs -- a lot. The GOP's conservative base never asked for it and never wanted it. "Wingnuts" like Rush Limbaugh were outright against it. Yet the Republican Party fought the Democratic Party, its own conservative base, and many of its own members to get it passed.
Here is what Rush Limbaugh had to say about it in 2006:
And here is what President Obama had to say when defending himself against charges of being a socialist.
Do you now get why Newsweek said, "We're all socialists now"?
For those who call Christine O'Donnell's victory a Pyrrhic one, our truly Pyrrhic victories were in 2002 and 2004. More such victories, and we are undone.
Medicare Part D in 2003. TARP in 2008. The Obama stimulus in 2009. ObamaCare in 2010. Trillions, trillions, trillions, trillions. And the debt goes up, up, up. Hello PIIGS, here we come.
This is not about maintaining a slim and slippery numerical majority in the U.S. Senate, especially when Obama wields the veto and Democrats wield the filibuster. This is about a revolution in thinking inside the Republican Party leadership. If that doesn't happen, none of the rest matters.