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Jan. 15 2010 - 3:01 pm | 676 views | 0 recommendations | 11 comments

Scott Brown and the critics

He is, in other words, a parody of the brainless bush Republican, mixed with Romney-like cynicism. ~ Andrew Sullivan on Scott Brown

I have trouble understanding where Sullivan is coming from with a post like this one, criticizing Scott Brown’s apparently “mindless op-ed” by cherry-picking everything he can find that casts Brown in a poor light.  Certainly some of Brown’s points in his op-ed are little more than standard GOP boilerplate.  But the thing about boilerplate is that it accurately represents the views of a very large group of people.  Cutting taxes is not in and of itself wrong-headed, however unsurprising the idea may be.  Certainly it’s not as wrong-headed as raising taxes would be right now before a significant economic recovery, and with unemployment in the double digits.

While the op-ed doesn’t address spending issues explicitly, it’s not as though Republicans or Brown in particular are calling for more spending.  Perhaps spending cuts aren’t the best idea in the midst of a recession any more than hiking taxes. Additionally, one of the reasons Brown states for his opposition to the healthcare reform bill is its increased spending and tax burden.  Perhaps he should also be proposing ways to cut current spending, but certainly there is nothing inconsistent with opposing future spending either.

Sullivan objects to calls for tax cuts because that will, essentially, starve the beast, leading to “massive cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and defense.”  That this is not stated explicitly in Brown’s op-ed is immaterial.  Republicans have long believed that cutting taxes will lead to cutting spending.  What they need to do now is elect fiscal conservatives instead of people like George W. Bush.  These cuts, after all, will be necessary unless we decide to shift course and adopt a social democratic model which I’m not sure the U.S. is ready to do at this point in history.

Moreover, judging the present policy positions of Republicans based on the poor fiscal record of George W. Bush is an odd approach.  Few Republicans will tell you that they are proud of the spending record during the eight years of the Bush administration. It seems like a strange response to that to say that because of their past failures to rein in spending, any present or future attempts to block Democratic legislative agendas are simply hypocritical.  Should they instead eschew fiscal conservatism altogether?  I fail to see the logic in this.

Finally, Sullivan critiques Brown for his opposition to national healthcare reform and his apparent contradictory support for Romneycare.  I addressed this earlier, but to sum it up I think the good people of Massachusetts have worked hard to create a system that works for them and they’d rather not have a system they fear will be more expensive and less efficient rammed down their throats.  That makes sense to me.

Sullivan at this point seems reflexively anti-Republican.  Gone is any measured attempt to actually assess the candidate.  Unless that candidate is pro-Obama and pro-stimulus he may as well be Sarah Palin.  Picking over a single op-ed and writing it off as “mindless” or “fraudulent” is lazy analysis.  And it’s odd given how moderate Brown really is, even on issues like gay marriage which he believes should be left up to the states.

The trickier question for me comes to Brown’s support of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  I would note that he said he believed terrorists should be tried in military courts – something I agree with, though I’m not particularly passionate about it either way – and that we should do whatever we can within the law of the land to interrogate and extract information from terror suspects.  Of course, that does not include waterboarding since that technique has been banned by President Obama.  More than anything, I think Brown is touting his tough-on-terror bona fides.  That may be a lame political move but it hardly makes him Dick Cheney.

P.S.  – None of this is to say that all of Andrew’s criticism is unwarranted.  It is only to point out that it is unnecessarily over the top, more of a knee-jerk reaction than the sort of analysis that I would hope this race would inspire from high profile bloggers like Sullivan.  Calling Brown out for writing an uninspiring op-ed is one thing; calling him a parody of a Bush Republican is entirely off the mark and a little hysterical.


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    Although I’m finding Andrew to become increasingly whiny and unfair lately (well, maybe not lately, I’m just losing patience with it) I’m going to have to defend at least parts of his criticism. I found the op-ed to be pretty uninspiring myself, even though I would probably vote for Brown over Coakley if I lived in Massachusetts. Even if it were to endanger HCR (which it probably won’t), which I support even in its ugly sausage form. Anyway, the criticism is that Brown complains about the debt and deficit in one part of his op-ed, but then his solution is… tax cuts and some unspecified spending cuts. The problem is that Deficit = Spending – Tax Revenues. If you cut both, how are you supposed to decrease the deficit unless you REALLY cut spending in ways that would be politically impossible? It has to be some combination of tax increases and spending cuts. (see http://www.economist.com/displayStory.cfm?story_id=14903024&source=hptextfeature for a much more intelligent version of this than I could possibly provide) Sure, Republicans believe they can “starve the beast”, but you just have to look at California’s state government to see how this works in practice. Tax cuts are easy, but spending cuts are hard and could have disastrous consequences if done at the wrong time (i.e. now). While Scott Brown may be a charismatic man (certainly better than the tone-deaf Coakley) what I (and perhaps Andrew) feel is the problem, is that he’s falling into tired ideological talking points that have nothing to do with current problems. It just seems that Republicans are uninterested in coming up with a more realistic policy proposals such as dealing with the deficit with a tax reform that lowered income tax rates overall but eliminated many of the deductions that only serve to distort the economy (and thus increased the money the government received overall) It just seems right now that the Republicans are only interested in power, and thus will just say things that will be popular (actual tax cuts and only paying lip service to spending cuts) to regain power, instead of doing the right thing! (which many times is not going to be popular)

    (Sorry if I started rambling a bit too much.)

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    You literally lost me at literally the first sentence.

    So allow me to explain why you have trouble understanding. It’s because your understanding of politics in general and the issues at stake here specifically are at the very least naive, and in this case, bordering on juvenile.

    No matter how talented you are, and you are, or thoughtful, and you are that, too, and of sincere good will, also, I conclude, you don’t get it.

    It’s not about Brown being the kind of candidate you’d like in isolation and all else being equal, or the fact that Coakley is a bad candidate. It’s about the system–or, better, systems. A political system that’s almost dysfuctional if it isn’t already trying to fix a health system that is already dysfunctional and utterly unsustainable.

    Your argument reduces to this “Because Martha Coakly is a crappy candidate, therefore the health care system should collapse in five years or so.”

    That is beyond juvenile, it’s crazy, particularly in light of all your other HCR blogging.

    One substantive comment, and one kinda personal. On this:

    … the good people of Massachusetts have worked hard to create a system that works for them and they’d rather not have a system they fear will be more expensive and less efficient rammed down their throats.

    I happen to be one of those people and without reservation reject that argument. It’s fundamentally the same argument Ben Nelson used to defend the Cornhusker deal. You’re saying the people of MA should be as narrow-mindedly focused on their own parochial interest to the detriment of the best interests of the nation. And I reject that defense. Reform will NEVER HAPPEN if every stakeholder at a possible veto point zealously guards whatever interest they think is at stake.

    Finally, I want you know that I really like your writing and thinking a lot–as I suspect Sully does, too. You gots yourself a future, man. But I’m wondering if one of the reasons Sully likes you is that he sees a lot of his young self in your writing: bright, thoughful, humane young conservative. And I’m wondering if he’s not so naive anymore himself, which is why you’re on opposite sides of this discourse.

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    I have no idea what “called out” means or what I should do. I just opened my account to post that comment.

    I seeded this and copypasted my comment:


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    Sorry Ezra, have to go with Sullivan on this one. That editorial was not only wrong-headed it was also outrageously boring and unimaginative. Pretty much like the GOP nowdays, as Andy said.

    My complaints: 1. the tone of the piece. This isn’t 1980. 2. We don’t need tax cuts, we need more revenue to pay for, among other things, Bush and Reagan’s spending sprees (yes, we are still paying the interest on Reagan’s 6 Trillion $$ debt). 3. Not one scintilla of a new idea 4. hypocrisy over the public healthcare option, given his previous enthusiatic support (in his own state). No way to finesse that one, sorry Mr. Klein. 5. Mr. Klein, you state that the “Republicans failed to rein in spending”? “Failed to rein in”? Eagerly slopped at the trough for 8 long years is probbly a little closer to the point.

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