Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sotomayor - Cool Under Fire, What is the GOP Position on the Economy?

Sonia Sotomayor, A Shoe-In
Over the last two days, the Senate Judiciary committee has begun its required confirmation hearings of Supreme Court-Designee Sonia Sotomayor. These hearings lack much drama, since as Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) pointed out, the outcome is virtually assured. Sotomayor will be confirmed. The only interesting questions are whether the respective parties score any political points and how large the margin of confirmation will be (something approximating a 75/25 split would appear likely to this observer, with all Democrats voting for confirmation and a sizeable number of Republicans.)

Sotomayor handled complex questions about third-rail issues of law such as abortion, gun ownership, affirmative action and others with a strong command of the law, sound-reasoning and the kind of artful evasion around nailing down specific viewpoints that we have come to expect from candidates in the post-Bork era.

Democrats such as Leahy, Franken and Whitehouse heaped the praise on Sotomayor's resume and tossed up softball questions. Graham, Sessions and company pressed her harder, but were professional and respectful in their questioning.

In the end, I thought Sotomayor was extremely cool under fire. My only criticism is that I believe she was blatantly deceitful in her response to questions around the now-infamous "wise latina woman" remark. Her response to the question was essentially that it had been an inartful attempt to express the same sentiment as Sandra Day O'Connor had expressed when she had said that a wise man and a wise woman would hopefully reach the same conclusion. Um, sorry Judge, but I read the quote in its entire context and it is readily evident to me that you were consciously REBUTTING O'Connor's point of view. And that should be okay. It's okay to think that your Latina heritage provides you a unique perspective that isn't on the court today. It is okay to think it is important to have those diverse perspectives on the court. If Sotomayor feels she needs to lie about these views that she so obviously holds, what a sad day indeed.

The GOP Position on the Economy
To gather form the GOP criticism the last few days of the Obama economic program: we are spending too much money and incurring too much debt, and furthermore the stimulus is a failure because we aren't spending the money fast enough. Huh? Not spending the stimulus fast enough? Shouldn't that criticism be coming from the left? I thought this spending wasn't going to help?

This Admiral Stockdale-like (sorry for those of you under 25, you probably have no idea what I'm referencing) ping-ponging of viewpoints illustrates the central problem for the GOP: they do not have a coherent economic policy today.

The context of the history of GOP economic theories is pretty simple. Pre-1980, the GOP was very focused on the concept of deficit reduction. The belief was that a balanced budget would lead to more stable and effective capital markets and money would be freed up to invest in innovation and growth rather than tied up in government bonds. In 1980, that all changed with the advent of Reagonomics. The theory behind Reagonomics essentially was: taxes are a burden on the economy and by cutting taxes, particularly on the upper-class, you can spur investment and job creation which will ultimately increase wealth for all and increase the tax base. The theory was etched on a napkin when the infamous Laugher curve was born, which expressed the theory that raising tax rates could actually supress tax revenue by supressing growth.

So what is the theory today? It can't be that tax cuts cure all ills. We've cut taxes many times over the past few years (the Bush cuts, which heavily impacted the upper brackets, the Bush Stimulus package and now with the most recent stimulus package) and our economy has been in shambles. It's also hard to go back to the balanced budget theory when you had your hand in taking us from a surplus to an eye-popping $1.5 trillion+ deficit.

So, what is the GOP arguing right now? I'm not exactly sure, other than to say that what Obama is doing isn't working. It seems they are attempting to meld the two classic Republican arguments by arguing on the one hand to cut taxes and not allow upper-income tax breaks to expire while on the other hand argue that our deficit is out of control. It's a two-step that doesn't pass intellectual muster and doesn't make for real good bumper stickers. "Tax cuts for the rich! Because government spending is bad!"

What the GOP SHOULD be arguing right now is for government-guided but market-driven solutions to problems like health care, carbon emissions, etc. They should be proposing that a real stimulus would involve upgrading our electrical grid, not making Medicaid transfer payments to states. They SHOULD be developing and presenting a REAL balanced budget (with actual numbers this time) since President Obama has not shown us anything close to one in the next ten years. They should be doing all these things. But that would require leadership.

Where are Jack Kemp and William F. Buckley when you need them?

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