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Bailout Politics

Two Republican senators have lost because, in large part, of their votes for TARP. It’s time to be skeptical that Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) could ever mount a real presidential bid, because he voted for the measure, too, and activists are simply not forgiving of that. And if Palin runs in 2012, how will she get past her own support for TARP? ~Dave Weigel [1]

Via Bodenner [2]

It would be reassuring if activists were consistent in their hostility to pro-TARP Republicans. One of the things that baffled me more than a little about Bennett’s defeat was why he received the ire of activists more than any of the other incumbent Republicans who voted for the measure. Bennett’s problem may have been that he has not furiously backtracked and become an anti-bailout zealot as Thune and Romney have tried to do. Then again, Murkowski tried having it both ways and lost anyway.

The trouble that activists on the right are going to have is that very few Republican politicians came out against the TARP at the time. If most of them are tainted and unacceptable because of backing the TARP, activists are going to have very few candidates they can support, which means rallying behind one of the few early bailout opponents or settling for one of the many supporters. If I understand Republican primary voters at all, they will end up backing one of the latter. Except for Mike Huckabee, I can’t recall that any remotely plausible presidential contenders in the GOP openly opposing the legislation creating the program. As far as I know, Mitch Daniels never made his views known one way or the other. In Palin’s case, there is apparently no real obstacle for her to overcome, because her enthusiasts are not at all interested in the policy positions she staked out in the past.

Thune and Palin may not be going anywhere as presidential candidates, but I doubt it will be because they were insufficiently zealous in opposing bailouts. It would be an encouraging and healthy development if that was the reason, but I don’t think that’s how primary voters would respond to the two of them if they ran. The voters most firmly opposed to the financial sector bailout are the ones most sympathetic to Palin, and they would probably be sympathetic to Thune, too, because he seems to be “one of them” even when he doesn’t vote the way they would want. After all, this is the man who kicked Tom Daschle out of the Senate. That sort of tribal point-scoring will matter a lot more than Thune’s vote for an admittedly horrible bill. It is the less ideological and less partisan voters that will be participating in the primaries that dislike Palin, but they dislike her mainly because of her style and the public persona she has crafted.

Bennett was seen as being too close to the Democrats on health care, and Murkowski had all the baggage of being installed in her position by her father, so there were aggravating factors that made them more vulnerable than other pro-TARP Republicans.

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13 Comments To "Bailout Politics"

#1 Comment By tbraton On September 1, 2010 @ 2:32 pm

Bennett also paid a big price for having pledged the first time he was elected that he would only serve two terms. He might have gotten through for a third term, but too many Utahan Republicans decided that going for a fourth term was a bridge too far. Add in his advanced years, and you have a slam dunk against his reelection.

#2 Comment By MBunge On September 1, 2010 @ 2:56 pm

The problem with the anti-TARP sentiments is that, at the time, the alternative to TARP was essentially nothing. It took the GOP almost two years after TARP to come up with anything resembling an economic program to contrast with the bailout/stimulus stuff that passed under Bush and Obama. And even that plan seems to be something the Republican party as a whole doesn’t want to truly embrace.

Mike

#3 Comment By Masturbatin’ Pete On September 1, 2010 @ 3:47 pm

It would be reassuring if activists were consistent in their hostility to pro-TARP Republicans. One of the things that baffled me more than a little about Bennett’s defeat was why he received the ire of activists more than any of the other incumbent Republicans who voted for the measure.

Perhaps these activists are more savvy than Larison is willing to imagine. Wait– no, not “perhaps.” Without question.

Bennett and Murkowski were too liberal for their states. What is forgivable for a GOP senator from Massachusetts or Maine in unpardonable for a GOP senator from Utah. The activists will take what they can get with Scott Brown, but there’s no need to settle for liberal Republicans in Utah.

But then Larison manages to go from being nonplussed to finding his answer in the final paragraph: “Bennett was seen as being too close to the Democrats on health care, and Murkowski had all the baggage of being installed in her position by her father, so there were aggravating factors that made them more vulnerable than other pro-TARP Republicans.” TARP was but one brick in the wall. Vote conservative the rest of the time, and your TARP sin is absolved.

With the knowledge that a vote for TARP isn’t fatal for a senator with an otherwise strong conservative voting record, I suppose Larison should no longer bewildered as to why conservative activists aren’t gunning for all TARP Senators equally… which more or less negates the whole point of the post. That’s twenty minutes of his life he’ll never have back.

#4 Comment By MBunge On September 1, 2010 @ 4:11 pm

“Bennett and Murkowski were too liberal for their states.”

Outside of of TARP, in what way was Bennett too liberal for his state?

Mike

#5 Comment By Masturbatin’ Pete On September 1, 2010 @ 7:56 pm

Outside of of TARP, in what way was Bennett too liberal for his state?

We don’t even need to leave the page. Here’s Larison, supra: “Bennett was seen as being too close to the Democrats on health care[.]”

If you want some rich linky goodness, you can click on over to [3] from Newsweek, the place that the Washington Post used to send writers who were too dumb to keep up with the paste-eating safety-scissors crowd over at Slate.

#6 Comment By MBunge On September 2, 2010 @ 7:19 am

Uh, Pete? You might want to read your own links.

From the Newsweek story – Bob Bennett “…earned a lifetime American Conservative Union rating of 84, a National Right to Life rating of 100, a Family Research Council rating of 88, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce rating of 100, an Americans for Tax Reform rating of 90, a National Journal ranking as the GOP caucus’s 23rd most conservative senator—seven spots higher than Utah’s senior senator, Orrin Hatch—and the unshakable trust of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who chose Bennett as his consigliere on the Senate Republican Leadership Council.”

The only supposedly liberal thing that I can find, besides TARP, of which Bennett is guilty is proposing a bi-partisan health reform plan. Not that Bennett’s bi-partisan plan itself was too liberal, but that merely trying to work with Democrats to solve one of the country’s biggest problems was deemed “too liberal”.

Try again, Pete.

Mike

#7 Comment By Masturbatin’ Pete On September 2, 2010 @ 7:28 am

Mike:

Should the most conservative state have the 23rd most conservative GOP senator? That puts him on the liberal side of the GOP median.

The only supposedly liberal thing that I can find, besides TARP, of which Bennett is guilty is proposing a bi-partisan health reform plan. Not that Bennett’s bi-partisan plan itself was too liberal, but that merely trying to work with Democrats to solve one of the country’s biggest problems was deemed “too liberal”.

How do you know that voters were reacting only to procedure, and not the substance of his plan? Wyden-Bennett contained an individual mandate, which was one of the major grounds that conservatives objected to Obamacare.

#8 Comment By MBunge On September 2, 2010 @ 7:50 am

“Wyden-Bennett contained an individual mandate, which was one of the major grounds that conservatives objected to Obamacare.”

Which sort of proves the point, considering that the invididual mandate started out as a Republican and conservative idea and only became “liberal” when Obama adopted it.

Mike

#9 Comment By Masturbatin’ Pete On September 2, 2010 @ 8:12 am

I don’t know what your point is here. I think you’re wandering off a little bit, which is fine, but we’re talking past each other.

Larison expressed puzzlement as to why some TARP-voting GOP senators, such as Bennett, are being treated more harshly than others by the base. He then largely answered his own question by noting that Bennett introduced a health insurance bill that shared Obamacare’s most constitutionally suspect feature. That’s the answer: it wasn’t just TARP; it was TARP + Obamacare Lite.

Whether an individual mandate is or was “a Republican and conservative idea” is another issue entirely. It’s certainly a statist idea, and Republicans and conservatives are not free from totalitarian temptations. Regardless, anything that sounds like Obamacare is now opposed by the GOP base, and that’s what did Bennett in.

And let me ask you again: is it rational for GOP primary voters in the most conservative state to want a senator who is less conservative than the median GOP senator, as ranked by National Journal?

#10 Comment By MBunge On September 2, 2010 @ 8:45 am

Pete, if you’d stop thinking about abstract bullshit like “statism” you might be able to understand the problem here.

Let’s just take the individual mandate in health care. It was originally conceived of and promoted by Republicans and conservatives. The reason they did that is because it is, in fact, the conservative approach to fixing a basic problem with health care.

Dealing with “free riders” is one of the fundamental challenges of market economics. “Free riders” are people who want to take out of the system without putting anything in. I hope I don’t need to explain why that’s trouble for any market.

In health care, “free riders” are people who don’t want to buy health insurance until they get sick. They don’t want to pay into the system when they’re healthy, but they do want to benefit from the system when they need it. Furthermore, most of the things that can or should be done to improve the functioning of the health care system only exacerbate the problem of “free riders”. The better the health care system works and the easier it is to access, the more incentive their is to “free ride”.

Now, there are 3 basic ways to deal with “free riders” in the health care market.

1. Deny them coverage when they want it and let them go broke and/or die.
2. The government can provide health coverage for everyone.
3. The government can mandate that everyone purchase health coverage themselves.

#1 may have a juvenile libertarian appeal, but surely no one things that’s a practical approach.
#2 is the liberal answer to the “free rider” problem.
#3 is the conservative answer to the “free rider” problem.

The Bennett bi-partisan health plan would have had an individual mandate. It would have also abolished employer-provided health care plans, put the money currently spent on them back into the hands of employees and empowered individuals to handle their own health care.

Would that have been a perfect plan that satisfied every insanely high-minded prinicple? No. Would it have been better than Obamacare from the conservative viewpoint? Yup.

Oh, and Bennet was not rejected by GOP primary voters. He was denied a place on the GOP primary ballot at the state party convention, which means he was only rejected by a very small subset of Utah Republicans.

Mike

#11 Comment By Masturbatin’ Pete On September 2, 2010 @ 9:13 am

You don’t understand. I am not at all interested in arguing the comparative merits of various health insurance reform proposals with you. Not now. Nor am I interested in ranking proposals for insuring the uninsured based on how conservative they are in relationship to each other, or based on whether they’re better or worse than Obamacare.

I’ll even assume that you’re correct: Wyden-Bennett is “better than Obamacare from the conservative viewpoint.” So what? Utah’s conservatives don’t want it. They don’t want anything that comes anywhere near Obamacare. They don’t want a senator who isn’t committed to a full repeal of Obamacare, including the individual mandate. That is why Bennett lost, but other GOP senators who voted for TARP have survived.

Why don’t Utah’s conservatives want an individual mandate? Maybe they’ve discovered a libertarian streak. Maybe they’re a bunch of racists who hate Obama and anything associated with him because he’s half-black. Maybe they don’t understand why an individual mandate is a conservative solution. Maybe they’ve come to believe that Congress lacks the constitutional authority to require them to purchase health insurance. Maybe they’re suffering from mass psychosis. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter for the purposes of Larison’s question, which was: why is Bennett being treated worse than other TARP-supporting senators? The answer is simple: because he introduced a bill that Utah’s conservatives hate.

#12 Comment By Another Matt On September 2, 2010 @ 10:36 am

Now, there are 3 basic ways to deal with “free riders” in the health care market.
1. Deny them coverage when they want it and let them go broke and/or die.
2. The government can provide health coverage for everyone.
3. The government can mandate that everyone purchase health coverage themselves.
#1 may have a juvenile libertarian appeal, but surely no one things that’s a practical approach.
#2 is the liberal answer to the “free rider” problem.
#3 is the conservative answer to the “free rider” problem.

=============================

Of course, this assumes that insurance is a proper conservative institution for health care, which might be debatable. A lot of conservatives seem to be arguing that direct purchase of health care would exert market competition and drive down costs, fixing the crisis (while also obviating the “free rider” problem). I think this is a little too simplistic and far, far too late a proposal — it would be a far more radical solution than even Obamacare. It’s a conservative proposal but not a realistic one, and one that has tensions with other conservative ideals (antiradicalism, etc.).

Meanwhile it’s hard to argue that the individual mandate is unconstitutional. It amounts to an across-the-board tax hike, with a credit for owning insurance. Kind of like how this year the government mandated that I buy a house, or face not receiving an $8000 credit. As it is, I think you can argue the wisdom of the tax hike but not the constitutionality; things would be different had they made not owning insurance punishable by prison time or some such.

#13 Comment By BarryD On September 3, 2010 @ 6:40 pm

Daniel: “The trouble that activists on the right are going to have is that very few Republican politicians came out against the TARP at the time.”

Considering that these crowds of allegedly p*ssed-off people didn’t have too many problems with Bush and Cheney running amok, I don’t think so. They’ll adjust history, memories and slogans as needed.