Replace The Republican Leadership
Michael Barone argues that Republicans should pursue opposition to centralization, particularly as it relates to the actions of the Treasury and Fed in recent months and years, and on the whole I agree. This is what I have been calling for since last autumn. It helps Republican credibility somewhat that even in the waning days of the Bush administration more House Republicans rejected the TARP than accepted it, but Republican leaders and the Bush administration were necessarily identified so closely in public with the measure that it is virtually impossible for the same House and Senate leadership to rail against it now. As an earlyandfrequentcriticofthebailout, I welcome Barone’s recognition that populist opposition to the bailout is the right thing to do as a matter of politics and policy. There are several serious obstacles that make it difficult to take this route, not least of which is the genuine obliviousness of most Republicans to the dangers of the housing bubble when it was expanding, their long record of treating Alan Greenspan as an all-seeing oracle, and the unwillingness to accept that the bubble and the enormous risk-taking that went along with it were in no small part consequences of decisions taken by Bush and Greenspan.
One the reasons why the GOP has so little credibility left is that its members and its spokesmen spent the better part of the fall concocting exaggerated, if not absolutely ridiculous, narratives that put all of the blame for the crash solely on the other party, which had not been in power during most of the period in question. One might be able to understand, if not condone, this on account of the timing right before a general election, but the infuriating thing is that they actually came to believe that these tall tales were correct and they have continued to repeat them as if they were true. Unanimous House GOP opposition to the stimulus bill seemed unwise to me at the time because it suggested that the party had learned nothing from its electoral repudiations, and more than this it suggested that the party was unwilling to take responsibility for decisions that its leaders had endorsed over many years. The attitude seemed to be that opposing “wasteful spending” would have some sort of rejuvenating political effect. The party leadership, compromised for the most part by its past support, had no interest in fighting Obama on the financial sector bailout. Having missed the opportunity to own up to their mistakes, the party leadership wanted to pretend that its compromises in the fall would be forgotten and that it would receive credit for resisting Obama’s spending. Failing to take the right stand when it would have stopped the creation of the TARP and done them some good politically, the GOP leadership in Congress capitulated to one of the most unpopular Presidents of all time in support of a bad policy. The leadership then turned around four months later and pledged a fight to the death against a new, fairly popular President on a spending bill that, for all its real flaws, was far less objectionable than the bill they had helped to pass the year before. In short, the leadership took the wrong side on the obviously winning issue of resistance to the bailout and then took the right, but politically toxic side in the stimulus debate, all the while believing that it had behaved both responsibly and cleverly. If there is to be any credible Republican opposition to centralization, it is not going to come from the current House and Senate leadership. The leadership must be replaced. It will be as clear a break with the Bush-accommodating ways of the past as the GOP can manage at the moment, and it could bring to the fore a new set of leaders in the minority to craft an agenda, or for that matter simply an alternative budget proposal, that will not be immediately laughed out of the room.