In “The Grand Old Straight White Men’s Party” Mr. Keller says New York Republicans have some practical lessons for the rest of the party. In “Hating on Ben Bernanke” Prof. Krugman says while the Federal Reserve changes course to help the economy, the Romney camp gets even more extreme. Here’s Mr. Keller:
In a Time magazine column the other day, Joe Klein scolded the Democrats for being overly preoccupied with identity politics. In its admirable drive to be inclusive, he argued, the party has treated its constituents not as a population united by common ideals and interests, but as an array of caucuses to be pandered to: African-Americans, gays, Latinos, women, youth and so on. Klein wrote that “if I’m a plain old white insurance salesman, I look at the Democratic Party and say, What’s in it for me?”
The Republicans have exactly the opposite problem: they seem to be going out of their way to make their party inhospitable to everyone but that plain old white insurance salesman. They have alienated the majority of women and the vast majority of blacks. The fraction of young voters who call themselves Republican has been shrinking for 20 years, to about one in three. The Republicans are repelling the surging Latino electorate by making themselves the party of police checks, higher fences, English-only-spoken-here and self-deportation.
And that insurance salesman had better not be gay. The Republicans have enshrined the status of homosexuals as second-class citizens in the party platform. At their convention in Tampa, the Republicans attempted a show of ethnic and gender diversity. But as my colleague Frank Bruni pointed out, gays and lesbians were denied even that token pageantry.
Which brings me back to a story I’ve been following closely over the past year.
In June of 2011 the state of New York got in step with the slow march of history, legalizing same-sex marriage. Urged on by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, all of the State Senate’s Democrats voted in favor except a lone fire-and-brimstone minister from the Bronx. The Republican Party opposed the measure, but four G.O.P. senators broke with their party to provide the margin of victory: Stephen Saland, Roy McDonald, Mark Grisanti and Jim Alesi.
Ever since that vote, the fate of those four Republicans has been watched as a bellwether of sorts — a test of whether the Republican Party has room for politicians who vote their conscience against the party line. I spent some time last spring talking to the vengeful conservative operatives who were bent on punishing the apostates and to the generally more forgiving constituents in the four districts, and concluded that the gay-marriage defectors, while brave, were not as endangered as you might think.
Now we find out if I was too optimistic. Senator Alesi, who had other vulnerabilities (along with an evident bone-deep weariness of politics), decided to retire, but the other three came up against Republican primary challengers last Thursday. And the outcome, while not yet final, is instructive.
Senator Grisanti was the target of a sordidly homophobic anonymous mailing, but Buffalo’s active gay community mobilized on his behalf; he also undoubtedly got credit for steering considerable state money to a city in desperate need of development. He won his primary with 60 percent of the vote. In November he will face a Democrat who also supports gay marriage, and who also beat a rival favored by the anti crowd. Two cheers for Buffalo.
Senators Saland and McDonald, who come from Hudson Valley districts that are more red-state America, are so close to their challengers in the unofficial count (Saland 42 votes ahead, McDonald 136 votes behind) that the outcome hinges on absentee ballots still being counted.
Decoding a local primary election is a highly speculative business. There is not a lot of detailed polling to help explain the voters’ motivation. Familiarity and constituent service may count for more than ideology. Much hinges on turnout; since the disgruntled are more likely to show up than the complacent, lower turnouts are thought to favor challengers.
But the idea that these races were in some measure a marriage referendum is not just a media conceit. All three challengers opposed gay marriage. The contests became magnets for donations and mailings from advocates on both sides, with the big money coming from the marriage equality side. If not for the marriage issue, the incumbents might not have faced primary challenges at all. (Saland hasn’t had a primary race in 32 years.) So the outcome says SOMETHING about gay marriage. But what?
Regardless of the final outcome, opponents of gay marriage will crow that just by coming so close to unseating two established, well-financed incumbents, they have demonstrated that Republican officeholders in other states risk their jobs if they support gay marriage. Proponents of same-sex marriage rights, on the other hand, will point out that they stand behind politicians who stand up for them. And win or lose, the pro-equality politicians will have something to be genuinely proud of.
The more interesting lesson, though, is not in the vote counts. It is in the conduct of the New York State Republican Party.
The New York Republican leaders read the polls, and they recognized the accelerating public support for gay marriage in New York and nationwide. They understood that same-sex marriage was, in the short run, a distraction from the economic debate the party cares about most and, sooner or later, a losing issue for them. So they decided to get past it.
First, rather than enforce party discipline, as they had done in killing a gay marriage bill in 2009, Senate Republican leaders last year freed party members to vote their conscience. Then, when the conservative base was howling for payback, the party leadership stood by the incumbents who had bucked the party line. They held fund-raisers. They helped redraw Grisanti’s district map to make him less vulnerable. They supplied logistical help. Indeed, if McDonald and Saland do end up victorious in the two unfinished races — we’ll know in a few days — it will probably be because the party mounted an aggressive absentee campaign on their behalf. They identified Saland and McDonald supporters and made sure they got their mail-in ballots filed in time. Less experienced challengers rarely mount much of an absentee operation.
The Republican leaders did not do all this because they are closet liberals. They did it because if they had killed same-sex marriage a second time, their candidates would have faced the wrath (and cash) of marriage proponents in districts across the state. Including, not incidentally, a popular Democratic governor, with whom the Republicans have forged an unusually congenial working relationship.
“Had that issue been in the forefront right now, we probably would be in trouble with a lot of seats,” Senator Tom Libous, the deputy Senate majority leader, told me after the primary vote.
That’s the sound of something you don’t hear much in our politics these days, especially Republican politics: pragmatic common sense. Don’t hold your breath, but if it catches on nationally, the Republicans might start to attract someone other than straight old white guys.
So Joke Line doesn’t know “what’s in it for him” in the Democratic Party? Well, see, stupidity like that is why he’s called Joke Line… Here’s Prof. Krugman:
Last week Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, announced a change in his institution’s recession-fighting strategies. In so doing he seemed to be responding to the arguments of critics who have said the Fed can and should be doing more. And Republicans went wild.
Now, many people on the right have long been obsessed with the notion that we’ll be facing runaway inflation any day now. The surprise was how readily Mitt Romney joined in the craziness.
So what did Mr. Bernanke announce, and why?
The Fed normally responds to a weak economy by buying short-term U.S. government debt from banks. This adds to bank reserves; the banks go out and lend more; and the economy perks up.
Unfortunately, the scale of the financial crisis, which left behind a huge overhang of consumer debt, depressed the economy so severely that the usual channels of monetary policy don’t work. The Fed can bulk up bank reserves, but the banks have little incentive to lend the money out, because short-term interest rates are near zero. So the reserves just sit there.
The Fed’s response to this problem has been “quantitative easing,” a confusing term for buying assets other than Treasury bills, such as long-term U.S. debt. The hope has been that such purchases will drive down the cost of borrowing, and boost the economy even though conventional monetary policy has reached its limit.
Sure enough, last week’s Fed announcement included another round of quantitative easing, this time involving mortgage-backed securities. The big news, however, was the Fed’s declaration that “a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy will remain appropriate for a considerable time after the economic recovery strengthens.” In plain English, the Fed is more or less promising that it won’t start raising interest rates as soon as the economy looks better, that it will hold off until the economy is actually booming and (perhaps) until inflation has gone significantly higher.
The idea here is that by indicating its willingness to let the economy rip for a while, the Fed can encourage more private-sector spending right away. Potential home buyers will be encouraged by the prospect of moderately higher inflation that will make their debt easier to repay; corporations will be encouraged by the prospect of higher future sales; stocks will rise, increasing wealth, and the dollar will fall, making U.S. exports more competitive.
This is very much the kind of action Fed critics have advocated — and that Mr. Bernanke himself used to advocate before he became Fed chairman. True, it’s a lot less explicit than the critics would have liked. But it’s still a welcome move, although far from being a panacea for the economy’s troubles (a point Mr. Bernanke himself emphasized).
And Republicans, as I said, have gone wild, with Mr. Romney joining in the craziness. His campaign issued a news release denouncing the Fed’s move as giving the economy an “artificial” boost — he later described it as a “sugar high” — and declaring that “we should be creating wealth, not printing dollars.”
Mr. Romney’s language echoed that of the “liquidationists” of the 1930s, who argued against doing anything to mitigate the Great Depression. Until recently, the verdict on liquidationism seemed clear: it has been rejected and ridiculed not just by liberals and Keynesians but by conservatives too, including none other than Milton Friedman. “Aggressive monetary policy can reduce the depth of a recession,” declared the George W. Bush administration in its 2004 Economic Report of the President. And the author of that report, Harvard’s N. Gregory Mankiw, has actually advocated a much more aggressive Fed policy than the one announced last week.
Now Mr. Mankiw is allegedly a Romney adviser — but the candidate’s position on economic policy is evidently being dictated by extremists who warn that any effort to fight this slump will turn us into Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe I tell you.
Oh, and what about Mr. Romney’s ideas for “creating wealth”? The Romney economic “plan” offers no specifics about what he would actually do. The thrust of it, however, is that what America needs is less environmental protection and lower taxes on the wealthy. Surprise!
Indeed, as Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute points out, the Romney plan of 2012 is almost identical — and with the same turns of phrase — to John McCain’s plan in 2008, not to mention the plans laid out by George W. Bush in 2004 and 2006. The situation changes, but the song remains the same.
So last week we learned that Ben Bernanke is willing to listen to sensible critics and change course. But we also learned that on economic policy, as on foreign policy, Mitt Romney has abandoned any pose of moderation and taken up residence in the right’s intellectual fever swamps.