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A Normal Party and the Difference Between Bush and Perry

According to the New York Times’ David Brooks, Republican hardliners against tax increases are turning the GOP into a “psychological protest” rather than a “normal political party.” Brooks is upset that after having forced Democrats to come far closer to their position on taxes and spending in order to cut a deal to extend the national debt ceiling, there is little chance the House majority will embrace what he considers to be “the deal of the century.”

To Brooks, the Democrats’ offer on the debt ceiling is the “Mother of All No-Brainers,” and his anger at the GOP’s insistence that no taxes, including those the columnist minimizes as mere loophole closing, is more than a bit over the top. He blasts them as insensible to the “logic of compromise” or the “legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities.” Those opposed to the raising of some tax rates aren’t merely wrong, they “have no sense of moral decency,” since he thinks their brinksmanship with the Democrats over the debt means they don’t care if the nation defaults on its sacred pledge to pay back what it owes (even though the chances of an actual federal bankruptcy are fairly slim).

It is fascinating that a writer who usually seems more interested in sociology than in politics (and who has written brilliantly about the former in his classic Bobos in Paradise) seems so little interested in what has driven the “protest movement” that has transformed the Republicans.

Part of the answer comes in an article published in the Times on the same day as his column. Though ostensibly focused on the feud between Texas Governor Rick Perry and his predecessor in Austin, President George W. Bush, the piece highlights the disgust many in the GOP felt about the big-spending Republican Congress that ruled on Capitol Hill until the Democratic victory in the fall of 2006. Perry’s charge that Bush was never a fiscal conservative rings true for Republicans who regretted the expansion of federal spending that took place under the 43rd president, even though his record has since been eclipsed by the schemes advocated by Barack Obama.

It is clear Bush’s inner circle has no more use for Perry than Brooks has for the Tea Party, but this dispute is about more than personalities. In 1994, Republicans won the Congress pledging to fight for a smaller government but within 12 years had become as addicted to earmarks, legislative pork and massive government spending as their opponents. Many Republicans believed the 2006 election was  just comeuppance for that failure and hope the GOP majority elected last fall won’t make the same mistake. That fear of the slippery slope of Washington compromises is what animates the resistance from both grass roots Republicans and the GOP House caucus to the “sweet” deal offered by the Democrats.

Brooks may be correct this compromise could be seen (if viewed in a historical context) as a victory for Republican principles, but it is just as easy to see it as the first step toward a “normal” government that will inevitably raise taxes rather than cut entitlements. That sentiment may seem irresponsible to the columnist, but it’s the inevitable response to the GOP’s recent history of abandoning principle once in office.


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