Politics determines who has the power, not who has the truth. Still, it’s not often that a party that is so wrong about so much does as well as Republicans did on Tuesday.
It’s important, first, to point out that the midterm results are no reason to think better of the Republican positions on major issues. Republican policy proposals deserve more critical scrutiny, not less, now that the party has more ability to impose its agenda.
So now is a good time to remember just how wrong the new rulers of Congress have been about, well, everything.
First, there’s economic policy. According to conservative dogma, which denounces any regulation of the sacred pursuit of profit, the financial crisis of 2008 – brought on by runaway financial institutions – shouldn’t have been possible. But Republicans chose not to rethink their views even slightly. They invented an imaginary history in which the government was somehow responsible for the irresponsibility of private lenders, while fighting any and all policies that might limit the damage.
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So here we are, with years of experience to examine, and the lessons of that experience couldn’t be clearer. Predictions that deficit spending would lead to soaring interest rates, that easy money would lead to runaway inflation and debase the dollar, have been wrong again and again. Governments that did what House Speaker John Boehner urged, slashing spending in the face of depressed economies, have presided over Depression-level economic slumps. And the attempts of Republican governors to prove that cutting taxes on the wealthy is a magic growth elixir have failed with flying colors.
In short, the story of conservative economics these past six years and more has been one of intellectual debacle – made worse by the striking inability of many on the right to admit error under any circumstances.
Then there’s health reform, where Republicans were very clear about what was supposed to happen: minimal enrollments, more people losing insurance than gaining it, soaring costs. Reality, so far, has begged to differ, delivering above-predicted sign-ups, a sharp drop in the number of Americans without health insurance, premiums well below expectations and a sharp slowdown in overall health spending.
And we shouldn’t forget the most important wrongness of all, on climate change. As late as 2008, some Republicans were willing to admit that the problem was real and even advocate serious policies to limit emissions; Sen. John McCain proposed a cap-and-trade system similar to Democratic proposals.
But these days the party is dominated by climate denialists and to some extent by conspiracy theorists who insist that the whole issue is a hoax concocted by a cabal of left-wing scientists. Now these people will be in a position to block action for years to come, quite possibly pushing us past the point of no return.
But if Republicans have been so completely wrong about everything, why did voters give them such a big victory?
Part of the answer is that leading Republicans managed to mask their true positions. Perhaps most notably, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the incoming majority leader, managed to convey the completely false impression that Kentucky could retain its impressive gains in health coverage even if Obamacare were repealed.
But the biggest secret of the Republican triumph surely lies in the discovery that obstructionism bordering on sabotage is a winning political strategy.
This was, it turned out, bad for America but good for Republicans. Most voters don’t know much about policy details, nor do they understand the legislative process. So all they saw was that the man in the White House wasn’t delivering prosperity – and they punished his party.
Will things change now that the GOP can’t so easily evade responsibility? I guess we’ll find out.