It’s a rare week in our political culture when two representative figures—one from each political persuasion—throw in the towel on their respective party leadership. Frank Rich launched his New York Magazine career with frustrated screed against Obama over the holiday followed quickly by David Brooks declaring the budget deal Republican leaders are in danger of rejecting as “the mother of all no-brainers.”

Is this simultaneous act of nauseated revolt the sign of a sea change in our politics or simply the sad end to an even sadder political discourse of denial and delusion?

The more momentous and remarked upon of the two apostasies was David Brooks’s gob-smacked column in yesterday’s New York Times. Accusing the Republican party’s current leadership of lacking “moral decency,” Brooks bewails the danger that Republican ideologues will pass up the political opportunity of a generation in favor of doctrinal purity:

If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred billion dollars of revenue increases.

A normal Republican Party would seize the opportunity to put a long-term limit on the growth of government. It would seize the opportunity to put the country on a sound fiscal footing. It would seize the opportunity to do these things without putting any real crimp in economic growth.

By normal, Brooks must mean some Republican party of his own imagination because the real Republican party has shown little interest in restraining the growth of government or government spending over the last decade. When Republicans were in power, they presided over the expansion of nearly every aspect of government, including the runaway spending that resulted in our current collision course with the debt ceiling.

Not that the Democrats have much to be proud of here either. Frank Rich couches his long harangue as an indictment of Obama’s infatuation with elitist intellectuals like the second Committee to Save the World of Timothy Geither, Larry Summers and Ben Bernanke. But his story is really an attack on Mitt Romney:

If any belief unites our polarized nation, it’s the conviction that Romney is the most transparent phony in either party, no matter how much he’s now deaccessioning hair products. It’s also been a Beltway truism that a Mormon can’t win the Republican nomination, let alone a Massachusetts governor who devised the prototype for “ObamaCare.” But that political calculus changed overnight. That this poseur could so quickly gain traction, even if evanescently, should alarm Obama.

Rich’s real frustration—gestured at in this over-long essay but never actually engaged—is the lack of a meaningful governmental effort to deal with unemployment in the US. Again and again, Rich rightly complains that jobs are absent from the national agenda. Though he overlooks the fact that our enormous military budget is America’s biggest jobs and stimulus program. (Imagine what the employment numbers would look like without the 2.4 million serving in the military on active or reserve duty let alone all the jobs created by defense contracts.)

Obama is the chief executive. It’s his fault, no one else’s, that he seems diffident about the unemployed. Each time there’s a jolt in the jobless numbers, he and his surrogates compound that profile by farcically reshuffling the same clichés, from “stuck in a ditch” to “headwinds” (first used by Geithner in March 2009—retire it already!) to “bumps in the road.” It’s true the administration has caught few breaks and the headwinds have been strong, but voters have long since tuned out this monotonous apologia. The White House’s repeated argument that the stimulus saved as many as 3 million jobs, accurate though it may be, is another nonstarter when 14 million Americans are looking for work.

At the end of all of Rich’s scalp-grabbing frustration, there’s not much to hold on to. Any talk of investing in infrastructure and pursuing public works projects that might soak up some of the civilian unemployed while repairing the nation’s physical plant brings us right back to the deficit debate. Without a Republican party willing to deal on spending cuts and tax increases, there is no room to shift the debate toward structural unemployment which is surely going to be a persistent issue for much of the next decade.

Indeed, the only lesson to be learned from this mutual disgust with the political process is that government isn’t going to be the answer any time soon. Despite Rich’s worst fears, there’s little to distinguish Mitt Romney from Obama in practical terms. Both lack the political support to substantially change what’s hampering job growth. Neither has much interest in seriously reforming the financial system.

It won’t be until voters give up on the idea that the economy can be managed by the Fed that any meaningful movement will arise. By that time, the locus of the world economy will most likely have moved beyond the control of the US populace, if it hasn’t already.

Previously:

The Tragedy of the Obama Administration

Sources:

The Mother of All No-Brainers
by David Brooks
July 5, 2011; New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/05/opinion/05brooks.html?src=tptw

Obama’s Original Sin
By Frank Rich
July 4, 2011; New York Magazine

http://nymag.com/news/frank-rich/obama-economy/presidents-failure/

Category: Markets

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

20 Responses to “Partisan Pundits Battle to Outshine in Apostasy”

  1. VennData says:

    Rich’s simplistc analysis of the financial industry, that he concludes that we must have “too big to fail” ignores the fact that the entire industry copies what the most profitible banks do. And non-US banks without Glass-Steagall (the rest of the wall) didn’t blow up the world. He’s clueless.

    The two US banking debacle were Reagan’s S&L calamity and Bush’s Ownership Society nonsense. Basel capital increases will solve it, and is the only way to protect taxpayers the world over in a global financial market, leverage limits enforced by regulators.

    Of course the GOP will accept the deal, they can time the next debt-limit battle near the next election and their followers will blame everything on Obama.

    All this hyperventalating about the debt negotiations is exactly what the publicity-hungry politicians want.

  2. Darmah says:

    Yes, we live in interesting times.

    The Republican party is hell-bent on destroying itself and taking the rest of us with them. (I’m not sure how else you would characterize a political party that believes government is the problem and so refuses to govern in any meaningful way.)

    And then there’s Obama, who’s hell-bent on engaging a Republican party that doesn’t want to be engaged. He gives away practically everything at the start of the process and never leverages their recalcitrance, temper-tantrums or lies.

    “It’s just a shot away.”

  3. markd says:

    The Republicans will destroy every thing and take the rest of us with them. In their brain dead zeal to win elections they over promise so much they can’t help but under deliver. When if they take back control of both houses and the White House the shit will mightily hit the fan

  4. 873450 says:

    Grover Norquist

  5. Kort says:

    What are these Republican and Democrat leaders you speak of? We don’t have a 2-party system. We have a 1-party system with 2 branches. Any article who blames “the other party” is not an article worth reading. “This” party and “that” party—they are the same.

    Politicians have but one purpose: to get reelected. In an effort to get reelected, they make the most short-sighted of all decisions. Over and over. Companies and Boards and CEOs that continually live quarter to quarter usually don’t last very long. Sadly, in politics, it’s rewarded.

    Cash for clunkers indeed.

  6. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    We are in uncharted waters, with loons grasping the tiller.

    It’s an opportunity for just about anyone who’s not the US.
    The center of gravity has to shift; the world simply can’t wait around while Eric Cantor pulls a hissy fit.

    I think that Obama had good intentions, but the media is largely against him and his economic team misread a lot of things.
    And failure to go after criminal conduct left him looking weak.

    It’s all crisis management now, if it doesn’t spin completely out of the ballpark.
    Incredibly unproductive, and extremely unpredictable.

  7. erichwwk says:

    I generally enjoy this blog, read it regularly, and find the quality usually quite good. Thus I was a bit taken aback to read this:

    “….he overlooks the fact that our enormous military budget is America’s biggest jobs and stimulus program. (Imagine what the employment numbers would look like without the 2.4 million serving in the military on active or reserve duty let alone all the jobs created by defense contracts.)”

    While one could make such a case for the US in pre WWII from a purely national perspective (military output was SOLD to the UK), I find it strange- shocking really- to argue that in the US today with any sort of a positive spin. (Yes digging holes and filling them is an infinite jobs creation program, but it gets one exactly where?) These “jobs” are a COST to the economy as a whole, removing resources from productive use and tossing them away in a black hole, adding to the entitlements of what is produced, but contributing nothing. The fact that contractor resources are drawn into this black hole makes things worse, not better.

    I hanker for Kenneth Boulding, who got national accounting right. Now I think of Bob Kennedy and :

    “Our gross national product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors, and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwoods, and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm, nuclear warheads, and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

  8. AHodge says:

    as a devout anti partizan independant (thinker)
    let me explain the 4 year cycle to you
    this is a time when even many of the more devout must be sensible
    but trust me on this
    even the declared mostly independants all lose their minds on this at the same time for 2-4 months every four years, or two years depending
    if you tell your friends you dont know who you (or if) are voting for a week before the election or voting for fringes, they will all think you are insane, doesnt matter which party.
    but the good new is they will be back to agreeing with you– sort of– 4 months later

  9. beaufou says:

    Both parties are in bed with corporations who are outsourcing destroying the job market and the economy, neither side has an alternative, the military and wars are convenient but rather unproductive.

    Anyway, you don’t mention what voters really care about; found in the Rich article, and it isn’t the deficit.
    Before worrying about the deficit, one could fix the financial system and stop this lobbying nonsense in Washington; those are the truly destructive issues, the deficit is just an amusement politicians have come up with so they don’t have to do the hard work of fixing a broken down and decaying society.

  10. John says:

    Marion,

    Your sentence “… the real Republican party has shown little interest in restraining the growth of government or government spending over the last decade” needs to be corrected to “… the real Republican party has shown little interest in restraining the growth of government or government spending over the last few decades”.

    Republicans have been left of center for at least a generation and only slightly to the right of Democrats. Too many politicians of both parties and their followers are disgraces to this country.

    Kort,

    Good comment.

  11. rburns24 says:

    if you tell your friends you dont know who you (or if) are voting for a week before the election or voting for fringes, they will all think you are insane

    And they would be right.

  12. low-tech cyclist says:

    “At the end of all of Rich’s scalp-grabbing frustration, there’s not much to hold on to…Without a Republican party willing to deal on spending cuts and tax increases, there is no room to shift the debate toward structural unemployment which is surely going to be a persistent issue for much of the next decade.”

    There’s plenty of room to shift the debate – the one involving we, the people of the United States, that is, not the one in the halls of Congress and the West Wing.

    What we have here is an underserved political market.

    A solid majority of Americans want the government to do something serious about getting people back to work. A solid majority is for raising taxes on the rich. A solid majority is for getting us out of Afghanistan. A solid majority doesn’t want Social Security or Medicare cut.

    Would be nice if even one of the two major parties was for any of these things that most Americans support.

    And this:

    “Despite Rich’s worst fears, there’s little to distinguish Mitt Romney from Obama in practical terms. ”

    Barry, are you freakin’ CRAZY?? (Hate to use caps, but.) There’s one essential difference between Obama and Romney: one’s a Democrat and relies on one set of voters to provide most of his votes; the other’s a Republican, and relies on a completely different set.

    When the GOP Congress passes stuff that’s sufficiently crazy, there’s at least a decent chance Obama will veto it. There’s little chance that Romney would. It’s that simple.

  13. NoKidding says:

    “It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred billion dollars of revenue increases.”

    The spending cuts are spread over decades. The tax increases start now.

    In your heart of hearts do you believe that the cuts will happen next year? the third year? The ninth year?

    If you would gladly pay me Tuesday for a humburger today, I’ll serve it to you on Tuesday.

  14. Long term says:

    “It won’t be until voters give up on the idea that the economy can be managed by the Fed that any meaningful movement will arise. By that time, the locus of the world economy will most likely have moved beyond the control of the US populace, if it hasn’t already.”

    I just have to sing the praise of such a well-written power close as Marion executes here. Whether you agree with him or not, he anchors his thoughts in a great way here.

  15. Irwin Fletcher says:

    It would help if we had a President who understood economics and the huge job creation machine known as small business. The majority of Americans work for small businesses, and they are the ones who have been hurt the most. However, they don’t have the money for expensive lobbyists, so they don’t get represented. They are too busy working for a living and trying to make payroll.

    The government cannot solve the unemployment problem; only an unleashing of capitalism in the form of small business growth and new small businesses being started. Professional politicians of both parties don’t get this, and unfortunately Obama is a professional politician.

    Look at Barry’s prior post showing tax revenue! Most of it comes from Sole Proprietorships, not corporations.
    Cut the taxes for the small business person, cut the regulations and expensive licensing for the small business start-ups and make it easier to start a business. Tax the hell out of the big corporations and stop the large corporation welfare system.

    As Reagan said:
    “Entrepreneurs and their small enterprises are responsible for almost all the economic growth in the United States.”
    “If you want more of something, subsidize it; if you want less of something, tax it.”

  16. jtholland says:

    Mr. Ritholtz, I realize we just had July 4th, but the depressing news out of Washington leaves me wanting for something to celebrate about the state of our union.

    Can you give me some kind of pick-me-up? What is there to be optimistic about in America, when the government is unable to solve even the most basic problems? I take some solace in the fact that if Congress does nothing, the Bush tax cuts will expire and solve a lot of our headaches. But we might not even make it to their expiration date if default pushes us over the edge now.

    Please, somebody, tell me why I wouldn’t be better off somewhere like Sweden or Australia.

  17. Frwip says:

    @jtholland

    I am adamant and definitive that you wouldn’t be better off in Sweden. If you were over there, you would have to eat stuff like that :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surstr%C3%B6mming

    And ’bout Australia, we can just start with their spiders and their snakes …

    http://www.gondwananet.com/australian-animals-reptiles-snakes.html
    http://ednieuw.home.xs4all.nl/australian/Spidaus.html

    Do you feel better about being a Murikan already ? Always a pleasure to help :-)

  18. Dow says:

    “… jobs created by defense contracts…”

    Recent Law Has Impacted Contractor Use of Offshore Subsidiaries to Avoid Certain Payroll Taxes PDF, GAO, January 2010

    Many of the top 29 U.S. publicly traded defense contractors—those with $1 billion or more in DOD contracts in fiscal year 2008 [accounting for 41 percent of DOD contracting]—have created offshore subsidiaries to facilitate global operations.

  19. Darkness says:

    >By normal, Brooks must mean some Republican party of his own imagination because the real Republican party has shown little interest in restraining the growth of government or government spending over the last decade.

    Last decade? How old are you, blog poster? Try three decades. Reagan/Bush I inherited a 1trillion$ debt and left nearly 5 trillion$ in debt behind. And started the silly shenanigans of hiding even more debt behind the soc sec trust.

    From wikipedia: “Economist Mike Kimel notes that the last five Democratic Presidents (Clinton, Carter, LBJ, JFK, and Truman) all reduced public debt as a share of GDP, while the last four Republican Presidents (GW Bush, GHW Bush, Reagan, and Ford) all oversaw an increase in the country’s indebtedness.”

    Minced words are useless words: Republicans are full of shit.

    Just wait, shortly the republicans will insist we fire-sell national assets to their rich buddies.

  20. [...] Marion: David Brooks and Frank Rich may be losing their partisan bearings…  (TBP) [...]