Yesterday, Joe Klein wrote a piece titled “Bill Kristol’s Blues: The Republican Party is Still LookingBackward” at Time. It’s ostensibly an attack on Bill Kristol’s recent assessment of the 2012 race, but in fact that’s just a jumpingoff point for Klein. His real target is, as always, the Republican Party.
Kristol’s piece is intended to frame the coming election. The GOP is notfacing Jimmy Carter, Kristol says; therefore, Republicans should not counton a sudden break right this November. Rather they should view this year asmore akin to 2004, i.e. troubled but still potent incumbent faces achallenger with a questionable background (and trouble heating up his ownparty).Kristol’s advice is that the GOP must run a smarter race than Kerry did in’04 to win. That means not running a campaign that snipes at the particularsof Obama’s first term but one that looks forward. Less biography, morepromise. Less Kerry, more Clinton. To do this, Kristol argues, the GOPnominee will need to explain what the alternatives are going forward:
Can he explain how an Obama second term would be even moredangerous and damaging than the Obama first term has been? Can he explainthat we’re heading off a cliff of debt and deficit if Obama’s fiscalpolicies are allowed to continue? Can his campaign make vivid the harmObama’s tax hikes and regulations will do to the economy, and Obama-care toour health care system and our country? Can he explain what a second term ofObama judicial appointments will do to our courts? Can he explain the damagean Obama second term will do to self-government, and limited government, andconstitutional government in America? Can he conduct a campaign thatdescribes how much more dangerous the world might look in 2016 if wecontinue Obama’s foreign and defense policies? Can the Republican campaignpresent a choice of paths for the future, à la Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)’s budget and hisexplanation of it, rather than simply complain about the recent past and thedifficult present?
From that paragraph, Klein somehow gets that all of Kristol’s prescriptionsare backward looking:
You may have noticed that, with the exception of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)’sdeficit-busting, Medicare-privatizing budget, all of the things that need tobe explained are attacks on Obama’s first term.
Actually, no, I didn’t notice that. Possibly because it’s not true. There isa difference between harping on the $5 trillion Obama has added to thedeficit (so far) and telling Americans that we can’t afford $5 trillion moreeven as Social Security and Medicare are floundering.The same is true with regard to the courts. Kristol is not suggesting theGOP re-litigate the Kagan confirmation; he is saying that the GOP nomineemust explain (for instance) how close we’ve come to abandoning the limitedgovernment established in the Constitution and how those limits might bewiped away if Obama gains a second term.The whole point of the paragraph (and Kristol’s piece) is that a campaignwhich rests in past arguments is a loser. What’s needed is someone who canthat’s done clearly, present an alternative path. But Klein’s reading ofKristol is so dense, you have to wonder if he even understood the column hewas attacking. And it doesn’t improve from there:
that is one of the essential problems with today’s Republicanparty: it has no intellectually honest vision of the future, no answersexcept “no” and “less” (or “more” when it comes to the military). Suchanswers can be semi-plausible when dealing with budget matters, but thereare real problems the country is facing that it might be nice forRepublicans to address.
This is dishonest in two ways. First, when two opposing parties fight overthe same turf, the role of the defense is always to deny to offense turf.That’s true on the football field and it’s true of political parties. Theparty on defense, the one not in the White House, will inevitably be saying
But secondly and more importantly, Klein’s reading of recent history iscomplete garbage. It was President Bush who attempted to deal with SocialSecurity’s fiscal problems during his second term. This is somethingDemocrats universally opposed. In the 8 years since, what have Democratsdone about the problem? They’ve insisted loudly that it didn’t exist. QuothSen. Harry Reid (D-NV) last year, “Social Security is fine.”Republicans have also proposed two plans to deal with the impendingcollapse of Medicare. What have the Democrats done? They’ve run Mediscare attack ads to insurethe ship of state keeps heading for the iceberg. Democrats also passed anentirely new entitlement program (Obamacare) which almost no one thinks willaddress costs.Meanwhile, Democrats up to and including the President, have spent countlesshours in the last 8 months promoting a silly “Buffett Rule” which will raise$31 billion over the next 11 years. The President devoted anotherweekly radio address to it lastweek. This is what the Democrats propose as a serious reform to deal withour $1 trillion plus deficits? Is this is a plan, Joe Klein, or a coverstory?
And the situation is even more clear on the state level, where GOP leaderslike Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, and Scott Walker have said openly thatit is time to deal with public pensions whichare bankrupting states and also with poor education. What have Democratsdone? Flee the state and hide out to avoid votes.Demand re-call elections. Compare Republicans to Hitlerand run millions in negative ads to maintain the status quo for their unionsupporters.The idea that Republicans have no prescription for the future is simply alaughable inversion of reality. Republicans have offered solutions at greatpolitical risk (see latest WI polling) while the President and his partyhave engaged in three years of dithering and wasteful spending that doesn’tbegin to address our fiscal problems.
What is the President’s plan for dealing with Social Security and Medicare?There isn’t one. What is his plan for cutting the deficit by half (somethinghe campaigned on in 2008)? He hasn’t got one. What is his plan for raisingschool standards? All we know is he opposes choice and competition. Can’tafford to upset his teacher’s union pals, not even for the sake of a fewhundred thousand kids stuck in failing government schools.Instead of plans for our most serious problems, we have a 10-year budgetwindow that is expected to add $6-7 trillion to the debt we already have onthe books.
That’s the President’s real plan. Keep spending like a drunkensailor on shore leave even as he keeps talking like a sober priest aboutJoe Klein’s version of reality would be laughable if the stakes weren’t soserious. For the record, dealing with problems we face as a nation isn’tsome time.