What the no good, horrible tax bill says about our democracy

Surprise– it’s not good. Very nice piece in Vox from political scientists Paul Pierson and Jacob Hacker:

Massively unpopular bills used to be unicorns. You didn’t see them. And for an obvious reason: They could cost politicians their jobs. But now we’ve seen two unicorns in the first year of our all-Republican government. What gives? …

So give Republicans credit: Alienating a substantial majority of citizens while adding at least $1 trillion to the deficit isn’t easy. A trillion dollars in borrowed money should buy a lot of good will, especially when you can rely on a conservative media echo-chamber to back you up and your voting base is inclined to support you no matter what.

So what’s going on? The answer can be broken down into two parts: motives and means. Republicans are advancing these initiatives because they really, really want to and because they think they can...  [italics in original]

Republicans have celebrated and promoted a vicious circle in which economic inequality grows, empowering the wealthy, who are then rewarded with policies that further concentrate income and wealth. While Democrats are often torn between their business-oriented contributors and their less affluent voters, the GOP shows no such ambivalence. Indeed, a surprising number have suggested that donors are driving the GOP tax train. As Rep. Chris Collins of New York put it, “My donors are basically saying ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’” [bold is my emphasis]

Lots of politicians have some unpopular policy wishes. What’s different now is that the GOP is emboldened to act on them.

Yet if the aspiration to cut taxes on the rich has become a constant, the capacity to deliver these benefits in the face of intense popular disapproval now seems to be supercharged…

Surely, leaders in the past sometimes wanted to pursue unpopular aims, but didn’t for reasons of political survival. So why are Republicans seemingly unfazed by the unpopularity of their initiatives?

This distribution of Republicans voters means that the pivotal seats that determine control of Congress are significantly more Republican-leaning than the country as a whole. While a truly massive Democratic surge could overcome these advantages, Republican leaders are betting they can weather a more typical electoral storm.

Their confidence is bolstered by their faith in what political scientists call “negative partisanship.” Voters haven’t just become increasingly partisan; their political preferences are increasingly driven by hatred or fear of the other party. Moreover, such tribalism appears far stronger on the GOP side. In 2016, tens of millions of Republican voters cast their ballot for a presidential candidate they acknowledged was unqualified for the job, mainly because they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for his opponent. Today, most Alabama Republicans seem willing to stick with Roy Moore for the same reason.

For Republicans, negative partisanship provides another layer of cover for pursuing unpopular policies: If voters can be mobilized by animus to the other side, you don’t need to attend to their specific policy preferences.

Which brings us to a third potential source of Republican insulation: They’ve gotten very good at distracting voters. Research on public opinion suggests that voters have relatively short memories and that voter attention is critical to vote choice. What voters are focusing on when they head to the polls may matter more than their more considered thoughts about the issues…

Finally, the growing role of big money in American politics has not simply increased Republicans’ desire to pass tax cuts. It has also increased their ability to do so, since these actors play a fundamental role in bankrolling and organizing GOP campaigns. Donors, lobbyists, and corporate-backed groups have not always played nice with each other, nor does money dictate campaign outcomes. But these actors were able to coordinate effectively in 2014 to help Republicans take the Senate and hold the House.

And if there’s one thing these groups agree on, it’s backstopping politicians who vote for tax cuts for the wealthy…

What we do know is that Republicans expect that they can stick it to voters and still hold onto power. Whether or not they’re correct, they’re sending an alarming message about the fragile state of American democracy: For the people currently wielding power in Washington, the preferences of the American people count for very little.

So, yeah, that’s depressing.  Of course, if Republicans actually lose the House in 2018 and for redistricting in 2020, that will show there is at least a modicum of accountability for egregious political behavior.  And that some rich people care about more than tax cuts.  Here’s hoping.

A Moore reminder

Even if Roy Moore had never looked at a woman other than his wife, he is an absolutely reprehensible man who is patently unfit for a town council, much less the US Senate.  NeverTrump conservative David French reminds us of all this in the National Review:

Let’s review the facts: Moore believes he’s a law unto himself. For those unfamiliar with Moore’s history, let’s take a quick walk down memory lane. He’s been removed from the Alabama Supreme Court twice. The first time, in 2003, he defied a federal court order requiring him to remove a granite Ten Commandments monument — a monument he’d commissioned — from the Alabama Supreme Court building. The second time, he was suspended without pay after issuing an order to Alabama probate judges declaring that they had a “ministerial duty” not to issue same-sex marriage licenses. He issued this order six months after the U.S. Supreme Court decided, in Obergefell v. Hodges, that the Constitution protected a right to same-sex marriage. There are multiple ways to lawfully protest federal court orders. There are even lawful ways to change or reverse odious Supreme Court precedents. But the very instant that we permit any judge to actively defy the constitutional order simply when he — in his subjective wisdom — believes a superior court has overstepped its bounds is the instant we begin to lose the rule of law. Ironically enough, those who support Moore because they hate “judicial supremacy” are endorsing the most dangerous form of judicial supremacy possible: a judge who actively defies controlling authority on the basis of his will alone…

Moore is a vicious constitutional and historical illiterate. One could write thousands of words on Roy Moore’s countless stupid and vile statements. Let’s consider only a few. For a man who professes to be a student of the Constitution, he’d happily violate its express terms. In a 2006 op-ed, he wrote that Muslim representative Keith Ellison “cannot swear an oath on the Quran and an allegiance to our Constitution at the same time.” Article VI of the Constitution directly, unequivocally, and unambiguously says otherwise. It prohibits any “religious test” as a “Qualification to any Officer or public Trust under the United States.” Keep in mind, this is a man who’s built his entire public personae around the false idea that he’s a guardian of the original meaning of the Constitution…

But then there’s Roy Moore. He is the stereotype. “You could say” America is the “focus of evil in the modern world,” Moore opined earlier this year. The reason? “We promote a lot of bad things” like “same-sex marriage.”

Last month, he refused to debate his Democratic opponent. The reason? “”We’ve refused to debate them because of their very liberal stance on transgenderism and transgenderism in the military and in bathrooms.”…

The GOP will enjoy its majority in the short term with or without Moore. It will confirm judges between now and 2018 with or without Moore. It cannot, however, continue to drift toward vile, malicious ignorance and hope to remain the majority party. Moore won’t overturn Roe, but he will continually embarrass its pro-life opponents.

Indeed.  To some degree, I see Roy Moore as a win-win.  He makes it actually possible Democrats could win a Senate seat in Alabama and (temporarily) shrink the Republicans tiny margin in the Senate.  But, even if he wins, he is a disgusting, rotting carcass of an albatross around the neck of the Republican Party who serves as a daily reminder of the ethical and moral rot now embodied by so much of the party in their embrace of Trumpism.  But, lest I be too pleased about that, Jennifer Rubin with a very worthwhile take:

That all might sound enticing for Democrats. Watching the other party snared in a trap of its own making surely would be cause for schadenfreude among some Democrats. It is not an outcome they should root for, however. In the category of putting “country before party,” no decent American should cheer a character like Moore’s elevation to the Senate. No lover of liberty and believer in equal justice should welcome the return of a pre-civil rights mentality. Rather they should pray for and give thanks if Doug Jones is the winner, a small sign that Trump has not entirely destroyed our political culture. Having pulled off an historic upset, Democrats will be entitled to gloat, encouraged to try killing the awful tax bill and determined to root out Trumpism root and branch in every corner of the country.

Yep.  I would certainly never celebrate or gloat over his election, but in doing– I think– long term damage to what the Republican Party has become, his election might be a good thing.  But, yeah, there’s certainly some real damage to basic democratic principles and the rule of law should he be elected.  The fact that Moore is on the cusp of a Senate seat is very much lose-lose for our country.

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