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Attack of the Zombie Republicans
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o after all the bipartisan ambience generated by the White House, the stimulus package passed the House of Representatives without a single Republican vote. The President says he’ll win over some Republicans in the Senate, but Arizona Republican John Kyl claims GOP support there is already “eroding.”

They won’t admit it, but like the de facto leader of their party, Rush Limbaugh, Republicans want the President to “fail.” Their arguments—if one can dignify them as such—are by turns petty, dishonest or ignorant, ahistorical and ugly.

The pettiest point was their complaint about the modest funding for birth control in the original version of the House stimulus bill. Heaven forbid—or at least Pat Robertson does—that the poor would have access to family planning. So at the President’s request, the provision was removed; the funding will come later in a different piece of legislation.

At least their quick, cheap hit on contraception lacked the intellectual slovenliness of their other objections. Once and future presidential candidate Mitt Romney told the GOP House retreat that the size of the recovery package threatened to set off hyperinflation. Either he was intentionally deceptive or, like George W. Bush, he slept through economics classes at Harvard Business School. The danger now is not inflation, but a descent into deflation. An economy with a paralyzed private sector needs public spending to create demand, production, and jobs.

But spending won’t work, according to the conservative oppositionists. Look at the New Deal, they say, it failed! This Republican fiction assumes that in 1936 Americans suffered from mass delusion as they reelected FDR in a huge landslide. Apparently voters hadn’t noticed his conspicuous failure in office.

In fact, as I’ve pointed out before, from 1933 through 1937, unemployment declined year on year in what was then the largest period of uninterrupted growth in American history; the Dow-Jones Industrial average rose nearly 400 percent. The New Deal only faltered afterwards, in 1938, as the President prematurely moved toward a balanced budget with less stimulative spending—precisely the course the Romneys, Kyls and Republican ideologues now demand.

Then there is the timing complaint. Republicans assert that the Obama plan falls short because the majority of the stimulus won’t affect the economy in the first 18 months. This recycled charge is based on an incomplete Congressional Budget Office report; the final report on the House bill concludes that two-thirds of the money would be spent by 2010. Moreover, it would make no sense to abruptly cut off investments that will create jobs now while contributing to long-term prosperity. High-speed broadband, for example, like the Tennessee Valley Authority, will make a powerful economic difference decades after the present crisis is past.

Senator Kyl has another objection: the plan, he says, “wastes a ton of money” because it provides help for the states and a $500 tax rebate for people lower down the income scale. He overlooks the undeniable reality that both provisions are far more efficient drivers of demand than his preference for permanently extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Surely the answer to what got us into this mess—a cold, thin gruel of trickle-down leftovers—is not more of the same. Kyl’s not alone in myth-making, however: CNN economics correspondent Ali Velshi dismissed extended unemployment and food stamps as “not stimulus”—despite the fact that few, if any, measures deliver as much economic bang as fast.

That truth doesn’t bother Republicans like Utah Senator Robert Bennett, who seems to object to any stimulus that addresses human need. Just pass the infrastructure investment, he suggests, and postpone the rest until later (or never). He gives the impression that he never met a road he didn’t want to build, or a needy child he didn’t want to leave without nutrition or health care. He echoes House Republicans who say they might support a bill that addresses their concerns about spending. But if it did, the recovery plan would fall short and fail, just as the Limbaugh Republicans hope.

To season the anti-stimulus stew, we’ve now heard the first personal attack on the new President. Bush’s former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card accused Obama of disrespecting the White House because he and his aides sometimes take off their suit jackets or even dress informally on weekends. If respecting the White House and what it stands for is the standard, I prefer shirtsleeves in the Oval Office to a conspiracy to violate Constitutional rights—or one to launch, as Card himself once expressed it, a “new product” consisting of war waged on false evidence.

In light of all this, I’m not in as bipartisan a mood these days as President Obama. But I think he really means it when he says he wants to be. He doesn’t lose his temper so I’ll bet he keeps trying. In the end, he’ll agree to some additional changes in the stimulus and it will pass the Senate too—with or without substantial Republican support. And if Obama’s extended hand is met by a Republican clenched fist, the President will only strengthen his hand with the American people—while Republicans further weaken theirs.

Just 27 percent of Americans gave the GOP a favorable rating in December. That’s almost a Bush league low, but they can go down from there—and seem determined to do so. They even called a press conference to charge that the stimulus bill might aid illegal immigrants. Why pass up an opportunity for more of the Hispanic-bashing that cost them so dearly in the last campaign?

Right now, Republicans are out of ideas, offering little more than resentment and right wing talking points. Maybe Frum can come up with a substantive agenda for them. Or maybe Republicans are just brain dead. In that case, the voters will surely put more of them out of their misery in 2010 and 2012.

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