Repudiation Nation

Scott Wagner is furious.  The owner of a waste management company in York, Pennsylvania believes the country is in dire straits because of Democratic mismanagement.  “The Titanic is going down,” he told the New York Times, which is why he’s actively fundraising for GOP candidates promising to salvage the sinking ship.

The marquee match up in Pennsylvania pits Joe Sestek, a retired vice admiral in the Navy and sitting Democratic congressman, against Pat Toomey, a onetime businessman and former GOP House member.  A Senate seat is on the line.  For Scott Wagner and many others, the country’s very future is on the line.

Toomey’s a nimble politician.  He is tapping into the angst by running against a broken Washington that’s driving America bankrupt.  Regulation, taxes, debt—they’re all rotten exemplars of Democratic governance.  Toomey’s prescriptions: permanently extend the Bush tax cuts (which he believes were too small); reduce corporate and capital gains taxes; and repeal the recently-enacted healthcare law as well as other regulations like the Wall Street reform bill that are “huge [obstacles] to job creation.”

If Toomey seems strikingly corporate-friendly that’s because he is.  No surprise there.  One of the most conservative House members during his tenure in Congress, Toomey headed the Club for Growth.  Dubbed the “Club for Greed” by Republican grandee Mike Huckabee (targeted by the Club for being too moderate), the group advocates sweeping tax cuts for high-earners and corporations.  It also opposes raising the minimum wage and recently issued a paper entitled, “Privatize Social Security?  Hell Yeah!”

Toomey’s pro-business ardor would seem particularly ill suited for a period of great economic dislocation brought on by Wall Street malfeasance.  That, however, assumes logic and reason are critically important in American politics.  They’re not—at least not always.  Were it otherwise, then calling for deficit reduction while advocating extending the Bush tax cuts at a cost of $700 billion over the next decade would be a non-starter.  But the official Republican platform argues for just that.

How did we get here?

In Fathers and Sons, a novel by Russian author Ivan Turgenev, the main character observes: “The most useful thing we can do is to repudiate—and so we repudiate.”  This remark captures the core of GOP’s strategy, which has worked well over the past two years.  Though Democrats won significant legislative victories, much more could have been accomplished with a modicum of GOP support.  It never came.  Having held the line, Republicans now appear on the brink of an electoral landslide.

It was a risky gambit whose success depended on Republicans making a virtue of those policies that virtually destroyed the economy by blaming Obama’s departure from them for the mess that ensued.  The tactic was as bold as it was shameless—and successful.  Thus, Scott Wagner, embracing the bogus narrative, complains of being “regulated to death.”  His is pure mimicry.  Indeed, when asked to for examples of such government overzealousness, he cites an obscure IRS tax on large vehicles enacted in 1982 and an immigration form, required since 1986, that is used to verify that employees are legally permitted to work in the US.

Wagner’s skewed perceptions are not uncommon.  They are evidenced in Tea Party hysteria about the growth of government, even though the federal work force is smaller now than it was in 1967, and its members’ hand-wringing over soaring deficits despite the near doubling of the national debt that occurred under George W. Bush (with the quiet acquiescence of many on the right).

If Republican repudiation relies on repudiating reality, then there is no better candidate than Toomey.  Presenting himself as a man of the people worried about the “systematic” lurch to the left that its remaking America into a “European-style welfare state,” the Tea Party darling is out to restore balance in Washington.  But balance in the mind of a former financial derivatives trader who wrote some of the key legislation deregulating Wall Street might not be the sort of balance Pennsylvanians (or Americans) ultimately have in mind.

Such matters are of little apparent concern to Scott Wagner, or to many other voters in his state.  They may well soon be however, as Toomey, who is way ahead in the polls, is likely going to Washington.  A modern-day Restoration of the rich and powerful is coming, and we have repudiation to thank.

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