President Evil and Bruce Bartlett
Regular readers of PoliticsByEcceHomo (and both of you know who you are) know that I am a fan of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. Segments are usually good, sometimes flat, but occasionally brilliant – politically astute, rapier parody, and really funny.
On Wednesday night Stewart hit two home runs. The first segment was called President Evil, a dead-on title for the subject, borrowed from the over-the-top world of video games. The segment started with clips of various Republican luminaries’ histrionic 2008 predictions for an Obama presidency: the American economy will be “socialized,” radical Islamists will dance in the street, guns will be confiscated, free speech rights will be denied to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Stewart summed up thus: “It appears Barack Obama has failed to keep many of the campaign promises that his opponents made for him.”
Stewart then showed clips of Republican luminaries’ histrionic 2012 predictions for an Obama re-election. Suffice it to say, the said aforementioned luminaries have been not the slightest bit deterred from their certainty of impending disaster by the failure of their predictions of certain disaster four years ago. It was simple but very telling, and it was funny.
The third segment of Wednesday night’s show was Stewart’s interview with Bruce Bartlett. Bartlett is an economist with top-notch conservative credentials. He began his Washington career working for Congressman Ron Paul in 1976. He wrote books arguing for Ronald Reagan’s “supply side economics.” He served in the Treasury Department under Reagan and George H. W. Bush. And he has worked at premier conservative think tanks, the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute.
In the last few years though, Bartlett has parted ways with mainstream Republicanism – or probably more accurately, mainstream Republicanism has parted ways with Bartlett. (It brings to mind the words of that great political theorist and commentator Charles Barkley: “I was a Republican until they lost their minds.”) In 2006, Bartlett wrote Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. He was fired from another conservative think tank, the National Center for Policy Analysis, for his animosity toward President Bush’s policies.
Bartlett was on The Daily Show Wednesday night to hustle his newest book, The Benefit and the Burden: Tax Reform, Why We Need it and What it Will Take. In comparing the need for tax reform now and the success of bipartisan tax reform in 1986, Bartlett noted that President Reagan thought that the tax rate on earnings from investment ought to be the same as the tax rate on earnings from labor – meaning that the top tax rate for income and for capital gains was the same, at 28 percent. This prompted Stewart to ask if that meant that Ronald Reagan was “too liberal” for today’s Republican Party. Without hesitation or qualification, Bartlett agreed.
Tax reform now, Bartlett opined, requires that the Democrats learn courage and the Republicans learn compromise. In his grim view, that means that tax reform is impossible, for two reasons. First, he said, “one of our political parties is insane, and we all know which one it is.” Republicans are plutocrats who “worship the rich,” albeit under euphemisms like “job creators.” And second, Democrats “don’t have the courage of their own convictions. The Republicans treat them like dirt and they never fight back.”
That’s the take of a conservative thinker. With friends like that, Republicans don’t need enemies. Obama is about to win re-election despite the worst recession in 80 years, despite an aloof and distant personality, despite being the first African-American in the job, despite having a foreign-sounding name, and despite a continuing war in Afghanistan and an ambiguously concluded war in Iraq.
Barack Obama is going to be re-elected despite all of that because the Republican Party is intellectually and politically bankrupt.