Fantasies infiltrate political positions


Think stocks have soared under Trump? As the orange line shows, global stocks have done just as well.

The Montana Free Press’ summaries of the U.S. Senate and House candidates’ positions spell out a striking difference in the two major political parties.

I don’t mean the usual Democrat vs. Republican split on big issues. That’s so predictable it barely needs comment.

I don’t even mean that the Democrats seem to have more concrete ideas about what they would do in office than the Republicans do. If you believe the problem with government is that we have too much of it, you don’t need a 10-point plan to spell that out.


David Crisp

I mean something more basic: a fundamental disconnect over reality that casts doubt on the whole neat categories of Democrat equals liberal and Republican equals conservative.

For example, all five Democratic House candidates said action was needed to deal with climate change, and they offered a range of practical ideas. None of the four Republican Senate candidates suggested that the government do anything about climate change, nor do any of them list it as an issue on their campaign websites. Republican Troy Downing went so far as to argue that scientists still are trying to figure out why the climate is changing.

That’s just not true. For years, reporters have written that 97 percent of scientific papers say humans are causing the climate to change, but more recent numbers suggest that figure is too low. A study last year of more than 54,000 peer-reviewed articles published since 1991 put the scientific consensus at 99.94 percent. Even Vladimir Putin can’t get that kind of majority.

Or consider Robert Mueller’s investigation of potential felonies related to Russian meddling in the 2016 election. All five Democrats said the investigation should take as long as needed. Only one, John Meyer, suggested that he might consider impeachment before it was finished.

Of the four Republicans, only Al Olszewitz said the investigation should run its course. Russ Fagg and Matt Rosendale were skeptical of it, and Troy Downing outright called it a “witch hunt.”

That grossly misunderstands – or misrepresents – the nature of such investigations. The Watergate burglary happened in June 1972, and the Senate Watergate Committee didn’t release its report on the scandal until June 1974. Ken Starr investigated the Clintons for five years and came up with little more than a stained blue dress. The December 2012 Benghazi attack consumed four years of investigations that turned up even less.

A special counsel in the Valerie Plame affair was appointed in December 2003; the investigation dragged on into 2006. A special counsel in the Iran-Contra scandal was appointed in December 1986 and continued investigating until 1992.

In just about a year, the Mueller investigation has secured 19 indictments and guilty pleas. The surface may have just been scratched, as Republicans surely know.

How about healthcare? Republicans are unanimous that Obamacare must be repealed and replaced with a free-market approach, something their would-be colleagues in Congress have been infamously unable to do. Moreover, the usual market forces just don’t apply to healthcare, which is why no successful country on the planet relies purely on capitalism to care for the sick.

The Democrats have a range of opinions about how to fix Obamacare or replace it with a Medicare-for-all proposal. Kathleen Williams refers to her webpage, which has a five-page healthcare plan loaded with ideas. Some of her ideas have at least the merit of not having yet been proved wrong.

Unsurprisingly, the Democrats all oppose last year’s tax cuts, and the Republicans support them, arguing that they are spurring economic growth. Many economists say it’s too early to tell what the long-term effects of the cuts will be, but it’s clear the cuts haven’t done much yet.

Job growth was slower in 2017 than it was in each of the last four years of the Obama presidency. Gross Domestic Product grew just 2.3 percent nationwide last year, slower than in three of Obama’s eight years, and Montana posted a lackluster 0.6 percent GDP gain. Wages, which had been increasing about 1 percent a year, adjusted for inflation, grew only 0.13 percent last year, and they actually fell this April.

Even the stock market rose faster under Obama than in the comparable period under Trump. Overall, stock growth in the U.S. during the Trump era has lagged behind international stock growth. The many economists who predict last year’s tax cuts will raise deficits at the worst possible time might be wrong, but they haven’t been proved wrong yet.

The other half of the Republican economic plan – cutting regulations – doesn’t hold up any better. I earlier noted the government’s own estimate of how much money federal regulations save us, but more persuasive evidence comes from Alex Tabarrok, a George Mason University economist with libertarian leanings. He set out to prove that excessive regulations have led to a loss in dynamism in the American economy, but he couldn’t do it.

“I was pretty surprised that we just kept coming up with nothing,” he told Washington Monthly.

Those are five areas in which Republicans appear to be at odds not just with Democrats but with reality. Are there similar disconnects on the Democratic side? I’m looking, but I can’t find them, except possibly John Heenan’s proposal to expand Medicare, a popular and successful program that comes nowhere close to paying for itself.

Taken as a group, the Republicans appear to be allowing ideology to trump evidence, a proclivity for which the leader of their party is well known. The Democrats mostly project modest ambitions and realistic goals consistent with a tradition of American governance that has covered nearly my entire life.

In short, they sound like conservatives. Republicans sound like something much different.

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