Fantasy Republicans vs. Real-World Republicans


Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers argue that it’s a “standard Republican talking point” that the Obama stimulus failed. As an ad from the National Republican Senatorial Committee put it, “Zero jobs, zero jobs, zero jobs were created.” Reihan Salam comments:

Note the importance of defining “the standard Republican talking point” as “it didn’t reduce unemployment.” Having encountered many criticisms of the stimulus, I can attest that while many people did indeed embrace this strong form of the critique, i.e., that it did not reduce the jobless rate relative to a counterfactual in which the stimulus law was not passed, others relied primarily on the notion that the benefit did not exceed the cost.

Among the commentariat, Salam is probably right — though even there, I don’t recall seeing a whole lot of examples of this. But have any actual working politicians on the right ever said this? I can think of dozens of examples of Republican politicians insisting that the stimulus didn’t create one single job, but I can’t think of any Republican politician on the national stage who took a more moderate line, acknowledging that jobs were created but at too high a cost. Even among the scribbling class, the folks who tried to show that the cost per job was too high usually did it with a caveat: “even if you accept CBO’s figures etc….” They never said they actually did accept those figures.

This is one of the key differences between Democrats and Republicans. Both sides have a moderate wing, even if it’s pretty small on the GOP side. But among politicians themselves, the Republican moderate wing simply has no influence. It’s just an ineffectual knitting circle. For better or worse, there were plenty of Democrats who voted for the PATRIOT Act, supported the Iraq war, voted for the bankruptcy bill, and so forth. But where are the Republican members of Congress who supported the stimulus or healthcare reform or Dodd-Frank or student loan reform? You can count them on one hand. It’s all very well to say that there were “others” who took a moderate line on the stimulus, but the truth is that they never had any real-world impact. In the real world, “zero zero zero” has been pretty much the unanimous Republican line.

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