Sunday, December 4, 2011

Why Do Republicans End Up Defending Obama's Policies?

Jonathan is discussing why Republicans often reject Democratic policies and then go on to endorse the same policies with the Obama / Democratic label not attached to them. Huntsman, for example, wants to eliminate Dodd-Frank, and then pass the two biggest parts of Dodd-Frank (derivatives regulation and resolution authority, see Mike Konczal for details). Jonathan writes:
I suspect this isn't really about Obama just being pretty moderate, and so there's nowhere to go to oppose him on the right. I think it's more about a lack of policy knowledge and interest among Republican politicians; they just don't really have serious ideas at hand to contrast with Democratic policies, and in many instances don't appear to have a good grasp of what those policies are (see: Michele Bachmann, and her wonderful theory that Obama has a secret plan to replace Medicare with Obamacare). And then there's a piece of it that is demand-driven, with conservative audiences wanting to hear that everything Obama wants is radical socialism; it's not acceptable to say, for example, that Dodd-Frank has some things to agree with and some that should be changed.
As far as I can tell, all of this really is just about Obama and mainstream Democrats being pretty moderate, so there's nowhere to go (or at least nowhere sensible) on the right. Huntsman's a smart guy, and if there were really were a good case for totally overturning Dodd-Frank and replacing it with some kind of conservative plan, he'd probably be for it. At the very least, someone at AEI would've written it up and it would've been absorbed into right-wing wonk circles and he'd know how to talk about it. But there is no such case, leaving Huntsman nothing to say. So instead of conservative audiences pushing him towards a smart conservative plan, they push him to say negative things about Obama and then endorse what's basically the mainstream Democratic plan.

(I was looking at the AEI website for their commentary on Dodd-Frank. Peter Wallison doesn't like Dodd-Frank, saying that its resolution rules only give you ways to take down individual bad financial institutions. It doesn't deal with the root cause of the crisis -- a "common shock" to all institutions that hurts them all. That sounds plausible to me, as I don't see how Dodd-Frank would've prevented a housing bubble and the resulting damage to the whole system. But really what you're asking for if you're saying that is something more extreme that would allow more dramatic government intervention in financial markets to avert bubbles. "Dodd-Frank just tinkers around the edges" is a radical point, not a moderate one. And that goes back to the point about how there's not much sensible-conservative room from which to criticize Obama and mainstream Democrats.)

Of course, you get some conservatives who don't embrace anything Obama or mainstream Democrats said, and start making up silly options like chicken barter for health care and 9-9-9. But many of them, particularly the ones who actually know something about public policy, don't.
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