In the Face of Economic Disaster, Republicans Have No Ideas
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Here's a bottom line to keep you up at night: The economy is falling faster than Washington can get moving. President Obama says his stimulus plan will save or create four million jobs in two years. In the last four months of 2008 alone, employment fell by 1.9 million. Do the math.
The abyss is widening. Of the 30 companies in the Dow Jones industrial index, 22 have announced job cuts since October. Unemployment is up in all 50 states, with layoffs at both high-tech companies ( Microsoft) and low ( Caterpillar). The December job loss in retailing is the worst since at least 1939. The new-home sales rate has fallen to its all-time low since record-keeping began in 1963.
The crisis is at least as grave as the one that confronted us — and, for a time, united us — after 9/11. Which is why the antics among Republicans on Capitol Hill seem so surreal. These are the same politicians who only yesterday smeared the patriotism of any dissenters from Bush’s “war on terror.” Where is their own patriotism now that economic terror is inflicting far more harm on their constituents than Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent W.M.D.?
The House stimulus bill is an inevitably imperfect hodgepodge-in-progress. Obama’s next move, a new plan to prevent the collapse of America’s banks, may prove more problematic still, especially given the subpar record of the new Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, in warding off calamity while at the New York Fed. No one should expect the Republicans to give the new president carte blanche, fall blindly into lock step or be “post-partisan.” (Though that’s exactly what the G.O.P. demanded of Democrats with Bush: You were either with him or with the terrorists.)
But you might think that a loyal opposition would want to pitch in and play a serious role at a time of national peril. Not by singing “Kumbaya” but by collaborating on possible solutions and advancing a policy debate that many Americans’ lives depend on. As Raymond Moley, of F.D.R.’s brain trust, said of the cross-party effort at the harrowing start of that presidency in March 1933, Hoover and Roosevelt acolytes “had forgotten to be Republicans or Democrats” as they urgently tried to rescue their country.
The current G.O.P. acts as if it — and we — have all the time in the world. It kept hoping in vain that the fast-waning Blago sideshow would somehow impale Obama or Rahm Emanuel. It has come perilously close to wishing aloud that a terrorist attack will materialize to discredit Obama’s reversals of Bush policy on torture, military tribunals and Gitmo. The party’s sole consistent ambition is to play petty politics to gum up the works.
If anything, the Republican Congressional leadership seems to be emulating John McCain’s September stunt of “suspending” his campaign to “fix” the Wall Street meltdown. For all his bluster, McCain in the end had no fixes to offer and sat like a pet rock at the White House meeting on the crisis before capitulating to the bailout. His imitators likewise posture in public about their determination to take action, then do nothing while more and more Americans cry for help.
The problem is not that House Republicans gave the stimulus bill zero votes last week. That’s transitory political symbolism, and it had no effect on the outcome. Some of the naysayers will vote for the revised final bill anyway (and claim, Kerry-style, that they were against it before they were for it). The more disturbing problem is that the party has zero leaders and zero ideas. It is as AWOL in this disaster as the Bush administration was during Katrina.