With each new problem the voices on the right find a new and perplexing way to twist that problem into an excuse to enact more counterproductive policy. Ideology only needs an excuse, an opportunity. If you yell loud enough and often enough you can get what you want in spite of the fact that it has nothing to do with the problem you are claiming to fix.
Opportunity Lost: Squandering The Budget Surplus
Our current deficit highlights this approach. The causes which brought us to this point are largely derived from this flavor of ideological opportunism. Factless ideology having exploded the deficit, the opportunists see these results as yet another opportunity to enact more opportunistic attacks on all aspects of our society. Our problems grow worse and the process repeats.
Let's get specific and take a look at the Bush tax cuts. In 2001, George Bush took the opportunity of the balanced budget and surplus he inherited to enact the republican ideology of always cutting taxes. If one were to look to the past it would quickly become clear that taxes were already near historical lows and had been falling since the 1960s. If one were to look ahead just a few short years, one could see the stresses placed on medicaid, medicare and social security with the predictable retirement of the baby-boomers. Rather than invest in the future of the nation, rather than wisely use the surplus he had been given, George Bush and his fellow right wing ideologs used this opportunity to cut taxes. By so doing they set in place a chain of events that not only increased the wealth and power of the already wealthy and powerful, but also damaged and weakened the nation as a whole.
The Opportunists’ Feedback Loop
This kind of purposeful, cynical opportunism is a very real problem. Ideological opportunism on top of ideological opportunism is doubly so. Since the 1980s a vicious feedback loop of opportunistic cynicism has developed. The modern right leverages an opportunity to enact a given policy. That policy creates a very real and devastating result. They then build upon that momentum by using this new problem as an excuse to enact yet another obtuse policy based on a false conclusion.
For example, by the end of the Bush presidency the GOP had squandered our surplus on tax cuts, they had led us into a false war in Iraq, and after decades of deregulation, turning a blind eye to Wall Street they helped create the opportunity for the great market crash of 2008. Combine these three factors and you have the Great Recession and an enormous deficit.
But even the largest deficit in US history is an opportunity if you are the modern conservative. It’s an opportunity to blame the Obama administration. It’s an opportunity to cut programs for the poor and middle class. It’s an opportunity to argue for more tax cuts for the wealthy. It’s an opportunity to wreak havoc as the states struggle with growing deficits. Rather than create opportunity for all Americans, our collective plight was yet another opportunity for the GOP.
When President Obama took office, the deficit was already large. The primary factors that contribute to that deficit now and into the future are all policies put in place by the Bush administration. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush tax cuts, the economic downturn, and the prescription drug benefit are the primary contributors to our budget deficit. All of these are Bush policies, and all of these were unfunded. If you take away these four items, the deficit virtually disappears.
But, if you are on the right, you ignore that you are the source of these policies. If you are on the right you ignore your own fiscal irresponsibility. If you are on the right, the deficit of your own doing is an opportunity.
The Land of Opportunity Becomes the Nation of NO
As the 2010 midterm elections approached, the voices on the right looked at the deficit and recession of their creation and said, “that is a real problem, someone should do something about that.” Miraculously the American voters had forgotten that the very voices on the right who complained about the sluggish economy were the very people that created it. This was an opportunity to pin their problem on the democrats. This was a very real opportunity to win back a large number of seats in the mid-term elections.
Claiming to be the party of fiscal responsibility, claiming to be laser focused on jobs, the voices on the right and the newly elected republicans and tea party members used the Great Recession as an opportunity to enact more of the same. Ignoring the causes of the deficit, they fought to maintain the Bush tax cuts. In so doing, they took the opportunity to continue the very ideological solution that produced our growing deficit.
At a time when corporate profits are at historic highs and American wages are at historic lows, at a time when borrowing money is essentially free, at a time of high unemployment, the GOP decided the best thing to do was nothing. Worse than nothing, they actively worked against their own ideas to jump-start the economy by refusing to pass President Obama's jobs bill. This jobs plan was a plan of compromise, a plan deliberately made up of carefully selected republican ideas. The GOP chose to forgo investing in our infrastructure. They chose to forgo moving towards energy independence and the green technologies of the future. They chose not to create jobs. The GOP chose not to invest America's future, some even bet against it. For the GOP, the economic downturn isn't a time to work to strengthen the nation, it's the cynical opportunity to unseat a president by saying no to every policy, bill, or idea, even if that idea is your own.
Adding insult to injury, the republicans used the deficit as an ideological opportunity to attack other programs they wished to eliminate. They ignored the wars. They fought to extend the tax cuts. They fought against any attempts to control rising health care costs and their impact on programs like medicaid and medicare. They ignored the unique and foreseeable generational problem of the baby-boomers retirement. No, for the opportunistic right, the problem is clear, big government spending on Planned Parenthood and NPR. The problem is clearly that medicaid and medicare are government programs not the far more expensive free market solutions they so desire. The problem is clearly the social security safety net that ensures Americans can safely retire without falling into poverty. The deficit of republican creation is the opportunity to gut these programs. It is an opportunity to privatize them. It is an opportunity to take more from the middle class and give more to the wealthy. It is an opportunity to undo much of the progress our nation has made since the Great Depression.
An Opportunity to Create a New Problem
The deficit of their creation offered yet another opportunity, a chance to fabricate a new national crisis. In the debt ceiling was a chance to score more political points on the backs of the middle class. Pretend to be serious about the deficit and the budget and use it as an opportunity to hold us all back. So dedicated to opportunism is the GOP that they turned down $10 dollars of budget cuts in exchange for $1 of increased revenue. Again the nation offered them more of their ideas, and again they refused, offering instead the debt-ceiling crisis.
Likewise, in the states we see republican governors ignoring the causes of their deficits. We see them using the problems of their party’s creation as an opportunity to attack unions. They ignore the fact that states prior to the economic downturn had no issue with unionized public employees. They ignore that in many cases the right wing laissez faire approach to Wall Street helped to deplete or bankrupt state retirement funds. They ignore the fact that states with unionized public employees have no larger deficits than states that do not. No, the cause of our problems must be middle class wages. The solution to this problem is attacking unionized employees and the opportunity to crush unions.
State assemblies and governors took other opportunities too. The Great Recession was an opportunity not to create jobs, but to attack women's rights, to suppress voting rights, to pass stand your ground laws, and to attack immigrants with "papers please" laws. So many opportunities.
Opportunity For Big Business
Opportunity doesn’t just present itself to Republican senators and congressman. Opportunity isn’t just for Republican governors. Even right wing business voices can leverage opportunity. Take for example the recent Wall Street speculation that has been driving up gas prices. The US Chamber of Commerce saw this as an opportunity to eliminate the gas tax and the EPA. Here is how the US Chamber put it:
“This week marks a huge opportunity to limit the scope of EPA and ensure that Congress is the governing body to addresses climate change and energy policy.
The House will vote on the "Energy Tax Prevention Act" tomorrow, which would block EPA's ability to mandate a host of new regulations on emitters of greenhouse gases—regulations with devastating cost for our economy, but negligible impact on global temperatures.
Following the House vote, the Senate is expected to take up the McConnell legislation which mirrors the Energy Tax Protection Act proposed in the House.
With gas prices reaching $4 a gallon, and more than 14 million out of work, it is no surprise that the public is outraged by EPA’s proposals. These new provisions will impose what could prove to be the most costly, burdensome, and expansive set of job killing regulations ever crafted. Unless Congress steps in and blocks their authority – our economic situation will only deteriorate, and quickly.”
The Genius of Opportunity
Opportunity. For the modern right, every problem is an opportunity. For certain, the right doesn’t waste it’s opportunities.
You have to hand it to them. The act of creating a problem, denying it’s causes, pointing to it and demanding an opportunistic and ideological solution is brilliant. The problem does exist. Something does need to be done. Most people aren’t going to recall the cause, and they aren’t likely to detect that the solution has nothing to do with the problem. Action is taking place, something is being done. The wrong thing, something that will make the problem worse, but most voters will never even notice. What an opportunity!
For the modern right, no matter the problem, it’s sure to be fixed by cutting taxes and cutting government spending, or so the right would have you believe. Shouldn’t our solutions actually actually address our problems? Shouldn’t we act on what we know rather than what we believe?
Opportunity vs. Opportunists
In the midst of the Great Recession, which some economists are now calling a depression, we have sought not to return opportunity to America, but instead we have handed America over to the opportunists.
Like with so many other issues, the left is partly to blame. At each point the left could have reminded people of the policies that caused these problems. At each point we could have fought harder to remind people of who caused these problems. At each point the left could have made a clear case for actual fact based solutions to the problems. In short, the left could actually fight with the same vigor, the same relentlessness and the same certainty as the right, only with the facts on our side. The GOP has managed to accomplish so much in spite of being wrong, imagine what we could do while being right.
The cynical use of opportunities can’t sit well with true conservatives. These policies wreak of fiscal irresponsibility. This kind of behavior grows the influence of government while reducing the rights and freedoms of our citizens. These kinds of policies weaken the nation now and unless reversed, cripple the nation in the future. If the left were to fight on the facts we may just find strange allies in our truly conservative brethren.
We must fight for practical solutions that will return America to it's rightful place as the land of opportunity. We can only do so by marginalizing and defeating these cynical ideological opportunists. America has always been a land of practical solutions, a land of can do spirit, a nation that boldly moves forward solving the biggest problems. This party of stubborn opportunists that answers every question with "no" is out of step with our history and the American spirit that helped make us great.
Our choice is clear in this election and beyond, we can choose to return to being a nation of opportunity, or continue down the path of the cynical opportunists. If opportunity is to be our future, we must take advantage of this opportunity and act.