Economics

Economic Populists for Lower Corporate Taxes

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The puzzling political analysis of New York Times national correspondent Jackie Calmes continues with a "Congressional Memo" contending that "on the economy" the Republican Party "is increasingly populist." That explains resistance to the Wall Street bailout by Republicans in the House, Calmes says, because "populists do not favor bailouts of Wall Street." For Calmes, the alleged increase in Republican economic populism is of a piece with an increase in "social conservatism," including "opposition to abortion, gay rights and liberalized immigration policies," that has alienated "voters from families that have been Republican for generations." These socially conservative, economically populist Republicans are "less affluent and less educated—and more suspicious of big business—than mainstream Republicans of days past."

But what about all the House Republicans who said they opposed the bailout because it constitutes excessive government intervention in the economy? Calmes quotes Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), for example, who condemned the Treasury Department's plan as "the slippery slope to socialism." Is socialism the opposite of economic populism? Calmes concedes that "nearly all of the Republican opponents insisted they were upholding the party's principles and its 'brand' by opposing big-government intervention in what should be free markets." Yet somehow she divines that what really motivated them was hostility toward big business.

"To get the [presidential] nomination," Calmes writes, John McCain "made accommodations to the conservatives dominant in the party by his rightward turns on tax cuts and other issues." Do economic populists push a lower corporate tax rate?

Calmes understands that Republican critics of the bailout see themselves as upholding Ronald Reagan's legacy, but she's having none of it:

Republican figures from the Reagan years say these conservatives misread their idol's record of bipartisan compromises. Amid the current financial crisis, several recalled that after the 1987 market crash, Mr. Reagan and the Democratic leaders in Congress negotiated a budget compromise of spending cuts and revenue-raisers to signal to markets that the government was serious about reducing the deficits.

"Ronald Reagan would not be comfortable as a House Republican today. Ronald Reagan was the ultimate pragmatist and fiscal conservative," said Kenneth M. Duberstein, a White House chief of staff to Mr. Reagan.

So Ronald Reagan's fiscal conservatism (overrated, but that's another story) means he would have supported the Treasury Department's plan to spend $700 billion in taxpayers' money on the worst investments it can find?

I realize Calmes' main aim is to shake her head at what she calls the House Republicans' "rigidly ideological stance at a time of economic crisis." But she could at least get the ideology right.