Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Opinion: A vacuum of leadership


It’s not merely that the modern Republican Party lacks the competence needed to govern responsibly, although it does. What ought to bother voters even more is that it has abandoned all pretense of trying.

Exhibit A for that claim is of course Donald Trump and the ongoing chaos that he has wrought as president, both domestically and internationally. Exhibit A1 is the party’s profound mishandling of the nation’s financial situation.

In good times such as these, with the economy purring along and unemployment low, ordinarily the federal deficit would be headed down as we attempt to get our books in order, anticipating tougher times to come. That would be the wise thing, the responsible thing, what at one point might even have been called the Republican thing to do. No longer, and frankly not for a long time now.

Instead, thanks to a massive, $1.5 trillion tax cut tilted toward corporations and the already wealthy, the deficit this year is projected to be 30 percent higher than it was last fiscal year. Again, this isn’t because of some emergency or war; it’s a voluntary choice, driven by partisan need. (Congress and Trump have also padded the budget by more than $300 billion, most of it for defense spending.)

The GOP’s intent is to further stimulate an economy that is already in such danger of overheating that the Federal Reserve has been forced to begin raising interest rates. It’s also coming from the same party that refused to stimulate the economy in 2009, at the depths of the greatest economic crisis in 80 years, explaining at the time that much as they might like to help, they simply couldn’t abandon their bone-deep commitment not to raise the deficit.

That in itself is an astonishing act of bad faith. When deficit spending was badly needed, in the depths of a recession that saw 800,000 Americans losing their jobs in a single month, the Republicans refused to lend a helping hand because saving jobs might have helped a Democratic president.

Yet today, when a stimulus is not merely unnecessary but possibly dangerous, they can’t wait to throw more coal on the fire under a GOP president, hoping it will boost their standing with voters. That’s how deep the cynicism and lack of seriousness now runs.

According to the polls, it also isn’t working. In a new CNBC poll on the economy, just 32 percent of Americans say they’ve noticed bigger paychecks as a result of the tax cuts. Just 12 percent say “the extra pay helps their financial situation ‘a great deal’ or ‘a fair amount’.”

Faced with that situation, Republicans have decided to double-down. President Trump and congressional Republicans are planning to push votes this spring on yet another round of tax cuts. Once again, they care nothing about its potential impact on the economy, the deficit, the debt or interest rates. Once again, its entire rationale is political.

“Can you imagine Democrats voting that down? I mean, how do you explain that one?” says Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), explaining his party’s rationale. “I just think they’d be in an impossible position. They’d have to support it.”

And here’s the maraschino cherry on top of the whipped cream on top of the fudge sauce on top of the double-chocolate ice cream with chopped pecans:

While Republicans prepare yet another election-year tax cut that would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the debt each year, Politico reports that when they return from their Easter break, they are also planning to vote on a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, just to demonstrate to voters their steadfast commitment to budget austerity and sober financial leadership.

It is almost unbelievable. Instead of acting like leaders bearing grave responsibilities on their shoulders, they act as if this behavior will have no consequences, as if they’re all 7-year-olds playing a game that has no real-world ramifications. It’s just about the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.