You may not be aware of this, but there is a strain of conventional wisdom that holds Republicans are terrific at campaigning and terrible at governing -- and the opposite is true of Democrats.
Conventional wisdom isn't always accurate and true, of course. But conventional wisdom often becomes such precisely because it contains accurate and truthful elements.
Esoterica? Perhaps. But the notion that Republicans are better at electioneering than governing is timely, and worth exploring, if for no other reason than their recent squealing over the projected loss of 16,000 jobs in Oklahoma -- fallout from looming federal budget cuts.
Let's begin with the campaigning end of the equation: What so captivated voters that they were willing in the twinkling of an eye (historically-speaking) to transform Oklahoma from a 70-plus-percent Democratic state to one of the nation's hard-core Republican states?
For one thing, it was brilliant sloganeering that incessantly depicted government as bloated, inefficient and all-too-often corrupt. What the public sector sorely needed, they declared (forever and ever, amen), was a powerful and steady dose of good old-fashioned bidness principles.
That meant cutting waste and fat. Downsizing (a favorite GOP term). Transferring public sector tasks to the leaner, meaner, more productive private sector. No more deficit spending. Yada, yada, yada.
The precision with which Republicans delivered the message -- over and over, for decades -- convinced an entire generation, and then some, that government is and forever will be the problem, not the solution.
Now let's move to the governing side: In an election year where GOP leaders both nationally and in Oklahoma are braying around-the-clock about the dangers of the federal deficit, they're also apoplectic about $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts in federal spending that would help stem the debt.
Oh, sweet irony -- thou art so delicious.
Of course, the panicky rhetoric flows from the side of the aisle that refused an emergency increase in the federal debt limit last year without a commitment to cut more than $2 trillion in federal spending over the next decade.
Now that another round of cuts are slated to automatically take effect Jan. 2 -- likely including more cuts to the military industrial complex, a reliable GOP campaign funder -- the shrink-government principle suddenly isn't so appetizing.
The projected loss of 16,000 jobs in small state Oklahoma -- including about 8,000 in defense-related industries -- is no small matter.
But isn't it interesting that state GOP leaders, from U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe to Gov. Mary Fallin, are so bent out of shape now about the looming federal cuts when they didn't utter a word in recent years when thousands of public school teachers were laid off. Or when state employees endured six straight years without a raise. Or when money supposedly wasn't available for mental health care but was for tax breaks for oil and gas companies or farm subsidies.
I've longed for the day when taxpayers awaken from their slumber and demand a serious, thoughtful, adult conversation about taxes and government -- what we're willing to pay for and what we aren't.
No more of this over-heated, simplistic, anti-government rhetoric, but rather a recognition that we are all in this together. We are the government, after all. We won't always get our way, but we should debate civilly, negotiate in good faith and always strive to ensure all -- regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual preference or socio-economic status -- have as equal a shot as possible at the American dream.
As bad as things seem, there is reason to hope that serious governing may soon trump mindless sloganeering.
Believe it or not, the glimmer rests with Oklahoma's junior U.S. senator, Tom Coburn.
Coburn is one of the few elected Republicans -- nationally and in Oklahoma -- willing to stand up to anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist, the Oz behind the GOP curtain. Grover is no benign Sesame Street character -- he's tied scores of Republican officeholders in knots by persuading them to sign his anti-tax pledge. He then sets the rules for what constitutes a tax increase.
Eliminating loopholes? Ending corporate welfare? Allowing temporary tax cuts to expire? No, no and hell no. In Norquist's world, anything but a decrease is an increase.
Coburn's had enough. He ripped Norquist in a recent New York Times op-ed, arguing the anti-tax guru was becoming increasingly isolated because of his unrealistic demands.
"What unifies Republicans is not Mr. Norquist's tortured definition of tax purity but the idea of a Reagan- or Kennedy-style tax reform that lowers rates and broadens the tax base by getting rid of loopholes and deductions," wrote Coburn.
"It's true that Republicans would prefer to lower rates as much as possible, and it's true that Republicans believe smart tax reform will generate more, not less, revenue for the federal government.
"But Republicans would not walk away from a grand bargain on entitlements and tax reform that would devote a penny of revenue to deficit reduction instead of rate reduction."
Norquist responded with the equivalent of a grade school taunt, suggesting Coburn had "gone native or developed Stockholm Syndrome."
This is what constitutes serious public policy debate? No wonder Congress' approval rating is in the single digits. An unelected ideologue spouting sophomoric logic wields considerable power over the nation's elected elite.
Don't get me wrong. Coburn spends way too much time in the uber-conservative bubble, too. But unlike Norquist, he does occasionally embrace reality -- and when he does, it gives hope that something can be done to forge a consensus that moves America forward.
As Coburn noted in his op-ed, "I recently proposed amendments to end tax earmarks for movie producers and the ethanol industry. Mr. Norquist charged that those measures would be tax hikes unless paired with dollar-for-dollar rate reductions. And yet all but six of the 41 Senate Republicans who had signed his pledge voted for my amendments.
"Those 35 Republican pledge-violators are hardly soft on taxes. Rather, they understand that the tax code is riddled with special-interest provisions that are merely spending by another name. If asked to eliminate earmarks for things like Nascar, the tackle-box industry or Eskimo whaling captains -- all of which are actual tax "breaks" -- most of my colleagues would be embarrassed to demand dollar-for-dollar rate reductions, and rightly so."
Coburn has gone rogue before -- defying his party's leadership and conventional wisdom -- and it hasn't significantly impacted the hyper-partisan approach to governing in America. But the fact he'll publicly call out Norquist suggests he understands sloganeering and demagoguery are not the same as governing.
Governing requires tough choices -- some unpopular. Coburn at least seems to understand that elected leaders can't have it both ways. You can't demand smaller government, then decry cuts.
Are you listening Sen. Inhofe and Gov. Fallin?
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