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Success! At Failure!

So. Y’all know that Your Humble Blogger is a liberal, right? A big government, New Deal, pro-union, liberal liberal. This means that you, Gentle Reader, should take anything I say about the view of the world from the Right—or even the Center—with a grain of proverbial, because I’m looking at it from way over here.

But I have to wonder about the response to last week’s economic news. Did you see it? The news, essentially, was that over the last three months of 2012, the economy was not growing at all—shrinking, in fact, by a tiny, tiny bit. Not, you know, enough to be a Contraction, but on the wrong side of zero. This negative number is largely because of huge cuts in military spending, according to what I read—I can’t find the note right now (it’s not the fairly technical notes by Jared Bernstein or Ezra Klein), but somebody said, essentially, that the private sector is doing just fine, but the public sector is not. The takeaway from those technical posts (and also, of course, from Paul Krugman) is that cutting the federal budget has a contractionary effect on the economy as a whole. And that’s the correct liberal attitude, as far as I can tell: we want the economy to grow, and we’re perfectly willing to make that happen by increasing the federal budget.

Which means that, from the liberal point of view, it’s terribly frustrating that the Other Party is criticizing Our Only President for this contraction. Greg Sargent writes that … in a rational world, what should be glaringly obvious is that the belief that this [news] gives the party “leverage” highlights how absurdly incoherent the GOP message about the economy has become. Steven Benen says that the Republican National Committee seemed inexplicably giddy after the GDP report was released—even though it’s now blisteringly obvious their agenda would undermine economic growth. From the more-or-less neutral (if excitingly biased toward stupidity) Politico, it’s Obama’s GDP headache (or, according to the URL, his nightmare) and the politics are unambiguously terrible for Barack Obama—meaning, from their point of view, that the Other Party are attacking him and his policies on it.

But here’s where I get into trouble trying to see this from the other side: isn’t this good news for them? I mean, they have accomplished a substantial cut in federal spending—a big one this quarter but as those articles have been on about, a huge one over years—and the GDP didn’t even go down much. If the news is, as I said before, that the private sector is doing just fine, but the public sector is not, then those persons who want a smaller public sector are… winning! Flat GDP is presumably a fine result, if it is comprised of growing the Good Part (in their eyes) and shrinking the Bad Part (again, in their eyes). Isn’t it a success story?

That’s what I thought about when I saw Ed Zelinsky’s note And the winner is… George W. Bush. Mr. Zelinsky is writing about the tax cuts, where our current “permanent” tax code looks a lot more like Our Previous President’s code than the preferences of either his predecessor or the man currently holding that office. And, for that matter, the Observer story on Robert Reich and Inequality for All brings up how the so-called Conservatives have actually implemented a great deal of their anti-government policy platform over the last ten to thirty years.

You know, fifteen years ago or so, I was writing (or thinking about writing, anyway, which come to the same thing, right?) about how the social conservatives were failing to achieve their actual goals. The old norms—more accurately, what they thought of as the old norms—were being demolished despite the Religious Right’s political ascendance. And what I wrote, or meant to write, was that each new outrage, rather than showing the impotence of the politicians, seemed to increase their standing. The less they actually achieve, the more they seem to be needed. That’s great for the leaders, but not so great for the followers.

As for the money, though… liberals have been making the case for years that Our Party wasn’t actually achieving much. And they’re right, of course: inequality expands, the social safety net rots, workers’ protection withers and even where we have tremendous achievements, like the Clean Air Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, enforcement is uneven and often skewed toward the moneyed interests. Are we in the same position? Are we trapped into supporting our leaders all the more for their every failure?

I don’t think that’s right. For one thing, the Left in this country, such as it is, doesn’t so much support My Party anyway. Maybe votes for it, grudgingly, but doesn’t donate or volunteer in the same way. For another, I do think that we have been holding our legislators to some actual achievements (the Affordable Care Act comes to mind). And then, well, I really don’t think that Our Party has developed the public rhetoric of grievance and persecution to the extent that the Other Party has. That is, over the last thirty years or so, the rhetorical position of the Other Party has been that white Christian heterosexual men are under attack, for various definitions of under attack, and that the Party is, just barely, protecting them from the worst of the terrible onslaught. And I do think that keeps them from celebrating their successes.

Which is where I was headed, by the way. The reaction to the success of the policy platform—public-sector decline with private-sector growth—fits much better into their litany of disasters than their successes. I think Left Blogovia fell into that rut as well, treating this news the way they did.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,