What was most remarkable about the debate was that the problems the Republicans are vowing to solve are almost completely non-existent.
To be clear: We have real problems, lots of them — even though as a nation we’re in much better shape in nearly every way than we’ve been in years, possibly all century. We’re experiencing the best job creation with the fewest number of American soldiers deployed in battle since 2001. But Republicans have invented “problems” that with their solutions would make our deepest and most vexing challenges worse — which actually makes a perverse kind of sense, since many of our worst problems are the result of conservative policies.
In case you missed them during three hours of pessimism, lies, and awkward posturing, here are five imaginary crises Republican candidates will fix by repeating all of the mistakes we’ve already made.
1. America is in too few wars.
The perception that Carly Fiorina “won” the debate has been confirmed by her rise in the polls. This also confirms that Republican voters didn’t hear what she was really saying beneath her flurry of falsehoods punctuated by an occasional fact like the name of a general, or they’re convinced that America’s problem is that we can’t decide if we would rather have a war with Russia or Iran first.
The Daily Beast‘s Michael Tomasky unpacked Fiorina’s rhetoric and laid out promises to provoke war by abandoning our allies who joined the Iran deal or by directly provoking Vladimir Putin in Estonia, for some reason. “World War III could start there, and all it would take is an errant American military shell landing in the wrong backyard,” he wrote. “Or World War IV, in case President Fiorina has already started III in the Middle East.” Fiorina was fine with doing business with Iran and Russia as she was wrecking HP. But as we face the never-ending consequences — including the rise of ISIS and a nearly unprecedented refugee crisis — of a needless, disastrously prosecuted war in Iraq, her solution is “Let’s turn the world into Iraq.”
2. The richest pay too much in taxes.
Our economy is stuck in a wage gap that’s at least in part a result of the richest Americans sucking up most of the gains of the economy — a trend that began when Ronald Reagan presided over the top tax rate being cut from 70 percent to 28 percent. Ironically, the only guy on the stage at the GOP debate who has said the rich — at least some of the rich — should pay more in taxes is the billionaire.
Trump would at least eliminate the carried interest loophole that benefits hedge fund managers. Take a look at the tax plans the candidates have issued: Jeb Bush would slash the top rate down to where Reagan left it. Rand Paul, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz would implement a flat tax that would charge billionaires the same rate as a widow with four kids. Huckabee is pushing a regressive tax that would tax consumption the way most states regressively do. Rubio’s plan would likely cut hedge fund managers’ tax rate to zero — zero. This isn’t trickle-down economics. It’s sucking-up economics.
The two longest stretches of private sector job creation in American history have happened under the last two Democratic presidents. The first began by raising the top tax rate. The current one sped up as higher rates on the rich kicked in along with new taxes on those earning more than $200,000 a year to fund Obamacare. Republican candidates think this kind of job creation is a problem we need to solve. And while you’re at it, get rid of the regulation on big banks that could prevent another crash!
3. America needs to do less about climate change.
“America is not a planet,” Marco Rubio said as he began his totally fallacious argument about why America shouldn’t do anything to fight climate change. Not understanding climate change is Rubio’s expertise. He doesn’t get that the pursuit of cleaner energy lowers utility costs, speeds job creation, and has resulted in the first reduction in carbon emissions in a growing economy for decades.
President Obama has done more than every other president combined to fight climate change (and yes, it’s a low bar). The pervasive presence of solar panels and electric cars should endure like plaques on WPA projects reminding us what Roosevelt did to save our economy. Rubio wants to make sure that doesn’t happen so that his plan to submerge Miami and much of South Florida under the sea will be the symbol of the 21st century that the future will remember (if anyone is still above water).
4. We’re providing poor people — especially women — with too much health insurance.
Just before this debate, we learned that our uninsured rate is at a recorded low. Meanwhile layoffs per capita have never been lower. This may be why only Ted Cruz repeated the incessant GOP vow to repeal every word of Obamacare. Republicans have a more serious issue on their minds: defunding the largest provider of health care to low-income women in the United States. All of the governors on stage have done this in their states, denying residents valuable services that are rarely replaced except with “crisis pregnancy centers” that freely lie to vulnerable women. In 103 counties, Planned Parenthood is the only provider of family planning services for poor people. We’ve made extraordinary leaps in women’s health thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the most pro-life bill ever signed by a U.S. president. It prevents unintended pregnancies and lowers costs for women. Apparently, that’s a terrible problem Republicans want to solve.
5. Immigrants are ruining everything.
With all the anxiety the GOP base is feeling over the “loss” of a white majority in America, it’s easy to forget that net immigration has been about zero for years, the border has never been more secure, and violent crime is at a generational low. While Donald Trump is casually promising what would amount to a full-scale self-invasion that would spend billions of dollars to round up law-abiding residents, it’s easy to forget that integrating immigrants into our economy isn’t a problem, it’s a necessity. If you’re insistent on gutting Medicare, Social Security and anything else that helps workers, you probably want to get rid of the next generation of Americans who can help make these programs sustainable. But if you want an America with a middle class, smart immigration is a big part of the solution.
Paying attention? Then you may notice Republicans have identified what they see as our biggest problem: namely, that we’d ever try to clean up after mistakes — or, Trump forbid, avoid them.
This isn’t just an election that pits two philosophies against each other. We face a party that sees the financial crisis and war-torn disasters of 2008 as the height of civilization, and they have a plan to get us back there.
Photo: REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni