During a Republican presidential candidates' debate last June, the participants expressed a belief that we can slash and burn our way to prosperity. Mark Lilla (left), professor of the humanities at Columbia University, writes that the same reckless spirit that led the Republicans to sign Grover Norquist's pledge never to raise taxes also leads them to propose eliminating governmental agencies and programs without regard for the consequences:
During the 2010 congressional election campaign, Republican candidates (and some Democrats) were put under enormous pressure to sign the Americans for Tax Reform “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” which obliges them to oppose any increase in the marginal personal or corporate tax rate, and any limits on deductions or tax credits that aren’t offset by other tax cuts. To date, all but six Republican representatives and seven senators have signed this collective suicide note, making the group’s president, Grover Norquist, nearly as successful as Reverend Jim Jones. That’s how the apocalyptic mind works, though. It convinces people that if they bring everything down around them, a phoenix will inevitably be born.
The same faith has been expressed in the Republican presidential candidate debates, where the contenders compete to demonstrate how many agencies they would abolish when in office (if they remember their names), how many programs they would cut or starve, and how much faith they have in the ingenuity of the American people to figure it out for themselves once they’re finished. What’s so disturbing is that they don’t feel compelled to explain how even a reduced government should meet the challenges of the new global economy, how our educational system should respond to them, what the geopolitical implications might be, or anything of the sort. They deliver their lines with the insouciant “what, me worry?” of Alfred E. Neuman.