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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Kilgore: They Are Not Nihilists

Ed Kilgore has another Washington Monthly post scolding progressives for casual and inaccurate use of the term “nihilists” to describe House Republicans who tow the tea party line. Kilgore objects to the characterization of House Republicans as mindless bumblers who don’t really know what they want, so they try to destroy, well, everything. As Kilgore explains:

So, we are all tempted to believe, there’s really nothing Obama or congressional Democrats or even sensible Republicans can do until The Crazy burns itself out or its devotees find a distraction.
Maybe that’s true in the end, but all this “they don’t know what they want” talk is both dangerous and wrong. Perhaps conservatives are unsure at the moment about which demands to make, but they’ve got plenty of them–perhaps too many of them–close at hand. They aren’t “nihilists;” they are extremists….

Kilgore argues persuasively that, unlike nihilists, they have very specific goals, and he lists some of their policy priorities, which define a dangerous extremist agenda, including:

* “Entitlement reform,” which means structural changes in the major New Deal and Great Society safety net programs to eliminate the “mandatory” character of spending on them and the personal “entitlement” to a reasonably fixed set of benefits.
* “Tax reform,” which means rate reductions for corporations and high-income individuals, perhaps offset by regressive consumption taxes.
* Domestic spending reductions, focused on low-income non-defense discretionary accounts (the same ones being most affected by the government shutdown).
* Higher defense spending, and particularly the relaxation of sequestration for the Pentagon only.
* Some sort of tangible progress towards the GOP’s general goal of banning abortion.
* Some sort of additional relief (they’ve already obtained quite a bit of it) for the poor, beleaguered financial sector.
* Wholesale abandonment of any limitations whatsoever on fossil fuels.
And yes:
* Sand in the gears of implementation of the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

It may be that the likening of wingnut Republicans to “nihilists” is rooted in the perception of tea party grass roots demonstrators, some of whom bear at least a visual resemblance to the cartoon “nihilists” in Cohen Brothers films, like The Big Lebowski and Fargo. Think now of the fellow at a tea party demo with the “Get a Brain Morans” sign, who provoked nation-wide chuckles. The tinfoil tricorner tea party types may well have a few nihilistic personalities among them. But Kilgore is undoubtedly right that the GOP leaders who are skilfully playing them know exactly what they want.

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