Whither Green Eyeshade Conservatives?

We could use a man like Herbert Hoover again.

A book-keeper, wearing a visor with a pencil behind his ear, at work circa 1940’s. (Photo by Keystone View/FPG/Getty Images)

In the back-and-forth on Steven Taylor’s post “Party Change is Hard,” longtime commenter Michael Reynolds observes,

We need the green eyeshade party back, we need cranky old man Potter to snarl at George Bailey and demand to know who’s going to pay for all these nice things we want. I often disagree with Dave Schuler, but he’s roughly my idea of what an actual conservative might be.

As if to illustrate the point, Dave today observes,

I wish the editors of the Wall Street Journal would devote less energy to figuring out whether Trump or Obama has helped more ordinary working people […] and lot more energy to answering two questions:

1. Do working people need help?

2. If so, what’s the best way to help them?

I think it’s pretty obvious that ordinary working people do need help and what they need most are relief from regressive state and local taxes and less competition for jobs from workers from other countries, whether they remain in those countries or are brought into this one.

I don’t know that any national candidate of either party is speaking to “relief from regressive state and local taxes.” Democrats tend to be pro-tax generally speaking but want the federal taxpayer to subside high-tax states and localities with tax deductions. Republicans tend to be low-tax, so states and localities governed by them tend to have low income taxes—but make up for it by incredibly regressive sales taxes.

Populists, mostly in the Democratic Party, have railed against competition from workers overseas for at least a generation (NAFTA was signed by Bill Clinton but negotiated by George H.W. Bush and pushed through the Senate mostly on the strength of Republican votes) but have tended to be relatively sympathetic to in-migration from economically struggling economies. Republicans have historically been free-traders but have recently been taken over by populists and, well, you know the rest of that story.

I’m don’t believe any candidate of any stature advocates both of Dave’s positions simultaneously.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Economics and Business, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. The last such conservative was Mitch Daniels, who was admittedly imperfect during his time in the Bush 43 White House but nonetheless better than what followed.

    John Kasich, John Shadegg (former Congressman from Arizona), and Jeff Flake arguably fell into this category as well.

    Now, after tw0 years of full GOP control in Washington, we’re back to trillion dollar deficits with nothing to show for it.

  2. Stormy Dragon says:

    As Heinlein said, “Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal.”

    I think the biggest shift in my thinking over the last 10 years has been the dawning the realization that most people are terrible are determining their own motivations. Why they actually do what they do generally has nothing to do with why they’re actually doing them.

    So to answer your question, the green eyeshade conservatives never really cared about green eye shade issues, it was just a convenient post hoc justification for stances that derived from more primal sources. When, in the face of financial profligate policies, that rationalization became useless, they just switched to a new rationalization for the same stances.

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  3. michael reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    “Why they actually do what they do generally has nothing to do with why they’re actually doing them.”

    I’ve played that tune for many years. People’s inability to know what they want and why, let alone how to get it, is amazing.

    Yes, the green eyeshade guys are not much better at it than anyone else. But I don’t need their motives to be pure, I just need someone to push liberals for real-world explanations of what it is they want, and why, and then subject the answers to some rigor. Every idea needs beta testing.

  4. MarkedMan says:

    Democrats tend to be pro-tax generally speaking but want the federal taxpayer to subside high-tax states and localities with tax deductions.

    I can’t believe you went there. The high tax states subsidize the failed Trump states by incredible amounts every year. Do you think any of the square states would even exist if it wasn’t for the Federal subsidies for water and power and the military and government facilities based there? Those jobs are practically the only ones in those states that pay a decent wage and allow a dignified retirement. As for Trump states like Alabama and Mississippi, we pour billions into them every year but, like crabs in a bucket, as soon as one poor sod starts to climb their way up and out the rest grab onto them and pull them back.

    If that’s what the failed Trump states want, then I am 100% for no state getting any more our of the federal government then they put in. All the decent states I’ve lived in would see surpluses like they’ve never had in their history. It’s a shame about New Orleans, I love that place, but I guess they would go the same way Louisiana. And as for the rest of the Trump states, they are welcome to go to hell in any way they choose.

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  5. MarkedMan says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I call BS. Sure, Since Reagan, there have been lots of Republicans who talk a good game about fiscal responsibility, but the reality is that they all “reluctantly and with a heavy heart” cave whenever there is a close vote. Spare me the phony drama of someone only being “fiscally responsible” when their vote doesn’t matter to the outcome.

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  6. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan:

    The high tax states subsidize the failed Trump states by incredible amounts every year.

    Sure. But that’s really a separate issue. Rich don’t subsidize the poor states by virtue of their state and local taxes but because federal income taxes aren’t adjusted by locality. $100,000 a year is a nice living here in the DC suburbs of Northern Virginia; it’s a princely sum in Troy, Alabama. That, combined with poor people getting more subsidies (and rural areas having more military bases, if that gets factored in) and the transfers are huge.

  7. Modulo Myself says:

    I remember when the Mercatus Center studied Medicare-for-all they concluded the government would spend 32 trillion but also US as a whole would save 2 trillion overall. So I think there’s a reason conservatives have retreated into fake populism and bluster–the world doesn’t make much sense to Mitch Daniels now, and when some libertarians try to prove how terrible crazy liberal socialism, they come up with a study that shows the opposite.

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  8. SenyorDave says:

    Not sure I would use Mitch Daniels as the poster boy for financial responsibility. To quote from Wikipedia:
    During Daniels’ 29-month tenure in the position, the projected federal budget surplus of $236 billion declined to a $400 billion deficit, due to an economic downturn, and failure to enact spending cuts to offset the tax reductions.
    In the last 40 years the GOP in general has been a joke when it comes to financial responsibility. If the Democrats are the party of tax and spend, the GOP is the party of borrow and spend.

  9. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    I wish the editors of the Wall Street Journal would devote less energy to figuring out whether Trump or Obama has helped more ordinary working people […] and lot more energy to answering two questions:
    1. Do working people need help?

    Sorry Dave, but I don’t understand why the WSJ would even care about that question. The WSJ speaks for capital. Working people are a fact of life, an their relationship to capital is that of provision of a resource. Whether they need help or not is immaterial to capital, thus also the the WSJ.

    Moreover

    I think it’s pretty obvious that ordinary working people do need help and what they need most are relief from regressive state and local taxes and less competition for jobs from workers from other countries, whether they remain in those countries or are brought into this one.

    Thus the reason for the trade war and THE WALL [TM pending]. The argument from the Right goes that Trump is the only one doing anything for “ordinary working people” by trying to “bring the jobs back home” and keeping competitors for the jobs we have out.

    I wish I knew what the answers to our problems are, but in a society that is progressively embracing libertarian philosophy, the editors of the WSJ, conservatives at large, and the Republican party aren’t likely to know either.

  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    I forgot to mention my original thought when I saw the title of the post: There were never any “green eyeshade” conservatives, only conservatives who objected to the purposes to which liberals directed the budget of the US. My dad used to say that the difference between Democrats and Republicans was that Democrats wanted to spend the budget on the poor and Republicans wanted to buy guns. Nobody wanted to spend less or lower taxes.

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  11. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    It’s not that clear cut. Here’s the full data.

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  12. Liberal Capitalist says:

    We could use a man like Herbert Hoover again.

    No.

    While I know that this is courtesy of “All in the Family, just no.

    Hoover’s policies of austerity triggered the Great Depression.

    To do this type of policy now, AFTER giving a tax breaks to rich and after this stock market expansion could be potentially devastating.

    They didn’t call them “Hoovervilles” because they thought he was a great guy.

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  13. James Joyner says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: Yeah, it was a joke based on the “All in the Family” theme lyric. “We need a man like Dwight D. Eisenhower again” would be a more accurate subhed but the joke wouldn’t have worked.

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: He was before my time but Eisenhower and that wing of the Republican Party were legitimately fiscal conservatives. A retired five-star general, he warned of the dangers of the military-industrial complex and over-spending on defense at the expense of fiscal stability and social welfare. Even Nixon was fiscally conservative yet willing to spend on programs for the poor and the environment. Reagan talked a good game but was willing to break the bank for tax cuts and the defense buildup. Bush 41 was a fiscal conservative but pretty much trapped in Reagan’s web and unable to raise taxes. After that, the party was mostly about drowning government in the bathtub or at least “deficits don’t matter!”

  14. mattbernius says:

    Republicans tend to be low-tax, so states and localities governed by them tend to have low income taxes—but make up for it by incredibly regressive sales taxes.

    Also regressive fees and fines. For profit policing is especially common in those States.

  15. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy: I don’t know, even that chart seems pretty clear even if it is by state, not per capita. The Trump states are all parasites and the more liberal states carry the load. Sure, Nebraska and North Dakota are solidly conservative and solely because of the fracking boom have been a net positive for the past few years. But they are the only ones and were net negatives before that, since they became states. And they will be again as soon as the fracking boom ends because, being ‘conservative ‘ states they aren’t using the windfall to invest in infrastructure or education or basically anything for the future. In fact when the boom ends the people of NY, NJ, I’L etc will be paying for the inevitable cleanup.

    As for MD and VA being so high on the list, that is anomalous due to their surrounding DC. VA in particular has gradually lost the angry self destructive Trump state mentality and thereby made great strides in per capita income.

  16. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Yeah, it was a joke based on the “All in the Family” theme lyric. “We need a man like Dwight D. Eisenhower again” would be a more accurate subhed but the joke wouldn’t have worked.

    Yep. I tell people that Eisenhower was my favorite Democrat, as there is NO WAY that his policies and what he represented would fit in the GOP tent today!

    Strengthen Social Security?
    Increase minimum wage?
    Tax the rich to build infrastructure?
    Strengthen NATO?
    SOCIALISM !!! 🙂

  17. gVOR08 says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    They didn’t call them “Hoovervilles” because they thought he was a great guy.

    And we had tanks in DC before Trumpsky. MacArthur used them when he broke up the Bonus Marcher camps. A move that helped elect FDR.

  18. gVOR08 says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: There’s a lot of truth in the line that AOC is so far left she wants to return to Eisenhower’s policies.

  19. Teve says:

    @gVOR08: Some journalists pointed out over the last few days that older Dems and Republicans don’t understand AOC’s generation because they still cling to this nostalgic idea of Republicans as GHW Bush and Bob Dole, while all AOC has ever known of republicans is WMD lies, Lock Her Up, Sean Hannity, Merrick Garland, voter suppression, Kenyan Dictator, Terrorist Fist Bump, Birth Certificate, Benghazi, and Grab ’em by the Whatnot. To her they’ve only ever been malicious idiots.

  20. Teve says:

    Joyce Alene

    Verified account

    @JoyceWhiteVance
    17h17 hours ago
    More Joyce Alene Retweeted Matt Pearce
    This is an interesting point & reminder that @AOC’s generation doesn’t remember a more moderate Republican party that people my age remember. Because her views aren’t clouded by memories of a party that no longer exists, they may be more accurate.

  21. Michael Cain says:

    @MarkedMan: Tax donor/recipient status gets very strange in the western states. “Payments in lieu of taxes” counts as federal expenditures in the flow of funds, but shouldn’t in a donor/recipient comparison. Tens of billions of dollars are going to flow into Washington State and Idaho to clean up the huge messes at the Hanford Nuclear Facility and the INL and reflect payments now for doing things on the cheap decades ago. Nevada has fought tooth and nail to keep the feds from spending money on Yucca Mountain. The big dams are money makers for the feds — the revenue from selling electricity and irrigation water has always covered operating costs, maintenance, and the amortized cost of the original construction.

  22. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    The Trump states are all parasites and the more liberal states carry the load.

    All but 10 states get more money from the Feds than are paid in taxes.

    And looking at other criteria explains why. A small state with high incomes and very little in the way of federal land or facilities (like Conneticut) is going to have a negative balance almost by definition. Solid blue California is almost the same as purple Colorado, red Texas, really read Utah. That sameness can’t be explained by ideology or “Trump states.”

    And yes, the states around DC are just the most obvious example and prove the point, actually. Another example is New Mexico, which is so high on the list primarily because of very expensive government-sponsored entities (Los Alamos and Sandia being the two most well known).

    So no, it’s not “Trump” states leeching off the rest of the country, it’s multi-factoral. And, most of the population are actually “leeches” thanks to deficit spending, hence why the balance of payments is not equal.

  23. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Cain:

    Tens of billions of dollars are going to flow into Washington State and Idaho to clean up the huge messes at the Hanford Nuclear Facility and the INL

    But this is just the broken windows paradox writ large: jobs created to clean up a mess are still jobs.

    Look, as a progressive and oft-times liberal, I absolutely believe that people have different needs and we shouldn’t be counting every nickel as to who gets what. My comments were born of frustration that the people with the most needs are the ones who have been raised from birth that NY City is a horrible parasite when in fact it is the citizens of NYC that pay for most of their infrastructure. When the Trump states held up the Hurricane Sandy relief recipients because they were all drug dealing welfare moms and have caused the deaths of thousands in Puerto Rico because they are brown and speak Spanish but then whined endlessly about getting their hurricane relief money, you will note that although there was grumbling among the northerners there wasn’t the same hateful vindictiveness that pervades the south.

  24. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy:

    A small state with high incomes and very little in the way of federal land or facilities (like Conneticut)

    You have this exactly backward. States with high income taxes generally invest more in human and physical resources, whether it is schools or roads, and the population earns more money and therefore pays more taxes. Trump states invest squat in education (unless its to build a 10K seat high school football stadium) or public health or forward looking infrastructure and ferociously attack anything that might raise wages (aka unions). And the non-Trump states tend to have less federal land because they have invested more to preserve their own ecologies (next month I’ll spend a week in the 4M acre NY Adirondack State Park). Trump states just don’t think that far forward. And, let’s be realistic, Trump states need more federal facilities as a form of welfare (in a good way) transferring federal dollars to the backwards states.

  25. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    If you’re going to make a claim that “Trump States” are leeches, then you need some sort of coherent argument to explain why several “Trump States” are not actually leeches while other “blue” states are.

    And, for the record, I don’t think “Trump State” and “leech” is a useful or accurate framing. It’s not as if the distribution of federal taxes and spending massively shifted with Trump – these are trends that have been pretty stable over a long period. And the reality is that most states get more from the feds than they receive in taxes.

    And the non-Trump states tend to have less federal land because they have invested more to preserve their own ecologies (next month I’ll spend a week in the 4M acre NY Adirondack State Park).

    The amount of Federal land owned in the various states has absolutely nothing to do with the amount that states have “invested” to “preserve their own ecologies.” There is hardly any federal land in the Northeast because most of those states predate the existence of the United States itself. And the vast majority of federal lands in the west (where most federal land is actually located), was owned by the federal government prior to those states actually becoming states. I am unaware of any transfers of land from state to federal control due to “preserving ecologies” much less in amounts that would actually affect these numbers, but if you have something to share, then by all means share…

    And, let’s be realistic, Trump states need more federal facilities as a form of welfare (in a good way) transferring federal dollars to the backwards states.

    Except that’s not how it actually works in reality. Most federal facilities were created during or prior to WWII and continue to exist today for obvious reasons. There was never any kind of massive realignment of federal contracts, wages or grants (much less facilities) to “Trump States”. This has always been primarily driven by other factors like geography, access to resources, etc. The major growth in federal “leeching” has been in the states near DC, especially Virginia, as the federal government workforce and spending expanded over time. Again, this has nothing to do with partisan politics or Trump, this is the result of federal government growth and the fact that DC is a fixed-size piece of land.