At first, it seemed that (a little like Obama) the Republicans had lost by winning. Now in control of the legislative agenda, they would be forced to take responsibility for the nation's intractable long-term budgetary problems while fighting a short-term economic slowdown of unusual size and duration.
Solving this Rubik's cube of a problem -- each step in the direction of solving one problem, like the deficit, takes you away from the solution to another problem, recovery, jobs and growth -- is not an enviable position to be in. And crafting a meaningful program for recovery will be the measure of the party and how serious it is about reforming the economy.
Now, with Sarah Palin's attack on the Fed and its program of quantitative easing, it becomes clear that the Tea Partiers have found a way to triangulate their way out of the responsibilities of governing. They'll remain the party of "No" by switching their attack from Obama to Bernanke. It's a neat trick: the GOP can keep blaming the "elite" for the country's problems and avoid offering their own solutions.
Just watch how Palin did this in her remarks. She lays it on thick with the bizarre Obama-as-Hitler trope.
In her speech, Palin raised the specter of uncontrollable inflation -- a legitimate concern with QE2 -- but conjured it with allusions to Weimar Germany. (Ok. Let's be real. Palin didn't do that herself. Some clever speechwriter or political operative made this artful turn):
The Fed's pump priming addiction has got our small businesses running scared, and our allies worried. The German finance minister called the Fed's proposals "clueless." When Germany, a country that knows a thing or two about the dangers of inflation, warns us to think again, maybe it's time for Chairman Bernanke to cease and desist."Germany, a country that knows a thing or two about the dangers of inflation . . . " That's brilliant. A simple appositive brands Bernanke as incompetent and dresses up Obama in a brown shirt. The "cease and desist" phrase got all the press but Palin's base was lapping up the nazi-talk.
When she wasn't rousing the boogeyman, Palin turned the attack on QE2 toward the familiar territory of tax-cutting. Again, the pivoting is exceptionally well done:
All this pump priming will come at a serious price. And I mean that literally: everyone who ever goes out shopping for groceries knows that prices have risen significantly over the past year or so. Pump priming would push them even higher. And it's not just groceries. Oil recently hit a six month high, at more than $87 a barrel. The weak dollar â€"- a direct result of the Fed's decision to dump more dollars onto the market -â€" is pushing oil prices upwards. That's like an extra tax on earnings."And extra tax on earnings . . . " It's a perfect wink: not only are these Washington big shots spending your money, they're trying to raise taxes on you without even telling you they're raising taxes.
The frustrating part of watching Palin and the GOP campaign is not whether one agrees with their ideas or opposes them. We could debate specific proposals to cut federal spending, entitlements and support for the states. Raising doubts about the Fed's strategy is perfectly legitimate and should probably be a bigger feature of the national debate. Slate makes the excellent point that there's no shortage of critics of QE2 on either end of the political, social or economic spectrum. But most of these critics have ideas about what the Fed or the government might do as an alternative.
Try to figure out what Palin and the Tea Party is in favor of here:
We don't want temporary, artificial economic growth bought at the expense of permanently higher inflation which will erode the value of our incomes and our savings. We want a stable dollar combined with real economic reform. It's the only way we can get our economy back on the right track.Real economic reform. What a great idea. But you'll be driven to distraction getting a meaningful plan out of them.
Image of Sarah Palin by sskennel