More interesting than Obama’s big speech about the economy (he’s got another one coming up in a few days about Iraq) was the Republican response delivered by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindall. A lot of the commentary has been focused on his poor performance and similarity to a sit-com character (Kenneth the Page from 30 Rock), but I was more interested in this excerpt in which Jindal attacks Obama’s stimulus bill on the grounds that:
Their legislation is larded with wasteful spending . . . It includes … $140 million for something called ‘volcano monitoring.’ Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.
Conservatives believe in smaller government but even the most die-hard libertarian accepts that there are basic services for which there is no market based solution and the state must play a limited role. Monitoring volcanoes to warn people when they’re about to erupt falls pretty firmly into that category so its fascinating to see the Republican Party take a stand thats more extreme than the wild-eyed fringes of the political far right. Conservative columnist David Brooks from the New York Times summed it up pretty well:
I think Bobby Jindal is a very promising politician, and I oppose the stimulus because I thought it was poorly drafted. But to come up at this moment in history with a stale “government is the problem,” “we can’t trust the federal government” – it’s just a disaster for the Republican Party. The country is in a panic right now. They may not like the way the Democrats have passed the stimulus bill, but that idea that we’re just gonna – that government is going to have no role, the federal government has no role in this, that – In a moment when only the federal government is actually big enough to do stuff, to just ignore all that and just say “government is the problem, corruption, earmarks, wasteful spending,” it’s just a form of nihilism. It’s just not where the country is, it’s not where the future of the country is. There’s an intra-Republican debate. Some people say the Republican Party lost its way because they got too moderate. Some people say they got too weird or too conservative. He thinks they got too moderate, and so he’s making that case. I think it’s insane, and I just think it’s a disaster for the party. I just think it’s unfortunate right now.
I had a similar feeling when I heard Phil Goff speak out against the suspension of payments into the Cullen SuperFund; a lot of people have pointed out the vacuousness of Goff’s argument but I don’t think there’s been enough of a focus on how utterly fucking insane it is for the leader of the Labour Party to be demanding that the government borrow money to invest it in the stock market during a catastrophic financial crisis.
Were the positions reversed and National were advocating the policy its not hard to imagine the howls of outrage from the left-wing blogs: ‘Slippery John Key wants to mortgage this country’s future so he can dish out the cash to his rich stockbroker mates’. Repeat at high volume until election day.
Not only is Labour’s policy bad economics it’s also very bad politics. The Cullen fund will almost certainly lose money again this year, and possibly again the year after, the Nat’s look set to suspend payments so each time a loss is announced the government will be able to crow about how much more we would have lost if Phil Goff were in charge.
Labour’s instincts here are essentially correct – superannuation IS going to be a huge political issue for the forseeable future, and someday it might be a vote-winner for them. But until then they need to keep their heads down and formulate some intelligent policy, because trying to win news cycles against a wildly popular government three years out from an election with half-witted ideas like this one is not going to be a winning strategy. I was filled with optimism when Goff and King took over the party, now I just have the same kicked-in-the-balls feeling Conservatives in the US must have.