Sunday, March 12, 2017

Brownback Agoniste

Rumors are flying that Sam Brownback is about to get a post in the Trump Administration. As he prepares to leave behind the flaming wreckage his policies have caused in Kansas, it's time for some amateur, armchair politico-psycho-analysis.

It's been interesting, if that's the right word, to see Brownback steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that the tax plan that he forced through in 2012 isn't working. Kansas has a $1bn deficit through the end of 2018, which you would think would speak for itself, but Brownback continues to wait for the magic beans to work, and has a whole staff of people dedicated to putting magnifying glasses to any small piece of good economic news they can find.

Of course, anyone who has been around since the '80s knows that while cutting taxes for the rich might (or, as in Kansas' case, might not) provide a temporary economic boost, it does not add to revenue or employment over the longer term. But oh, they do keep pushing it. Even now, Republicans in DC are trying to implement the old-time religion.

And “religion” it is. Sam Brownback is the paradigmatic example of the marriage between rightwing religion and ultra-conservative politics. In fact, “marriage” isn't the right term for it; that implies the coupling of two separate things. In Brownback's case there is no discernible difference between them – it's more like a melding, a unity. To the people who hold to it, rightwing religion and conservative politics are one and the same thing. Their politics is an article of faith, like a rightwing Nicene Creed.

Brownback has seemed exceptionally stubborn or obtuse as his policies have failed. The key is in this unity of conservative politics and rightwing religion. Brownback could no more repudiate supply side economics than he could repudiate Jesus. They are exactly the same thing to him.

People around Kansas are wondering why Brownback seems so checked out, why he isn't contributing at all to the attempt to fix the hole his policies have dug. The answer is, his belief system has collapsed, and rather than change or grow, he's refusing to acknowledge it – he's paralyzed by it. He might as well go to Rome, he's not capable of doing anything constructive here.

This melding of rightwing Christianity and conservative politics is a form of idolatry, and it is the most salient feature of the identity of about a quarter of the American population. Sam Brownback is its poster child.

Oh and by the way, all of Brownback's other signature policies, particularly welfare reform and gun proliferation, are also abject failures, but they are either less amenable to empirical analysis or have fewer people who care about them, or both. But they're disasters just the same.  

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