Originally a “zombie” was a reanimated corpse, but recently the term has expanded to signify a person under a spell without consciousness and self-awareness. A contemporary Republican politician.
Writing in The American Prospect, John Sides defined “Zombie Politics” as politics based upon ideas that are dead but live on. That capsulizes the 2013 Republican Party.
While there are many examples of Republican zombie politics, the two most recent have been the GOP responses to the end-of-year fiscal cliff and relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy. In the fiscal cliff negotiations, House Republicans stuck to their position of no tax increases until the supposed 12/31 deadline passed. Then a minority of Republicans agreed to the Obama plan, enough so it passed given overwhelming Democratic support.
Of course, no tax increases is a core Republican position based upon their belief that low rates grow the economy; it’s a fundamental tenet of Reaganomics, the trickle-down theory that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” It’s been widely discredited but nonetheless lives on as the cornerstone of zombie politics.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives initially failed to pass relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Then on January 4 the House approved a stripped down bill that provides only $9.7 billion for flood insurance. 67 Republicans voted against this. The most prominent was Paul Ryan, George Romney’s 2012 running mate, who said, “Unfortunately [the bill] refuses to distinguish—or even prioritize—disaster relief over pork-barrel spending." (This falsehood was immediately refuted by New York Republican Representative Peter King.)
But it should not have been a surprise that Republicans opposed disaster relief; they have a long history of doing this. Republicans typically justify their opposition with complaints about “pork-barrel spending” or “an supervised slush fund,” but their true concern is about validating the role of government as the relief agency of last resort. Republicans have no use for government. They hold tight to the zombie view that government is America’s number-one problem, even when it comes to providing aid for American disaster victims.
As 2013 begins, we can anticipate a series of battles between the White House and Congressional Republicans. In February, Congress has to approve lifting the nation’s borrowing limit. Republicans say they are unwilling to do this unless they get massive concessions from President Obama, such as cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. (These requests are amplified by the pending automatic cuts, “sequestrations,” totaling $1.2 trillion, split between defense and domestic spending.) Many Republicans claim that letting the President have increased spending authority is irresponsible. FactCheck.org reported, “Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Michele Bachmann, have said that the president wants ‘a blank check.’ Not true. First, he's asking to borrow money to pay obligations Congress has already approved.” Giving Obama a blank check is a zombie proverb.
Zombie priest Grover Norquist famously proclaimed, “Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.” Even though most Americans appreciate government services, Republicans are determined to shrink the size of government, no matter whom it hurts.
Given the heated discussion about the fiscal cliff and relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy, Washington politicians have for the moment stopped talking about job creation. Nonetheless, it should be the Obama Administration’s number-one-priority. After all, while the US is slowly recovering from The Great Recession, 12.2 million Americans are unemployed (7.8 percent of the workforce).
In his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention Obama highlighted his plan to create more jobs. Reporting for NPR, John Ydstie noted the President’s plan is based upon the American Jobs Act. proposed to Congress on September 8, 2011. Unfortunately, Republicans filibustered the primary provisions of Obama’s plan: “More spending on infrastructure, a tax cut for firms that hire new workers, aid to state and local governments, and a program to rebuild schools.”
The GOP’s resistance to the President’s jobs plan is based upon a conservative maxim that is dead but lives on: jobs are created by less government, lower taxes, and fewer regulations. This notion guided eight years of the Bush-Cheney Administration that saw a savage increase in monopoly capitalism and income inequality, and the loss of 3.5 million jobs.
What explains the allure of zombie politics?
For thirty years, Republicans have been listening to the same message: “government is bad,” “taxes are too high,” “citizens can enjoy public services without paying for them,” and “the free market will cure all problems.” Republican leaders, and Republicans in general, have been hypnotized. They’ve been cast under a spell that has diminished their capacity and made them woefully unaware of their own humanity.
Ronald Reagan, Milton Friedman, and the other progenitors of Reaganomics are dead but their evil ideas live on to guide the contemporary Republican Party. Zombie politics.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org