I enjoy the London Review of Books but I’m not a fan of their policy of hiring English people to write about U.S. politics. In theory it could work just fine but in practice there seem to be problems. Recall the notorious line from a couple years ago, “But viewed in retrospect, it is clear that it has been quite predictable.”

More recently I noticed this, from John Lanchester:

Republicans, egged on by their newly empowered Tea Party wing, didn’t take the deal, and forced the debate on raising the debt ceiling right to the edge of an unprecedented and globally catastrophic US default. The process ended with surrender on the part of President Obama and the Democrats. There is near unanimity among economists that the proposals in the agreed package will at best make recovery from the recession more difficult, and at worst may trigger a second, even more severe downturn. The disturbing thing about the whole process wasn’t so much that the Tea Partiers were irrational as that they were irrationalist: they were consciously pursuing a course of action which made no economic sense, as part of a worldview which is essentially theological [emphasis added]. They know that everyone else knows that they truly don’t care about the consequences of their actions, and the prospect of the Tea Party wing being in government is truly frightening. ‘Sane Republican’ is not an oxymoron, not yet – but we’re heading that way.

Huh? The Tea Party activists have several goals, #1 of which is to unseat Obama in 2012, and one step of that goal is to shoot down any stimulus plans that might juice the economy between now and then. So it’s not at all “irrational” (let alone “irrationalist”) for them to pursue a strategy which, in Lanchester’s words, “will at best make recovery from the recession more difficult, and at worst may trigger a second, even more severe downturn.”

You can also think about it tactically. By refusing to compromise, the conservative Republicans got the Democrats to give in.

Or you can take the long view. Conservative Republicans would like a long-term balanced budget with low inflation and low taxes on the rich. With that as a goal, it’s not unreasonable to fight any expansion of spending on items they do not support.

I’m not saying you have to agree with Republican politicians or Tea Party activists here; it just seems silly to describe them as irrational. They just have goals which are much different from Lanchester’s (and, for that matter, from many Americans).

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