Banking on teh Crazy

I haven’t yet commented on the Republican governors considering declining their state’s stimulus money (or actually doing it), mostly because I haven’t yet figured out what I think about it. Steve Benen calls it a race to out crazy one another, but that seems a little too credulous for my liking.

First of all, the obvious connection between Governors Jindal, Palin, Barbour, and Sanford is that they’d all like to be President, and are all clearly convinced that opposing the stimulus is your best bet in the Republican Party. And I’m sure that’s a wise calculation, but there’s a bit of a difference between opposing the bill and actively turning down money for your state. As I noted the other day, national politics is relatively short on governors who served during economic downturns, mostly because it’s hard to accumulate a list of accomplishments to run on as a result. You get to cut spending on state services, and that’s a hard sell to make down the road, even to the national Republican Party. So I suppose these governors are trying to distinguish themselves, but it seems a little odd all the same.

For one thing, they’re taking an awfully big gamble. Congressional Republicans opposing the stimulus bill makes sense; if it works you’re not going to get credit regardless, but if it fails, or is seen to have failed, you can gain from having opposed it. Now that it’s passed, any governor actually thinking about turning down the money is betting on an awfully big stretch; that their state’s economy will do better than the rest of the country without the money. That’s the only way this can really work out as a positive for them, and the only way they could really sell this nationally. Obviously that’s quite a bit unlikely, and the downside is much starker; the national economy recovers, at least somewhat, while your state continues to suffer, or even to recover at a pace slower than the national average. In that case you’ve not only hurt your own personal political career, you’ve provided an incredibly stark, side by side comparison of two competing worldviews, and if you bust you’ll have a hard time defending your entire ideology for a generation or so. It won’t be an abstract debate over competing economc theories, it will be an objective assessment of the two theories played out in real time.

Of course, it’s also possible that the governors are trying to short circuit the plan. That theory would be bolstered by what has been refused so far; Jindal wants to refuse additional millions for unemployment insurance, and Sanford is going to refuse money to make buildings more energy efficient. These are not only some of the most popular aspects of the package, but also among the most stimulative. The wrench in this view, I think, it that it’s just hard to see how refusing money to be spent in Louisiana or South Carolina is going to have a huge ripple effect on the national economy. Neither state is all that big, and there’s nothing particularly special about either state that gives it a disproportionate impact on the national economy. So the most likely outcome is that these state economies lag behind the rest of the country, which is bad for the citizens in those states, but also bad for the governors managing the situation as well.

It is, in other words, totally crazy.

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