Chait argues that Republicans' failure to counterpropose new and specific spending cuts arises less from a cautious negotiating strategy than from a victimization by their own ideological propaganda.
Republicans think government spending is huge, but they can’t really identify ways they want to solve that problem, because government spending is not really huge....
[I]f you’re not willing to inflict epic levels of suffering on the very poor, there just aren’t a lot of cuts to be had out there....
It’s not just that Republicans disagree with this; they don’t seem to understand it.
I subscribe to Chait's theory on the same explanatory level on which I subscribe to Ezra Klein's maxim, as expressed a few months ago in Columbia Journalism Review: "[T]he people in charge aren’t just wrong or bought off, but ... quite often, they fundamentally don’t know what they’re doing." There looms an immense chasm between the seeming competence behind Washington's august titles--United States Senator, United States Representative--and the reality of their embodiments. Louie Gohmert, anyone? Or Jim Inhofe? Virginia Foxx?
That said, Chait's theory tends to collapse when he suggests that even today's ideological batch of Randian Republicans are "not willing to inflict epic levels of suffering on the very poor." Of course they are. It's just that the ideologues don't see their nihilism as an "infliction"; they see it as a liberation--the poor are poor only because they're being kept poor by a goodies-dispensing government; yet subsequent to a brief period of post-liberation adjustment, these former safety-net-snared wretches would gather their wits, pull themselves up, and begin their life journeys to a grotesquely fat 401(k). The American Dream. All government must do is get the hell out of the way.
It's a supremely simplistic, effortless grasp of complex society. Hence its appeal. In the genealogy of anti-intellectualism, it's a direct descendant of Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign mantra that liberalism's "big trouble" is that it doesn't understand simplicity. Today's dispute between President Obama and John Boehner's radical faction is in its 48th year.
But the ideologues are still politicians. And after the pounding they took in November, they're reluctant to go all Paul Ryanish again, or rather so soon. Thus their failure to counterpropose new and specific spending cuts indeed arises from a cautious negotiating strategy.