The Republican Party’s ability to advance its message through the media never ceases to amaze. Despite an almost complete lack of concrete ideas, details or substance of any sort, the party’s newest “Promise to America” has managed to captivate the political classes.
Better minds than mine have picked apart the plan to determine whether it would actually accomplish what it claims. A plan that mentions the enormous problem of federal debt over a dozen times without advocating any courses of action that would actually, you know, lower it, probably should have gone through a couple more rounds of editing before hitting the presses.
As economist Paul Krugman of The New York Times has pointed out, the Republicans make clear that the Department of Defense, veterans, Medicare and social security will not be the object of any spending cuts. Unfortunately for the GOP and the country, once those areas of federal spending are excluded, one would have to literally eliminate every single other government agency in order to balance the budget. Congress would actually have to cut its own funding in order to bring tax revenues in line with expenditures.
Despite this, the media has followed its usual routine when such plans are unveiled. Without mentioning the curious fact that a proposal whose main concern is federal spending contains no workable way to reduce it to a manageable level, the storyline almost entirely wonders how the plan will “play” with the public. Liberal opinion columnists have a field day with the newest round of conservative ridiculousness, but the right is easily able to dismiss any such criticisms as biased. Supposedly neutral media operatives fear being tarred with the bias label, so the plan’s merits are little discussed.
And so, Democrats are left on the defensive as Republicans claim the deficit hawk mantle in the face of logic and reality. Let’s recap: in a little less than two years, the 111th Congress and the Obama administration have overseen a Troubled Asset Relief Program that has actually repaid money to the federal government, passed a health care bill that is projected to lower the deficit over the next 10 years (partially through politically difficult cuts in Medicare Advantage, which the self-proclaimed small government right refuses to touch), and except for the stimulus package, operated under PAYGO rules that Bush-era Republicans ignored outright.
A little more recap: the last time Republicans controlled Congress, they passed an enormous tax cut for the wealthy that made future repair of the federal debt immensely more difficult, passed an also enormous prescription drug benefit financed entirely through deficit spending and used procedural tricks to hide the true cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Speaking of procedure, they also used budget reconciliation to pass the Bush tax cuts, which they later decried as unconstitutional when Democrats used the same technique to pass parts of health care reform.)
Yet somehow public anger is almost entirely focused on “big spending” Democrats, while the GOP, two short years after voters threw them out of both houses of Congress and the presidency in near-record numbers, has somehow become a paragon of fiscal sanity. At the risk of using a wildly inappropriate metaphor, conservative and independent voters who are ready to go back to the Republican Party that displayed such massive ineptitude in the 2000s bring to mind those unfortunate souls who keep returning to an abusive spouse, convinced that this time they’ve really changed.
I fear the same old tactics of obfuscation, fear-mongering and outright lying may bring victory to the GOP in November. But no one should be surprised when its promises turn out to be empty.