Republicans can't blush
Some politicians need to learn that flip-flopping may lead to serious injury
By Barry Gordon 06/02/2011
I have recently come to the conclusion that Republicans, i.e., those elected to Congress, are constitutionally incapable of feeling shame or embarrassment. Maybe they blush at things like Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction or the occasional celebration of open gayness on “Glee.” More likely, they would have just felt anger as they watched the moral fabric of our great nation being destroyed by liberal Hollywood. What I mean is that they are able to say the most ridiculous, often clearly untrue things with a completely straight face. They are blithely willing to ignore the contradictions and inconsistencies inherent in their own rigid ideology and to turn a blind eye to every instance in which their actions fail to match their rhetoric.
Lately, there have been several instances in which Republican hypocrisy has been clearly in view. Let’s begin with Mitt Romney’s tortured speech to Michigan students about the “differences” between his Massachusetts health care reform law and the one President Obama pushed through last March. The only real difference he could draw was that his was a state plan and Obama’s was federal and that states should be allowed to find their own solutions. Yet his plan is remarkably similar to the national plan, with its individual requirement to purchase insurance, its subsidies and tax incentives and its public exchange, and he once touted it as “a model for the nation.” Romney’s biggest complaint is the old argument that “one size doesn’t fit all.” However, he ignored the fact that the national plan allows states to create their own path to universal coverage as long as national goals and standards are achieved.
The idea of the individual mandate has been attributed to economist Mark Pauly from the Wharton School of Economics, who brought it to the attention of the first President Bush. It was used as the basis for the Republican alternative to Bill Clinton’s health care plan, which placed a mandate on employers. But recently, Republicans have treated the individual mandate like the Black Plague. Romney and Newt Gingrich have still not totally disowned the idea, but arch-conservative US Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has gone so far as to call it unconstitutional. This is the same DeMint who, in 2007, described the Romney plan as “making freedom work for everyone.” Warning: A flip-flop this severe and sudden may result in whiplash.
Or how about Newt Gingrich? On “Meet the Press,” he laughingly described Barack Obama as the “food stamp” president, pointing out the fact that more people have been on food stamps under Obama’s presidency than ever before. That may be true, but Newt simply ignored the fact that Obama is still dealing with the effects of a recession that was largely caused by Republican policies (with the help, admittedly, of some Democrats like Bill Clinton) and that began under a Republican administration. The subprime crisis was a result of a combination of deregulation of the financial industry, cutthroat competition by the banks and mortgage industries to offer more and more risky mortgages, and sheer greed. Some could argue it was a low point for free-market ideology. Yet the Reeps are now insisting that what little Wall Street reform Obama was able to push through a recalcitrant Senate should be cut back. They again insist that what Wall Street really needs is more competition. You know, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they’re not hypocrites after all — they’re just stupid.
Then last week, all those folks who have said that the national deficit and debt are the greatest potential crises facing mankind had an opportunity to make a dent by repealing billions in tax breaks for oil companies that are currently enjoying record profits. Only two Republicans voted with the majority of Democrats to eliminate the subsidies (three Democrats went the other way). Every other Republican voted “no,” including many who had previously voiced support for their elimination.
The other point that is simply ignored is that the deficit was the product of George W. Bush’s tax cuts and George W. Bush’s wars, coupled with the actions that Obama took to save the country from the brink of collapse because of George W. Bush’s recession. But for eight years of Bush, the deficit today would be minute and might not even exist.
I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. Republicans are able to excoriate positions they themselves promoted not long ago. They are able to yell about lowering taxes and cutting deficits without recognizing the not-so-subtle contradiction between the two. They are able to blame Democrats for mistakes that are easily laid at the Republicans’ own feet. All without a hint of pink coming into their cheeks. My late mother would describe this as “chutzpah.” I guess it’s a nicer word than “hypocrite.” I’ll let you decide which one fits.
Barry Gordon teaches political science at Cal State LA and is the co-host of “City Beat” on KPAS. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.