Republicans never gave a shit about the deficit, but they’ll definitely pretend they do again. Let’s be ready this time.
You may be shocked to learn Republicans are eagerly exploding the deficit after a decade of using fears of financial imbalance to stunt our recovery.
It’s shocking in the way the sun coming up or a Burrito Supreme giving you gas or Donald Trump defending a Republican accused of abusing women is shocking, in that being shocked by it requires pretending that it doesn’t happen all the time. With a few notable exceptions, Republican presidents have grown the deficit every chance they’ve gotten in the last 50 years.
You could say that this is cynicism and shows Republicans don’t have any coherent philosophy — but that would miss how central exploding the deficit is to the conservatism.
Cutting rich people’s taxes to drive up the deficit to justify destroying the government is the underlying principle of conservative governance. Republicans believe in exploding the deficit when it helps rich people and cutting it when it helps anyone else. And as soon as there is another Democratic president, the Universe willing they’ll pretend to care about it again, the way Rand Paul pretended to care about it just weeks after voting to increase the deficit by a margin larger than the GDP of all but three states.
Oh, it’s different because tax cuts let “me” keep ‘my money,” they say. Where cutting other forms of spending is taking money away from “them.” If you don’t think this is a racial dog whistle, just picture who Republicans are thinking about when they say “me” and who comes to mind when they talk about “them.”
This is a function of the conservative worldview as defined by cognitive scientist Dr. George Lakoff:
Michael Linden, a Fellow at Roosevelt Institute and Policy & Research Director at the Hub Project, notes that this problem vexes Democrats because the party has people in it who actually care about the deficit.
“The other problem is that the mainstream media has a strong bias toward traditional deficit-hawkery, and Dems are sensitive to the views of the WaPo editorial board,” he said.
Knowing that Republicans will develop sudden deficit fears whenever it’s time to punish anyone who is at the bottom of their hierarchy, Democrats need to plan ahead and start fighting back the way Republicans do — by not having any substantive debate about the deficit.
First of all, give up any hope that being shamed over deficit hypocrisy will limit Republican depravity.
Paul Ryan had no problem voting for everything George W. Bush did to give us a trillion dollar deficit during more solid economic times and then bringing the economy to the brink of default and meltdown to get cuts during a massive recession. He never showed any shame and the press never ever expected him to.
“You need emotion to persuade,” the Dilbert guy notes. “And hypocrisy is such a universal human quality that it’s hard to get worked up about it when you see it.”
Next, avoid the deficit frame.
“The ‘deficit’ is a bogeyman scare word that everyone has been trained to respect,” Gil Durán, co-host of the FrameLab Podcast with Dr. Lakoff. “It goes back to the false idea that government budget is family budget.”
And even if you buy the federal budget as family budget nonsense, Republicans still make little sense, Durán explains:
It’s like saying Dad can spend as much as he wants on guns, booze and cocaine, but Mom is not allowed to buy school clothes, food and medicine for the kids. It’s not a question of whether the money will be spent. It’s a question of who has control over the nation’s priorities. Republicans love deficits.
They also love the deficit debate because it invokes conservative ideas and frames, which is why Senator Paul shamelessly pivoted back to it.
We need to win the battle of the ideas by making the debate about what we should be doing with our money. For instance, for almost the exact amount of money Republicans increased the deficit, we could cancel all of America’s student debt. Likewise, emphasizing the people who will actually be hurt by the cuts — the way National ADAPT did so effectively in the fight over Obamacare repeal — frames the debate in a way that minimizes the reflex the press has to taking Republicans seriously.
Schools in Oklahoma are going to four days a week so the teachers can work at Walmart on Monday and Republicans just passed a law that allows rich kids to inherit 135 times the average American income tax-free without ever working a day in their lives. Let’s debate priorities, not numbers.
The Stimulus and Obamacare were both tremendous successes that were less generous and effective than they could have been because of fears about government spending Republicans only pretended to have. Let’s not make this mistake again.
[Image by Kurtis Garbutt | Flickr]