Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Republicans join the income inequality bandwagon with post-truth spin (updated)

For years we watched the Republican Party put everything they had into total obstruction in an attempt to de-legitimize President Obama and accomplish what Sen. McConnell said was their number one goal...to ensure that he was a one-term president. It didn't work.

In the process of implementing that strategy of obstruction, Republicans were forced to embrace increasingly radical positions due to President Obama's consistent efforts to reach out to them. Eventually that led to an embrace of post-policy politics where the sum total of the Republican platform was to oppose anything the President supported.

There are growing signs that at least the Republican leadership has recognized how badly this strategy has failed and are trying to come up with something new. The first signal came when Speaker Boehner called out the teapublicans and passed a bipartisan budget bill in December. All of the sudden instead of hostage-taking and threats, we heard pleas for "finding common ground."

And now, leading Republicans are joining the bandwagon of highlighting the issue of income inequality and feigning concern for the poor and middle class. In other words, they know their goose is cooked if they don't turn around the message of simply dumping on those who are struggling economically by calling them the "takers."

This week we'll see Sen. Rubio give a speech about his proposals to address poverty and Rep. Ryan is going to be interviewed by Brian Williams to share his thoughts on the same subject. Sen. Paul has been talking about what to do to revitalize Detroit and Rep. Cantor has a whole web site devoted to his proposals to Make Life Work for More People.

Since Rep. Cantor has been the most specific so far, I checked out his proposals on that web site. It will come as no surprise that they are the warmed over versions of the Republican ideas of the past. Dig past the pretty pictures and misleading rhetoric and you'll find that he wants to repeal Obamacare, privatize Medicare, blockgrant Medicaid, take away workers rights to overtime pay and voucherize public education.

The fact that these policies are dressed up as efforts to reduce income inequality signals that Republican leadership is returning to their roots in post-truth politics as described by David Roberts.
Republicans thus talk about "taxes" and "spending" and "regulation" in the abstract, since Americans oppose them in the abstract even as they support their specific manifestations. They talk about cutting the deficit even as they slash taxes on the rich and launch unfunded wars. They talk about free markets even as they subsidize fossil fuels. They talk about American exceptionalism even as they protect fossil-fuel incumbents and fight research and infrastructure investments.

In short, Republicans have mastered post-truth politics. They've realized that their rhetoric doesn't have to bear any connection to their policy agenda. They can go through different slogans, different rationales, different fights, depending on the political landscape of the moment. They need not feel bound by previous slogans, rationales, or fights.
In its current form, these Republican leaders think they can talk about income inequality and reducing poverty even as they propose policies that would decimate the very programs that have worked. In other words, its the exact same agenda Mitt Romney was promoting when he so blithely dismissed 47% of us in the 2012 election. Talk about trying to put lipstick on a pig!

One way to look at this is that the Democrats have clearly won the battle over the playing field. If everyone is going to join in embracing the ultimate goal of reducing income inequality, then it becomes a disagreement over strategies. That is a very different kind of politics than what we've been seeing with total obstruction and a post-policy emphasis. In many ways it feeds right into the kind of conversation President Obama has been suggesting for a very long time.
Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will. This is more than just a matter of "framing," although clarity of language, thought, and heart are required. It's a matter of actually having faith in the American people's ability to hear a real and authentic debate about the issues that matter.
But when the post-truth nature of these Republican proposals is revealed, it will be interesting to see if their recourse is to simply revert back to obstruction. Until they quit playing power games and get serious about an agenda, the Republican leadership will lack the authenticity that is required for that kind of conversation to happen.

UPDATE: Josh Barro weighs in with: The problem with the Republican antipoverty agenda is that it doesn't exist.
That's why, as Costa and Philip Rucker describe, Republicans aren't really having a policy discussion about poverty at all. They're having a messaging discussion. Some want to pick up Jack Kemp's "baton" of talking about social mobility and free enterprise. Social conservatives want to talk about the importance of families to alleviating poverty. Rand Paul wants to add more "anti-government broadsides" to the message.

What all these Republican approaches have in common is that they aren't policy ideas at all, or they're policies that won't do anything about poverty.
IOW, the messaging discussion is just more "post-truth" politics.


  1. When the nature of their policies are revealed? By whom? The Media, cuz they're going to play along straight across the board.

  2. It's the latest iteration of what they once called "Compassionate Conservatism".