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The GOP’s Lies And ‘Monstrous’ Lies

In politics these days, there are lies, “monstrous lies,” and statistics. By lies I mean the mundane nonsense that dribbles out of politicians’ mouths when the facts don’t suit them or they just don’t know any better. By “monstrous lies,” if I can borrow the phrase of the moment, I refer to the grander deceptions swallowed by whole political movements, delusions and deceptions that infect larger issues of policy and worldview.

Statistics in this case, along with pesky facts, help expose and distinguish the two species of falsehood—both of which have been on dramatic display during the GOP presidential primary campaign.

Take, for example, Michele Bachmann, who is practically a walking, talking full-employment plan for journalistic fact-checkers. Appearing at last week’s Republican debate (sponsored by CNN and the Tea Party Express—does that mean that the Tea Party is now part of the lamestream media?), Bachmann repeated a favorite talking point, that the Constitution forbids states to mandate that their citizens buy health insurance, Romneycare-style. “If you believe that states can have it and that it’s constitutional, you’re not committed” to repealing the Affordable Care Act, she argued. But the conservative case against the healthcare law rests on the notion that because the Constitution does not explicitly authorize such a law, the federal government is barred from instituting one. Since the 10th Amendment reserves powers not delegated to the federal government back to the states, it is constitutional for, say, Massachusetts to require its citizens to purchase health insurance (or car insurance, for that matter). Bachmann’s stance, one blogger at the influential conservative blog Red State argued, is “either ignorance on display or dishonest pandering.”

Bachmann was even more egregious after the debate, when she went on Fox News Channel, and later the Today show, and asserted that Gardasil, the vaccine that Texas Gov. Rick Perry had tried to mandate for Texas schoolgirls, caused “mental retardation.” It’s such whole-cloth twaddle that even the likes of Rush Limbaugh (“she might have jumped the shark”) and the Weekly Standard (“Bachmann seemed to go off the deep end”) blasted her for it.

But Bachmann is literally and figuratively small potatoes, Perry’s arrival having returned her to the lower tier of GOP contenders. And she is minor league compared to Perry in the “monstrous lie” department.

The phrase of course comes from his memorable description of Social Security. “It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, you’ve paid into a program that’s going to be there,” Perry said at his first presidential debate. “Anybody that’s for the status quo with Social Security today is involved with a monstrous lie to our kids, and that’s not right.” Elsewhere he has called the program “by any measure … a failure” and cited it as “by far the best example” of an extra-constitutional program “violently tossing aside any respect for our founding principles.”

It’s a catchy turn of argument, but one monstrously divorced from reality. His “failure” kept nearly 14 million seniors and 1.1 million children out of poverty last year, according to Census Bureau data. Here are the facts about Social Security: Without any modification, it will pay out full benefits for the next 24 years. Starting in 2035, its trust fund will no longer be able to pay full benefits. Instead it will pay roughly three quarters benefits through 2084, which is as foreseeable a future as anyone can peer into in these matters—a problematic future, but hardly a monstrous one and certainly not an impossible one.

Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office has produced 30 policy recommendations, some combination of which could fix the Social Security shortfall. Here’s one: Remove the payroll tax cap so that more wages are subject to the payroll tax. That would make the program solvent for the 75-year window—again, hardly a monstrous situation. (To put it another way, the Social Security shortfall figures to be roughly 0.8 percent of GDP—roughly the same as the cost of extending the Bush tax cuts over the same period.)

Social Security wasn’t the only topic this week of Texas-size Perry misinformation. Obama “had $800 billion worth of stimulus in the first round of stimulus,” Perry said. “It created zero jobs.”

This gem—a staple of GOP talking points—earned a “Pants on Fire” rating from PolitiFact, which pointed to several independent analyses that came to quite different conclusions. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the first round of stimulus created or saved between 1.3 million and 3.6 million jobs; HIS/Global Insight put the number at 2.45 million, Macroeconomic Advisers at 2.3 million, and Moody’s at 2.5 million. The GOP may disdain jobs that come from public spending (recall Speaker John Boehner’s “so be it” comment when asked about budget cuts leading to fewer jobs), but they cannot seriously argue that the economy would be better off if the ranks of the unemployed were 2.5 million persons more swollen. So instead forgo the inconvenient truth in favor of the monstrous lie.

These lies are monstrous because they are not one-offs, but are central to the GOP case—that Social Security (except, they are quick to add, for those currently on it) and the stimulus plan don’t work. So they have real-world policy consequences—see the emerging conservative line of attack against Obama’s American Jobs Act, that it is a stimulus retread. “Four hundred-plus billion dollars in this package,” Perry concluded at the debate. “And I can do the math on that one. Half of zero jobs is going to be zero jobs.”

He may be able to do math, but his grasp on the facts is tenuous at best.


By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, September 22, 2011

September 22, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Class Warfare, Conservatives, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economy, Elections, Federal Budget, GOP, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Teaparty, Voters, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The GOP’s Apology Primary: Love Means Always Having To Say You’re Sorry

In the 2012 Republican presidential race, love apparently means always having to say you’re sorry.

On an array of issues, the field of GOP contenders is facing enormous pressure from an ascendant conservative base to renounce earlier positions that challenged orthodoxy on the right. Their response to those demands could cast a big shadow over not only next year’s Republican primary but also the general-election contest against President Obama.

The emergence of these pressures testifies to a decisive shift in the GOP’s balance of power. The ideas now drawing the most fire from conservative activists–including support for a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse-gas emissions, a mandate on individuals to purchase health insurance, and a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants–all flowered in Republican circles during the middle years of George W. Bush’s presidency, especially among governors.

In different ways, each of these proposals embodied the common belief that Republicans had to broaden their message beyond a conventional conservative argument focused almost exclusively on reducing government spending, taxes, and regulation. Intellectually, these initiatives reflected an impulse to redefine conservatism in ways that accepted a role for government in empowering individuals or promoting market-based solutions. Politically, they reflected the belief that to build a lasting majority, Republicans needed to attract more minority voters, especially Hispanics, and to loosen the Democratic hold on blue states by reclaiming more suburban independents.

At varying points, this tendency operated under different names, including “compassionate conservatism” and “national greatness conservatism.” But the shared belief “was the sense that the Republican Party, in order to revitalize itself, needed to … show that it had modernized,” said Pete Wehner, who directed the Office of Strategic Initiatives in Bush’s White House.

Behind that conviction, Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress in 2003 created an entitlement by establishing the Medicare prescription drug benefit. In 2006, with Bush’s support, 23 GOP senators voted with 39 Democrats to provide a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

In the states, this instinct produced health care reform proposals from Govs. Mitt Romney in Massachusetts and Arnold Schwarzenegger in California that centered on an individual mandate, as well as initiatives from many GOP governors to promote alternative energy and to impose mandatory limits on the carbon emissions linked to global climate change. Republican governors played driving roles in creating regional multistate alliances to limit carbon emissions in the Midwest (Tim Pawlenty in Minnesota); the Northeast (George Pataki in New York); and the West (Jon Huntsman in Utah and Schwarzenegger). Huntsman joined then-Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona in 2006 to produce a bipartisan Western governors’ plan that favored legalization over deportation for illegal immigrants.

Many hard-core conservatives always bristled at these initiatives. But in those years, they lacked the leverage to entirely suppress them. Now, though, the party’s most conservative elements have clearly regained the upper hand. The tipping point was the election of Barack Obama and his pursuit of an agenda that significantly expanded Washington’s reach across many fronts. His initiatives produced a powerful back-to-basics reaction among Republicans.

The result has been to revert the party’s message toward one focused almost solely on shrinking government. “Obama, by the way he governed, shifted the debate into a much more traditional Democratic-Republican divide over the role of government,” notes Wehner, now a senior fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center. “That’s pushed to the side or capsized these other issues.”

That dynamic has left the 2012 GOP contenders facing multiplying demands to abandon and apologize for positions they took in what now looks like a brief period of Republican glasnost.

Pawlenty has already apologized for imposing carbon limits in Minnesota but hasn’t yet renounced his parallel support for requiring utilities to generate more of their power from renewable sources, which some conservatives have also demanded. Huntsman, as he considers the race, has abandoned his previous climate policies but not yet walked back his tilt toward legalization for illegal immigrants. Romney renounced his favorable comments about legalizing undocumented immigrants (as well as his earlier backing of abortion rights) during his 2008 run, but he drew a surprisingly firm line this month by reaffirming his support for his health insurance mandate in Massachusetts. Newt Gingrich, who has faced similar complaints about his earlier support for an individual mandate and efforts to control carbon emissions, hasn’t fully tossed aside either.

These maelstroms leave the candidates without many good options. To dig in behind earlier positions promises unending collisions with conservatives (as Romney has now done on health care). But abandoning too many positions under pressure could open the eventual nominee to effective attacks from Democrats. “If these candidates are now sliding back on things they once believed, it raises questions about whether they can be a strong leader,” says Bill Burton, the former deputy White House press secretary who is heading an independent Democratic campaign effort for 2012. If voters agree, the 2012 Republicans may feel sorry later for saying sorry so often now.

By: Ronald Brownstein, Political Director, Atlantic Media, The Atlantic, May 20, 2011

May 23, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Climate Change, Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, Exploratory Presidential Committees, GOP, Government, Governors, Health Reform, Ideologues, Ideology, Immigration, Individual Mandate, Medicare, Politics, President Obama, Regulations, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Taxes | , , , , | Leave a comment


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