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GOP Has 2012 Trouble: Attacking Medicare And Social Security Could Be Death Of Republicans’ 2012 Hopes

Recent weeks have finally defined the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. The field has finally achieved a greater level of clarity as many candidates have opted out, running the absurd-to-formidable gamut from Donald Trump to Mitch Daniels. A smaller number have opted in, running the has-been to may-never-be gamut from Newt Gingrich to Tim Pawlenty, not to mention former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who officially entered the race yesterday.

A former Minnesota governor, Pawlenty officially joined the wannabe ranks last week with a speech aimed at defining himself as a fearless teller of hard truths (previously he had perhaps best been known for lacking any definition at all). This is smart on several levels. He quickly moved to fill the void left by Daniels, the governor of Indiana, whom many in the party had yearned for as a tough-minded fiscal hawk. And in part it is a strong bid for the mantel of not-Romney, the alternative to the former Massachusetts governor and current GOP front-runner. Romney is a laughably transparent flip-flopper, so Pawlenty’s new truth-teller frame could make him an ideal foil.

Politicians love to position themselves as tellers of hard truths, brave enough to boldly level with the voters. And the current tempestuous political climate, with its roiling discontent with politics as usual, especially lends itself to such a pose. Pawlenty is merely the latest candidate to seize this meme.

But his candidacy runs squarely afoul of Robert’s 13th rule of politics: People like the idea of hard truths and hard-truth tellers much more than they like the reality of them. You can ask straight shooters like Walter Mondale (“Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you. I just did.”), Paul “I’m not Santa Claus” Tsongas, and John “Straight Talk” McCain. Winning the presidency requires an aspirational element at odds with the doom-and-gloom that comes with those self-consciously trying to speak hard truths.

So kudos to Pawlenty for standing up to big ethanol in little Iowa. But while some may take off their hats to him for traveling to Florida in order to call for overhauls (read: cuts) of Social Security and Medicare, it might be merely to scratch one’s head. As Hot Air blogger Allahpundit quipped after Pawlenty’s Florida performance, “Alternate headline: ‘Pawlenty now unelectable in not one but two early primary states.’ ”

Maybe this is actually deep strategy. Many conservatives and Tea Partyers in particular seem intent these days on—as Ronald Reagan used to complain of some of his more gung-ho supporters—going “off the cliff with all flags flying.” Perhaps this is a clever way for Pawlenty to appeal to that “I’d rather lose being right” instinct.

An additional problem for would-be hard-truth tellers is that in the telling, these so-called truths often become vehicles for an even harder ideology. The attempt to conflate serious problems with ideologically inflexible and partisan solutions can create political tensions and open deadly political rifts. See the political abyss House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has marched his colleagues into over his plan to repeal and replace Medicare.

With the future insolubility of Medicare as a starting point, Ryan and the GOP have embarked on an emphatically ideological course. They hailed themselves as seriously facing a tough issue, and they spin the plan as an attempt to save the program, but all it would save would be the name “Medicare.” A guarantee of healthcare would be replaced with a voucher of diminishing value. If it fails to cover seniors’ costs . . . tough luck. The view was perhaps best summed up by Georgia GOP Rep. Rob Woodall, who chastised a constituent at a town hall meeting last month when she asked how, after Ryan’s reforms eliminated the guarantee of Medicare, she could expect to get medical coverage since she worked for a company that doesn’t offer it in their retirement package. “Hear yourself, ma’am,” he said. “You want the government to take care of you, because your employer decided not to take care of you. My question is, ‘When do I decide I’m going to take care of me?’ ”

Woodall, like many conservatives, fails to grasp why programs like Medicare were created. They were a response to a market failure—specifically an inability of senior citizens to get or pay for healthcare. But in Woodall’s world there are apparently no market failures; if seniors can’t get healthcare it’s because they simply won’t take responsibility for themselves. Of course in 1964, 44 percent of senior citizens had no health coverage, and the cost of medical bills had driven more than one third of them below the poverty line. If only they had had the moral fiber to take care of themselves!

Safe in a heavily conservative district, Woodall can spout such nonsense. But roughly 60 House Republicans represent districts Barack Obama won in 2008 and virtually all voted for the Ryancare overhaul. In this case, the gap between hard truths and hard ideology may be big enough to swallow a House majority.

Just ask the pollsters employed by the House GOP, who warned that the bill was a ticking time bomb, Politico reported last week. Or ask Jane Corwin, that bomb’s first casualty. She is the Republican who lost May’s special election in a GOP-leaning New York district in which the Ryan plan was the defining issue. Or ask Sens. Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Scott Brown, four of the five Senate Republicans who fled the plan last week (the fifth, Rand Paul, opposed it as not being conservative enough).

Or ask Gingrich, the former House speaker who drew party-wide opprobrium when he dismissed the Ryan plan as being so much “right-wing social engineering.” Pity poor Newt: He was just trying to tell a hard truth.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, June 3, 2011

June 3, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Consumers, Elections, GOP, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Medicaid, Medicare, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Senate, Seniors, Tea Party, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mad Men and Mad Women: Republicans And Social Engineering

Republicans hate social engineering, unless they’re doing it.

Wishing they had the power to repeal the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and get back to the repressed “Mad Men” world they crave, some conservative lawmakers grumpily quizzed upbeat military brass on Friday.

“We’re starting to try to conform the military to a behavior, and I remember going through the military, we took behaviors and we formed it to the military,” said Representative Allen West of Florida, warning ominously (and weirdly) that “this could be the camel getting his nose under the tent.”

The House Armed Services subcommittee hearing was led by Joe Wilson, the oh-so-subtle Republican congressman from South Carolina famous for yelling “You lie!” at President Obama. Wilson started off the hearing by saying that the legislation to let gays stop lying while they risk dying was rushed through in an “undemocratic” lame-duck session.

Two top Pentagon officials testified that the transition was going swimmingly, yet Republicans scoffed. Representative Austin Scott of Georgia demanded the price tag. Clifford Stanley, an under secretary of defense, replied that the training materials cost only $10,000.

Scott harrumphed, “If something was done at D.O.D. for $10,000, I would like to know what it was.” He said that hundreds of thousands had been spent training a soldier in his district to disarm I.E.D.’s, but the soldier wouldn’t re-enlist because of the “social policy.”

The Democrat Chellie Pingree of Maine jumped in to note that the cost of purging gays between 2004 and 2009 was $193.3 million: “It’s not only unconscionable … but the costs are horrendous.”

Scott persisted in looking for trouble, even after Vice Adm. William Gortney, director of the joint staff, said the Pentagon had seen no problems so far.

The congressman asked the admiral if he had ever dismissed anyone. Gortney said he had dismissed a young sailor who acknowledged being gay after “don’t ask, don’t tell” first passed.

“Did you discharge him from the service because he was gay?” Scott asked. “Or because he violated the standard of conduct?”

“Because he was gay,” Gortney said.

“He did not violate the standard of conduct before he was dismissed?” Scott pressed.

“He did not,” Gortney said.

“Well,” Scott said, once more at a loss, “that’s not the answer I thought you would give, to be honest with you.”

Gortney assured him there were “very few cases” of gays’ being dismissed for violating the standard of conduct.

After the Republican rout in November, the story line took hold that because of the recession and Tea Partiers’ fervent focus on the debt as a moral matter, divisive social issues were going on the back burner. But lo and behold, social issues have roared back. Many in the Tea Party have joined that chain-smoking, cocktail-quaffing Mad Man John Boehner in the martini party to put a retro focus on wedge issues, from gays to abortion.

Like Boehner, who complained that Democratic leaders were “snuffing out the America that I grew up in,” some Tea Partiers are jumping in a time machine. They can’t stop themselves from linking social issues to the budget.

“This pulls the mask back a little bit on the Tea Party movement,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland. “Adding riders against Planned Parenthood and gutting the environmental laws indicate that the Tea Party is focused on imposing a right-wing ideological agenda on the country and using the budget as a vehicle.”

Whether it’s upholding the Defense of Marriage Act, trying to defund Planned Parenthood, or aiming cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Endowment for the Arts, NPR and even AARP, House Republicans are in a lather that occludes their pledges to monomaniacally work on the economy.

When Mitch Daniels, the Indiana governor and Republican presidential aspirant, dared to urge his party to “mute” social issues, he was smacked.

“We cannot repair the economy without addressing the deep cultural issues that are tearing apart the family and society,” said Andy Blom of the American Principles Project. The presidential hopeful Rick Santorum even posited last week that abortions might be breaking the bank on Social Security.

The snowball of social rage will speed up as we head toward 2012, given that the Iowa caucuses are dominated by social conservatives. Pawlenty, Barbour and Huckabee have already talked about vitiating the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Because independent voters considered President Obama too partisan in his debut, they shifted their loyalties — and swept in one of the most ideological and partisan Republican caucuses in history. Now Obama will get back some of the independents because he seems reasonable by comparison.

One thing independents like to be independent of is government meddling in their personal lives. 

By: Maureen Dowd, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 2, 2011 

April 2, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Democracy, GOP, Independents, Politics, Privacy, Republicans, Right Wing, Swing Voters, Tea Party, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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