Political Animal


May 09, 2013 9:52 AM Wonder Where They Could Have Gotten That Idea?

By Ed Kilgore

This morning’s knee-slapper is in a report from The Hill’s Jonathan Easley:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) ripped the media in a speech Tuesday to the Ripon Society, arguing press coverage is partly responsible for the GOP’s messaging woes.
Cantor, who has tried to recast the image of the GOP with his Making Life Work agenda, said the party’s economic message is often drowned out by coverage of debt and deficits.
“The media has done a great job of sort of shoving us in the corner, because all they say we are concerned with is somehow balancing the budget and cutting spending and taking things away from people,” Cantor said. “What we’re trying to say is that we need to do those things in order to reenergize the opportunity machine of America. We’re about giving people opportunity. And that’s really what our agenda this year is about.”

Gee, wonder where media types could have gotten the idea Republicans were a mite obsessed with debt, deficits and domestic spending? Could it be the fact that they were calling incessantly for deficit reduction measures at every single point during and after the Great Recession? Were the GOP’s serial threats (which continue today) to throw the entire global economy into chaos if they don’t get spending-cuts-only deficit reduction concessions of an epochal nature actually taken seriously?

Since it is quite literally incredible that Cantor doesn’t understand all that, it’s more likely his intention in lashing the media is to get them to report that Republicans don’t enjoy insisting on public-sector austerity. That probably is an argument worth making for a Republican leader these days, because there is in fact a lot of evidence that conservatives view with great satisfaction prospects for shredding the social safety net as an end in itself, and would (because they often have) support it even if the economy were booming. Sure, you could say they do so because they believe it is necessary in order to “reenergize the opportunity machine.” But we all know that for many conservatives that’s another way of saying lazy bums dependent on the federal government need to experience some real fear of starvation and then maybe they’ll learn to be grateful for whatever opportunities the nation’s “job creators”—the Atlases from whose efforts the rest of us are parasitically benefitting—see fit to give them.

Do Republican sincerely believe that in the long run their policies are in the interests of all Americans? Probably so, in the same sense that advocates of every political ideology think it will create the best possible society. It just so happens that this particular ideology takes a pretty big detour through entirely avoidable human misery to reach its goals. Every day now, we hear another economist admit that deficit reduction measures, and particularly spending cuts, have perpetuated high unemployment and sluggish growth, as Jackie Calmes and Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times note today:

The nation’s unemployment rate would probably be nearly a point lower, roughly 6.5 percent, and economic growth almost two points higher this year if Washington had not cut spending and raised taxes as it has since 2011, according to private-sector and government economists.
After two years in which President Obama and Republicans in Congress have fought to a draw over their clashing approaches to job creation and budget deficits, the consensus about the result is clear: Immediate deficit reduction is a drag on full economic recovery….
Tax increases and especially spending cuts, these critics say, take money from an economy that still needs some stimulus now, and is getting it only through the expansionary monetary policy of the Federal Reserve.
“Fiscal tightening is hurting,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist of Pantheon Macroeconomic Advisors, wrote to clients recently. The investment bank Jefferies wrote of “ongoing fiscal mismanagement” in its midyear report on Tuesday, and noted that while the recovery and expansion would be four years old next month, reduced government spending “has detracted from growth in five of past seven quarters.”

Now Republicans are free to argue such immediate pain is ultimately necessary to prevent some long-term debt crisis, or to bring to an end the long New Deal/Great Society era of a leaner-and-meaner (compared to Europe) but still-existing welfare state, or to help America survive in a vicious global competition for resources with societies even more unequal than our own. What they are not free to do is to complain when the media or people generally don’t buy their spin and notice that the GOP’s all-purpose prescription for economic, fiscal and social policy is to find every way possible to cut public spending on everything other than defense and maybe fossil fuel or farm subsidies, while cutting taxes on the wealthy and eliminating public scrutiny of their business dealings. Maybe they have pure motives for pursuing this agenda, or maybe their hearts have been hardened into stone. But it just doesn’t much matter to those most affected.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Peter C on May 09, 2013 10:13 AM:

    Lying, day in and day out, is hard; it takes practice. It’s required of Republican leaders, though. Poor Eric Cantor is just practicing. He needs the practice; he’s not as good at it as Reagan was.

  • c u n d gulag on May 09, 2013 10:21 AM:

    Here's the Republican Parties dilemma:
    How to redirect from the fact that the national debt (that you and your party caused, and has been using as a cause for years) is FALLING TOO FAST, and won't be of much use soon in extracting major changes to earned benefits?

    You have to redirect the MSM, and the public.

    And so, while they figure out how they're going to handle the upcoming debt ceiling talks, when THE DEBT IS FALLING FASTER THAN THEY'D LIKE, they have to talk about being the party of opportunities.

    Yeah, opportunities. This, when the parties track record on job growth and opportunities to advance, is about as good as it is on national security - in other words - they have zero credibility.

    Of course, if they mean the opportunity to work several jobs for low pay and few, if any, benefits, or go broke, or homeless.
    If we're talking about that, then they're all about equal opportunity - with a hefty remaining residue of favoring older white males with better pay and perks.

  • clarence swinney on May 09, 2013 10:21 AM:

    They may bid to obtain the Bankrupt Chicago Tribune for,, to them, a measly $625 Million.
    They would then spread their Libertarian Views via Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and Orlando Sentinel.
    They have already done long term damage for the Middle Class by financing the election of 50 Tea Party members to the House to Cut Government for the middle class -Cut taxes for the rich.

  • biggerbox on May 09, 2013 10:29 AM:

    Cantor isn't saying the GOP doesn't have an obsession with cuts and taking stuff away from people, he's just trying to say it's for a larger purpose.

    It sounds like he's saying "Now, you know I don't want to beat you, honey, but it's for your own good."

  • Peter C on May 09, 2013 10:30 AM:

    “Do Republican sincerely believe that in the long run their policies are in the interests of all Americans? Probably so, in the same sense that advocates of every political ideology think it will create the best possible society.”

    I don’t think they think this. I think mostly they believe that politics is like capitalism and that by striving to maximize their personal best interests, they are making the political system ‘pure’. They don’t give a flying fuck about ‘all Americans’; they are in it for themselves and their tribe. They’ve concocted this ‘market-based’ rubric as an after-the-fact justification for their greed. “Everyone does it”, they say “that’s what makes the system work”. When they succeed, they run a ‘high-five’ loop through a room of ‘haves’ and ‘have mores’.

    Whenever they speak about benefitting the whole country (while promoting policies that really benefit only themselves), they turn around and smirk behind their hands. They think we don’t see them doing it.

  • Celui on May 09, 2013 10:36 AM:

    In what alternative universe is it possible to enrichen the already-rich, impoverish those who are the backbone of a nation's productivity, wipe out the social safety network that helps pump back bazillions into the economy every week, and NOT generate a tremendously large portion of the citizenry which is now institutionally poor for the remainder of their lives? This will, naturally, reinforce racial separations and stereotypes giving fodder to those who want to somehow claim social/racial superiorities. We've failed to educate these overly-wealthy gated-community executives who now believe that they are the 'entitled' and who possess the wealth to buy off members of Congress to ensure that their privilege continues. Look back at the urban unrest of the 60s and 70s: what are its roots? Are we now approaching the same volatility? We can't depend on entrenched Washingtonians to recognize this and act: they've self-insulated from real reality. The best remedy is to start with the concept that we are, all of us, part of a great community; the pains of the poor affect us all. I don't know of any of my unemployed neighbors who wouldn't trade a day of idleness for a day's fair pay, and the security that a full-time job provides. Full-time; not a series of low-wage, part-time, no benefit/no future jobs. Yeah--I'm not very convinced that this group of 'job creatin' wealthies' has any intention of looking out for anyone but themselves. That doesn't bode well for any of us.

  • gdb on May 09, 2013 10:52 AM:

    Sure would be helpful if a Dem leader had been openly and consistently making Progressive Keynesion arguments for the last five years. I'd even settle for one doing so today. My prediction is if such a Dem with some politcal credentials did so today, they would rapidly build a base of support.

  • Dave L on May 09, 2013 10:54 AM:

    Agreed with Peter C -- I think the time's past when we need to assert the possibility that they think this is what's good for the country. Recall that Obama's first term was the FIRST time in decades the GOP has advocated deficit reduction in any serious way, and of course, they've been the main culprits in its increase. Do we have to keep pretending that maybe they think it's what's good for the whole country?

  • MuddyLee on May 09, 2013 11:19 AM:

    From what I hear from repubs in SC, there's definitely a punitive component in their thinking. In their view people shouldn't get benefits they haven't worked for, unless they happen to be the children (or grandchildren) of people who are somehow "deserving" through work, marriage, or inheritance. And somehow they all have health insurance which they "deserve". I think they think that the poor and chronically ill should be punished - not helped. Cantor is criticizing the press for reporting what republicans actually think - they must think it, since they say it all the time. Are these repub members of the House as dumb as I think they are?

  • LAC on May 09, 2013 12:01 PM:

    @biggerbox - LOL!!! Exactly!

  • boatboy_srq on May 09, 2013 12:03 PM:

    "[W]e need to do those things in order to reenergize the opportunity machine of America."

    Talk about killing the patient to save him/her.

  • Epicurus on May 09, 2013 12:21 PM:

    Or, maybe they are corporate shills, bought and paid for. Not the the Democratic Party's hands are clean, but the Rethugs seem to like screwing the poor and helpless. Sorry, Mr. Cantor, you can't rewrite history, and some of us have pretty long memories. Keep running that shitshow, Eric, there must be a pony here somewhere.

  • Extreme Moderate on May 09, 2013 2:31 PM:

    I guess I'm just not sure why anyone is surprised by Cantor's assertion. The Republicans have been saying for quite some time that black is, in fact, white. They do this because it's an effective media and messaging strategy. They never get challenged on it because most reporters/editors aren't smart enough or are deep enough in the policy issues to call them out. Or they want to appear "even-handed". It's why the major papers can't/don't function as sources of political information any more. The Republicans get to just say stuff like this and best case, people believe them, worst case: it muddies the waters for a competing strategy from the Dems.

  • Rugosa on May 09, 2013 2:43 PM:

    Don't forget that the news most people hear or see is sound bites on foreshortened "news" programs. You'll hear Cantor saying that Republican policies are intended to "re-energize the opportunity machine" but you won't hear any discussion of whether those policies are likely to achieve that outcome.