Political Animal


May 07, 2011 10:25 AM Why they’re against the ideas they’re for

By Steve Benen

Just yesterday, Republican presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty suffered through reports that he used to support efforts to combat climate change, including a cap-and-trade plan. At the same time, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C) was embarrassed by reports that he supported Mitt Romney’s health care plan — including its mandate — just a few years ago.

It led Ezra Klein to emphasize an important point.

[N]othing between 2007 and 2011 transformed an individual mandate from “making freedom work for everyone” into a “stunning assault on liberty.” There was no reason for cap-and-trade to go from a policy George H.W. Bush had proposed as an alternative to “the command and control approaches of the past” and that John McCain and Sarah Palin had championed in their campaign into cap-and-tax.

Nothing, that is, except for the election of Barack Obama, and the polarization around the policies he and the Democrats supported. And that’s politics, I guess. But too often, we pretend that it’s policy — that there’s something tucked inside the mechanics of the individual mandate that make it a policy only Democrats could support, or that cap-and-trade was invented by Al Gore and Barbara Streisand and is clearly some socialist invention from the planet Marx.

It’s important that people realize how fake many of the policy arguments that go on in this town really are, and that the media is there to call out politicians who continually move the goalposts. Because if there are no referees on the field, anything can be made to sound like a policy argument, and it’s very hard for voters to tell when the players are being straight with them.

I like to keep track of these moving goalposts, in part because the Republican shamelessness — and the ease with which they get away with it — amazes me. Before 2009, it was very common for Republican officials at a variety of levels to support cap-and-trade, an individual health care mandate, the DREAM Act, comprehensive immigration reform, at least some form of Keynesian economics, and trying terrorist suspects in civilian U.S. courts and then imprisoning them on American soil. If we go back just a little further, we see that GOP officials also used to occasionally support modest tax increases as a way to maintain fiscal sanity.

How did all of these policies — some of which originated in Republican circles — go from sensible to radical? The ideas didn’t change; Republican standards did. A Democratic president got elected, telegraphed an openness to proposals the GOP has traditionally supported, and suddenly Republicans didn’t want to take “yes” for an answer.

But there’s a related point to keep in mind. How is it, exactly, President Obama is supposed to work in good faith with these folks and find common ground under these circumstances? I assume that next year, one of the more common complaints from the GOP will be, “Obama said he’d bring people together and reach across the aisle. He failed.”

But he really didn’t. He made good faith efforts to work cooperatively with Republicans, only to find GOP officials who are against the ideas they’re for.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


  • MikeJ on May 07, 2011 10:41 AM:

    Clinton was always accused of "stealing" issues from the republicans and making them work better than they would have had the republicans done them themselves. He left office with a 65% approval rating.

    The Republicans are convinced that if they stick to their guns, Obama will have 90% approval ratings. All they've got is tearing him down.

  • m2 on May 07, 2011 10:42 AM:

    ... and income inequality is now the GOAL, rather than an issue to address. And public education, or any quality education for the masses is the enemy. I think you're catching on.

  • c u n d gulag on May 07, 2011 10:50 AM:

    So, how's that "FrankenTeaBagger Monster working out for you now, Republicans?

    Either you go along with the ever maddening crowd, or lose in a primary fight to some savage simpleton.

    Yeah, that was a real smart move!
    If you want to disenfranchise a large chunk of the independent idiots who were willing to buy your BS up until now.

    Im feeling more optimistic about the future than I have in a while! :-)

    PS: CAPTCHA - 'Qeff nignvis?'

    Don't CAPTCHA - KILL IT!!!

  • TT on May 07, 2011 10:56 AM:

    Republicans do not accept the legal, political, and moral legitimacy of Democrats. It's that simple. This is a "center-right" nation, after all, so Democrats can only win elections through theft and fraud. So, by definition, they and the policies they advocate are illegitimate.

  • DAY on May 07, 2011 11:07 AM:

    MikeJ on May 07, 2011 10:41 AM says what i thought;

    the "ignorati' see a black man in their white house, but the professional Republicans see him as a dire threat to their very existence for a generation. Clinton was their wake-up call, and hence the all out war against the current democrat in the white house.

  • karen marie on May 07, 2011 11:09 AM:

    Geez, Steve, you haven't been paying attention. The GOP and their media enablers have been complaining about Obama not making a good faith effort to reach out since at least the day after his inauguration, if not before.

    How could you forget all the shrieking about Obama "ramming" health care reform down the throat of America?

  • Winkandanod on May 07, 2011 11:44 AM:

    "...itís very hard for voters to tell when the players are being straight with them."

    Uhhh...not it's not.

    It's hard for willfully ignorant Fuxnews viewers, and people who rely on email chains from Uncle Stan as their primary news source, to tell when the players are being straight with them.

    For anyone of average intelligence who watches, listens, reads, and pays attention, the lies, flip flops and spin are as obvious as Trump's combover and Boehner's "tan."

  • Neil B on May 07, 2011 11:46 AM:

    Ezra K. can be a prick but this was well said, a good rundown of the sorry states of both the Rebaglicans and the Slide-by Media.

    BTW, congrats (finally), on an improved website! It was about time, but better late than never (something dextronuts won't appreciate.) PS I will have to take that back if SPI [RPI} or URL doesn't work. Speaking of URL, it's a must-see for anyone fascinated by e.g. paradoxes of quantum mechanics (and having said in intro, will rarely mention again.)

  • bigtuna on May 07, 2011 12:01 PM:

    I have an acquaintance who is a mid to high level bureaucrat in a DC agency, and he is plugged in pretty well - deals with Congressional staffers,e tc.. he told me after 2008 election that what he had heard was that the strategy the Rs were going to use was a 'destroy obama' effort. His claim - and I am not saying I buy it completely, was that for a little while the Rs were knocked back on their heels and were scared of what obama, and his newer level of support, the net efforts, etc., might be able to accomplish. But, the Rs also know they have money, the press, and various noise machines on their side, so they could mount and all out strategy of destroy, blame, badmouth, destroy, repeat.

    So while I know you keep bringing this up Steve, it is a broken record. The republican noise machine + the elected rs do not have a coherent strategy, other than reduce taxes on uber wealthy. They have NO 0 nada, zippo, zilch, interest, or as we have seen this week, ability to develop a coherent governing / economic strategy. It is all about hating Obama and the dems.

  • Objective Dem on May 07, 2011 12:37 PM:

    I wish I had graphic design skills to design a graphic image of the moving goal line. Part of the problem with the public understanding policy issues is too many don't read and few remember the history of issues.

  • Roddy McCorley on May 07, 2011 1:05 PM:

    And thatís politics, I guess.

    No. It isn't. It's electioneering, nothing more.

    There is a difference.

  • kevo on May 07, 2011 1:22 PM:

    At this moment, The way Wisconsin goes, so goes the nation! Six seemingly bona fide recall elections of Republicans, and three of Democrats mired in charges of fraud. As added fare, a gearing up of a Recall Walker campaign to begin in earnest January, 2012!

    If the media in general can't be relied upon to call out the fuzzy-non-substantive-non-policy-gobbledygook from the Right as we approach the election cycle of 2012, we'll need to tell our loved ones to turn off Murdoch-filtered television programing and start voting for their actual interests! -Kevo

  • Styve on May 07, 2011 1:24 PM:

    There ought to be a law...or at least consequences...for being as maliciously duplicitous as the current batch of Rethug vermin are!!

    Love the new site format!!

  • ameshall on May 07, 2011 2:44 PM:

    The Republicans do only one thing well: play politics. They have spent years weaving false narratives about Democrats, most notably the persistent myth that Democrats take money from hard-working white folks and hand it over to lazy black folks and "illegals." Obama's race and background gave the Republicans everything they needed to build a cult of suspicion and hatred against the President. All the GOP talking points about Obama's "massive spending," "government-run" health care, and socialism are meant to reinforce the right's paranoid delusion that Obama is using his office to settle old racial scores and redistribute tax dollars to "his people." It's beneath contempt, but it worked well for them in 2010, and those elections are reaping big dividends for the GOP in the form of redistricting, blocking voter registration, and neutering unions.

    Having painted the President as the devil incarnate, the GOP cannot possibly be seen as cooperating with him in any way. So now we have a party whose base consists of bigots, paranoid loons, and conspiracy theorists. I wish I could say that the Republicans would return to semi-coherence if they actually regained power, but I don't think they can stop the crazy train.

  • Styve on May 07, 2011 2:58 PM:

    "Crazy Train"...speaking of which, did people watch the Stewart/Colbert battle of the bands between Cat Stevens and Ozzie Ozbourne several months ago, which was a response to Glenn Beck's foolish thing on the Washington Mall?? Youtube it, if not...

    It's amazing to me that the Rethug old guard isn't/hasn't quashed the far right hijacking of the GOP (Gang of Perves)!!

  • RepublicanPointOfView on May 07, 2011 3:12 PM:

    What is so difficult to understand? When Obama is for it, we are against it. When Obama is against it, we are for it. When Obama does it, it is wrong. When Obama does not do it, it is a sign of his weakness that he did not do it.

    Besides that he is a democrat and a n!gger!

  • Styve on May 07, 2011 3:33 PM:


    Boy, I bet you feel like a big boy using the N-word so boldly. That stupid comment should be taken down.

  • ghostcommander on May 07, 2011 4:07 PM:

    Thanks to Ezra Klein for telling it as it is. He should have stated: "You are lying and you know it" and then went ahead and proved same.

  • JEA on May 07, 2011 5:41 PM:

    Pointless article.

    What moved the goalposts WAS the media - the conservative media - Fox and Limbaugh, Hannity and Medved, et al, who HATE all of those ideas. THEY are the ones who moved the goalposts by constantly harping on it for the last two years, and Republicans, thinking they could gain an electoral advantage, latched onto it, which only reinforced these folks to be more intransigent.

    But this will be short-lived, because the moderates who voted the GOP in last year are going to vote them out next year

  • st john on May 07, 2011 9:31 PM:

    @styve: "That stupid comment should be taken down." You must be new here: RPoV is a regular faux troll. His comments are generall /snark/, so learn to recognize context and satire when you see it.

  • st john on May 07, 2011 9:35 PM:

    oops! "His comments are generally /snark/..." Maybe we need a Preview option to avoid errors before posting.

  • dee dee arnal on May 08, 2011 12:40 AM:

    I think we forget what the GOP must have felt on January 20, 2009. Two million people on the Mall, cheering Barack Obama as their president. To his supporters, an exhilarating sight, To the GOP, a frightening sight of what could have been the exile of the GOP for another 40 years. So despite the very serious challenges of the times, Mitch McConnell, et. al., agreed to oppose EVERYTHING Obama proposed, regardless of necessity, efficiency or correctness. And upon reflection, this strategy worked. The rise of the racialized Tea Party made a national discussion on shared FACTS impossible as well as a lazy 24 hour media, seeking to sensationalize rather than report.

  • dsimon on May 08, 2011 1:26 AM:

    Add to the list disclosure of the sources of funding for political ads. Senator McConnell and others kept saying we shouldn't have restrictions on spending, but that we should instead have complete disclosure on funding. Now he and others oppose disclosure.

    Let's also remember that Republicans supported a deficit commission, until Obama agreed to one. Then several Republican senators who sponsored legislation creating a debt commission voted against their own bill.

    Consistency is hardly a McConnell hallmark. One just wishes the contradictions weren't so blatant.

  • Styve on May 08, 2011 2:42 PM:

    St. John,
    Regardless of rpov's faux status, and use of snark, there is nothing amusing, or even tolerable about saying such racist crap. I can recognize context and satire better than most, and I would not elevate that submission to that level.