A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far, Far Away, Radicals Didn’t Control The GOP

Once upon a time, even Republicans thought it was “nutty to fool around with the Social Security system.” 

Those words were uttered in 1988 by George H.W. Bush during the Republican presidential primary, in which Republican candidate Pierre Samuel du Pont IV proposed partially privatizing Social Security, an idea that fell flat even with the GOP electorate.

But Bush II campaigned in 2000 on the issue of personal Social Security accounts and by the time he was reelected in 2004, he thought it was time to advance the idea beyond campaign rhetoric.  In his 2005 State of the Union address he said:

As we fix Social Security, we also have the responsibility to make the system a better deal for younger workers. And the best way to reach that goal is through voluntary personal retirement accounts.

Thankfully, given what happened in 2008, we didn’t “fix” Social Security in the way that Bush II and other conservative Republicans wanted to.  Bush’s first major failure—in 2010 the former President said it was his greatest failure—of his second term was handed to him not just by Democrats and the public, who wisely didn’t warm up to the idea, but also by legislators in his own party, legislators who controlled both houses of Congress at the time.

Well, the failures in the past haven’t deterred today’s radical Republicans from attempting to enact their privatization scheme.  Paul Ryan’s original budget proposal, the so-called “Roadmap for the Future,” essentially reiterated Bush II’s 2005 idea. 

And less than two weeks ago, with not nearly enough media attention, House Republicans introduced more privatize-Social Security legislation, this version with an immediate partial opt-out of Social Security and an eventual full opt-out of the system.

The bill, H.R. 2109, was introduced by the head of the House Republican campaign committee, Pete Sessions (TX).  Get that? The head of the House Republican campaign committee introduced a bill that would effectively kill Social Security.  How bold is that?

All of this demonstrates what Luke Fuszard at Business Insider (“How Republicans Win, Even When They Lose”) describes as the GOP’s, “remarkable capability for patience in advancing its agenda.” Extremists in the party have done this by continually offering radical ideas and hoping each time that those ideas will get more mainstream support, thus moving the debate in their direction.

It’s all really beautiful, in a macabre sort of way.

Fuszard uses as his prime example of this phenomenon the once-kooky Republican ideas on tax policy and the federal budget, ideas we know today as supply-side economics.  Again, once upon a time, both parties, Republicans and Democrats, agreed that tax rates and tax revenues ought to be such that the federal government could pay its bills.

How novel a notion.

But with the rise of Ronald Reagan and the Laffers, what were once fringe ideas became mainstream ideas.  Fuszard summarizes them:

Drawing on Austrian thinking, supply-side economists advocated large reductions in marginal income and capital gains tax rates. The resulting federal deficits would be temporary, they argued, as lowering tax rates would raise the needed revenue by causing faster economic growth.

He notes that with the Reagan victory,

Liberated conservatives decoupled tax rates from balanced budgets and no longer had to insist on fiscal responsibility. The theory was political genius that was easily sold to the American public – all the growth with none of the sacrifice. Republicans were transformed from a balanced-budget party to a tax-cutting party. In 1981, Reagan slashed the marginal rates for the top tax bracket from 70% to 50%. Later he further reduced the rate to 28%.

The rest, as they say, is budget history.  We are still living with the results of this fiscal foolishness, and Republicans, including current Republican presidential candidates, are still selling it as mainstream economic thinking.

Fuszard uses Tim Pawlenty’s “Better Deal” economic plan as an example:

According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, half of Pawlenty’s $7.6 trillion in tax cuts over the next ten years would accrue to people who earn $500,000 per year or more.

There’s nothing new, unfortunately, about Republicans proposing more tax cuts for rich folks or, God help us, proposing to privatize Social Security and Medicare.

What’s new is that they can be so bold as to broadcast their intentions to the public, seemingly without much hesitation or fear.

That’s how successful their long-term strategy has been.

Run, Ryan, Run

Jonathan Chait, in a surprisingly persuasive piece, proposes that Paul Ryan may actually run for President after all:

When you have the power to set your party’s vision of government for the next fifty years, and nobody in the party is allowed to disagree with you, or even dodge paying fealty to you, then you already are the party leader. Ryan’s disavowals of interest never struck me as terribly strong.

Indeed.  Chait also points out that Ryan opened the door fairly wide by telling Fox’s Neil Cavuto that, “I think I want to see how this field develops.”

I, for one, hope he does run.  We need to have that national fight.

And if he does decide to enter the race, as Chait points out, he will certainly be the front runner.  In fact, I think he would, without much of a fight, become the GOP nominee.

An important consideration is that Ryan has a fairly friendly press on his side. As Paul Krugman notes, “much of the punditocracy (myself obviously not included) still has a crush on him.”  All one had to do to confirm that was watch Meet The Press last Sunday.  It was hard to take.

It is agonizing to hear the discussions of the Ryan-Republican budget plan on television for the reasons Krugman and others point out.  Ryan is always credited with courage for his efforts and Republicans in general are given good marks for solidarity. And the pundits rarely get it right about the nature of the plan, about its extremist design.

But Democrats must never tire in pointing out the obvious: The Republican plan for Medicare and Medicaid would dramatically change those programs, essentially killing Medicare.  As Steve Benen puts it:

Congressional Republicans have a plan to end Medicare and replace it with a privatized voucher scheme. The proposal would not only help rewrite the social contract, it would also shift crushing costs onto the backs of seniors, freeing up money for tax breaks for the wealthy. The plan is needlessly cruel, and any serious evaluation of the GOP’s arithmetic shows that the policy is a fraud.

Benen asks:

Which part of this description is false? None of it, but apparently, Democrats just aren’t supposed to mention any of this. One party is allowed to present this agenda, but the other party is expected to sit quietly on their hands.

Well, if Paul Ryan does make a run for the presidency, there can’t be any Democrats sitting quietly on their hands because all hands will be needed to prevent the decimation of our current social contract. Needless to say, were he to run and win, America would look very different.

And that’s why he needs to run.  We need to find out if Americans really want to live in a Tea Party Nation.

Because I like metaphors, particularly in this case, I thought I would offer yet another one, in the form of an analogy by Paul Krugman, who also takes a shot at The Washington Post and the whole “Ryan is courageous” meme:

…think of Medicare as a footbridge that is deteriorating and will eventually become unsafe. You could propose structural repairs to fix its faults; Ryan doesn’t do that. Instead, he proposes knocking the bridge down and replacing it with trampolines, in the hope that pedestrians can bounce across the stream. And the Post declares that he deserves credit for pointing out that the bridge is falling down, and proposing a solution. Um, we knew that the bridge was in bad shape — and his solution is a fraud.

Pick Your Medicare Metaphor

Apparently, there was a testy exchange between Paul Ryan and President Obama yesterday at the White House, during the House GOP-Obama budget discussions, which involved all but one member of the House Republican caucus.

The issue was related to how to properly describe the conservative plot to kill Medicare.  You see, Republicans say they believe it is in the best interests of the country to euthanize the Medicare program, sort of to put it—and the country, presumably—out of future misery. 

That mercy-killing, if you will, doesn’t sit well with the American people.  They sort of don’t want to see Medicare die at the hands of gleeful Republicans.  And those Republicans, who recognize that their plan isn’t popular, sort of want the Democratic Party to help them get away with the caper by not calling it what it is.  They also want Democrats to sort of join them in some way—perhaps by agreeing to a plan to drastically cut Medicare—so that the killing looks like a bipartisan job. 

It amounts to this: When Medicare is finally put to eternal sleep, Republicans would like for Democrats to be on the other side of the bed to help say goodbye.

The truth is that Republicans fear they will suffer mightily at the polls next year unless Democrats come to their political rescue by agreeing to something on Medicare that will let Republicans off the hook, a hook almost all of them are hanging on due to their vote for Ryan’s budget plan.

I heard a GOP congressman from Texas last night essentially say that Republicans aren’t “married” to the Ryan plan and were willing to listen to Democratic ideas.

Yes, I bet they are.

That same congressman also said he didn’t like to hear the plan mischaracterized.  I’m sure he wouldn’t like my “euthanize Medicare” metaphor, and he said didn’t appreciate the metaphor of “throwing grandma under the bus.”

No?

Okay.  I’ve got one that better describes the situation.  I agree that Republicans aren’t really trying to throw today’s grandmas under the bus. Republicans are actually trying to gather up all the current grandmas and herd them onto the bus.  Then that bus full of current grandmas will roll over the backs of all the future grandmas, who Republicans are throwing under the bus.

There. That’s better.

Freedom Works’ Crib Notes

While the national media foolishly and sadly follow Sarah Palin around the country, serious Tea Party people—Palin is not seriously thinking about running for president—are focusing on the battle ahead.

Dick Armey, former House Majority Leader and now Pooh-Bah of Freedom Works, has graciously supplied freshman House Republicans with a few simple points to make about the party’s plan to hold the debt ceiling hostage in exchange for some ideological candy and about the party’s plot to murder Medicare in its sleep.

Debt Ceiling:Key point: the world does not end if the debt ceiling is not raised. Treasury Secretary Geitner [sic] is not likely to default on our loans. Spending cuts will become a priority before default.”

Translation: We don’t have to worry about any fallout from our irresponsible behavior.  Geithner will either have to do our bidding or we will blame him for any trouble!  It’s that simple fellow Republicans!

Medicare Caper:Get out there and talk to people. Hold town halls at senior centers and other areas where the population is especially concerned about their benefits being cut. Take the lessons of ’94 and ’95 and get out there and explain to people that their immediate benefits will not be affected.”

Translation: Go tell the old folks who love their Medicare, and who vote in droves, that they have nothing to fear.  We’re not going to murder their Medicare, only their children’s and grandchildren’s Medicare. What old-timer wouldn’t buy into that plan?  No harm, no foul. The geezers get to keep (most) of their current bennies, while the younger folks will both pay for those bennies and cough up more scrilla for cost increases in their own health care coverage resulting from our stingy “new” plan.  Let’s hope the voters don’t figure out the unfairness of that part of our electoral scheme.

The Myth Of Doing Nothing: “We need to dispel the myth that if we leave Medicare alone it will stay the same. It won’t…Democrats do not have a plan of their own. Hold up a blank piece of paper as a powerful image of their do-nothing approach. Stick to your message.”

Translation: As long as Democrats are just trying to keep us from killing Medicare, we can win the message battle by simply saying our plan to kill it is the only one out there.

Colonel Billy Long’s “Pump ‘N Propaganda” Tour Continues

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that today’s Joplin Globe featured a story—four-columns with a three-column photo—about Ozark Billy Long’s gas-pumping-and-lying-about-oil-production tour, most recently acted out in Carthage.

Expecting a puff piece on Long (it turns out that was the job of local television), I was pleasantly surprised that the writer, Wally Kennedy, did include some valuable contrary evidence to Long’s assertions about how much effect increased oil production would have on gas prices and, indeed, Long’s flagrantly false statement about current American oil production.

Here’s how Kennedy wrote up Long’s assertions:

As he placed the nozzle in Mack Shipp’s vehicle, Long asked, “Fill it up?”

Long told Shipp, of Carthage, that he is co-sponsoring three energy bills that would decrease oil prices, create thousands of jobs and increase America’s energy independence by ramping up oil production in the United States.

“They have forgot [sic] about drilling for oil here,” Long told Shipp.

Oh, yeah? Long’s energy bills would decrease oil prices?  “They” have “forgot” about drilling here at home?

Fortunately, Wally Kennedy included a section at the end of his piece highlighting comments from Deron Lovaas, a “transportation expert” with the non-profit, non-partisan Natural Resources Defense Council, a group dedicated to protecting the environment.

Here is a comment Lovaas made about the House bills Long touted:

The reality is that they will not affect gas prices. We are shackled to a global oil marketplace. When the price of crude goes up and down, it drags prices at the pump with it.

Lovaas also addressed the relationship of production to domestic oil prices by using Canada as an example:

They process 1½ times what they consume. Their prices track our prices. It’s because of the giant global oil marketplace. We can’t make a dent in globally determined prices.

Get that? Canada produces more oil than it actually uses, yet prices are in line with prices here.  How can that be, Colonel Billy?

Here is an excerpt from an article from The Canadian Press, posted today:

The April report showed inflation in Canada was almost completely tied to gas and energy — with energy prices 17.1 per cent higher than a year earlier and gasoline prices 26.4 per cent higher.

By the way, according to Canada Facts, “Nearly all of the surplus is exported to the USA,” and “The USA buys more oil from Canada than from any other country, including Saudi Arabia.”

One would think that those energy-rich Canadians (they have the world’s third largest proven oil reserves) would be smart enough to use all their excess energy production to keep their energy prices low at home, but, alas, they don’t have an Ozark Billy advising them.

Colonel Long’s other fib, that, “They have forgot about drilling for oil here,” was also disposed of by Kennedy-Lovaas:

With regard to production, Lovaas said: “Production is going to continue. We have more producing oil wells in the United States than all of the other nations combined.  We produce a lot of oil in this country.  The number of new rigs is actually up.

“We’re not sitting on our hands when it comes to production, but that production is eclipsed by a huge and growing global marketplace for oil.”

In fact, according to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. now produces 9.1 million barrels of oil every day, making it the third largest oil producer in the world.  That represents about 11% of the world’s production.  The problem is we consume 22%.

Reality, as some of my friends say, is a bitch. And the reality is that poking more holes in American ground or offshore and extracting more oil will not result in lower gas prices, no matter how many times Colonel Billy says it at local gas stations.

Finally, I do have a problem with something I read in Wally Kennedy’s piece:

Long, who was accompanied by five members of his staff, held a news conference in the convenience store after pumping gasoline into a half-dozen or so vehicles. 

Now, a press conference, to my knowledge, involves the press. If press were present, were any questions asked?  And if questions were asked, what were the questions? It seems to me that given the current political debate over Newt Gingrich’s correctly labeling as “radical” the Republican plan to kill Medicare—a plan Colonel Ozark Billy voted for—then why were no questions asked about that?

Huh?

____________________________

Related to the phony Billy Long gas-pumping stunt, I watched a really, truly, honest-go-goodness example of counterfeit journalism in a report presented by Morgan Schutters on local outlets KSN and KODE TV. 

If you can believe it, the head of the Jasper County Republican Party, John Putnam, just happen to be at the Carthage gas station and just happened to have his gas pumped by Ozark Billy.  Putnam was identified only as a “Carthage Republican,” as if his job as GOP honcho for the county was irrelevant.

I almost bothered to provide a transcript of the report, especially the end, but I just couldn’t bear to do it. (You can see it and the video here.)  It is shameful, but, unfortunately, typical of local “news” reporting.  And it is a perfect example of why local politicians pull these dishonest stunts. They can get away with it.

Fortunately, in this case our two largest local newspapers, the Joplin Globe and The Springfield News-Leader, challenged Long’s contentions and presented relatively balanced reports.

 

None Dare Call It Radical

lt is clear that the Ryan budget plan has now become a litmus test for conservatives. 

When I heard Newt Gingrich criticize the plan on Meet the Press on Sunday, I assumed he would get some flak from conservatives, but I didn’t think conservatives would attack him so vehemently, so mercilessly.  It just shows how much Republicans have invested in their Murder Medicare scheme, and how they can’t afford to tolerate criticism of it from anyone on their side.

Gingrich said about the Ryan-Republican plan:

I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.

Charles Krauthammer, who less than a month ago wrote that Gingrich was a “smart guy…a Vesuvius of ideas,” pronounced dead Gingrich’s presidential aspirations by calling his views  “contradictory and incoherent.”  Joe Scarborough this morning echoed that sentiment, accusing Newt of not being a real conservative.  Other prominent conservatives have said much the same.

As for the architect of the plot to kill Medicare, the Associated Press reported:

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan said Monday that Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich does not fully understand a GOP proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher system, dismissing criticism from the former House speaker that the plan would be a radical change.

The “smart guy,” the “Vesuvius of ideas,” just doesn’t understand the plan.  He doesn’t get it.  If only he could see that the plan, in Ryan’s words, “is one of the most gradual things one could do.”  As if the slow death of Medicare is somehow less offensive than a speedier one.

But the truth is that Gingrich does understand the plan. He correctly labeled it as “right-wing social engineering” because that is exactly what it is, although one could say “re-engineering.” In fact, Gingrich said—confirming Krauthammer’s “contradictory and incoherent” comment—that he would have voted for the plan because it represented “the first step.”

That first step, of course, is destroying Medicare as we know it.

What conservatives and Republicans are afraid of, obviously, is that Democrats will use Gingrich’s language against every single Republican running next year, not just those House Republicans who voted for it.  (Senate Republicans haven’t yet been forced to vote on the plan, although Sen. Harry Reid keeps promising he will force them to do so.)

As it stands, not one single serious Republican presidential candidate or potential candidate has actually endorsed the plan, although Mitch Daniels labeled itserious,”  and Tim Pawlenty said Ryan offered “real leadership,” and Mitt Romney said Ryan is “setting the right tone.”

Despite the fact that the national candidates are reluctant to actually go with Paul Ryan and his fellow Republicans as they slip into Medicare’s bedroom and murder it in its sleep, they appear to be willing to wait in the getaway car outside, as the culprits do the dirty work.

And that’s the purpose of the conservative litmus test. If one goes to jail for this crime, all go.  At the very least, GOP candidates will not be allowed to openly criticize the budget plan.  If they do, they will receive the Gingrich treatment, essentially a pair of cement loafers and a trip to the North Arabian Sea to visit Osama bin Laden.

Thus, Democrats need to expose not only the actual killers, but the accomplices, those Republicans who remain silent as the murderous plot unfolds.

The Past, The Present, And The Future

Thanks to “links master” Juan Don for linking me to an article on PoliticalCorrection.org titled, “The Many Errors of Fact in Speaker Boehner’s Wall Street Speech.” 

Anyone interested in the facts, as opposed to the ideological hallucinations of Republicans, about where we are economically, how we got here, and where we will go if Republicans get both hands on the wheel of government, should take the time to follow the link and read the article.

Here I want to reproduce just two of the many graphs provided, which should be used by Democrats at every gathering of two or more potential voters.  The first one looks at the past and present and demonstrates two trends that should please every conservative Republican in the country [click on for better view]:

As you can see the trend line for private-sector job growth is up and the trend line for public-sector job growth is down, a state of affairs that any Republican would be proud to feature on Koch-sponsored billboards across America.  As the accompanying text points out:

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, there were 107,649,000 private sector jobs in July 2009. As of April 2011, the most recent report available, the data show that total is up to 108,862,000 — a net gain of 1,213,000 jobs in the private sector.

Thank you, Democratic Party.

The second graph looks to the future:

Thank you, Republican Party.

What could be clearer than this graph?  The cost-shifting is dramatic.  And keep in mind that while those who turn 65 in 2022 will see their share of health-care spending double, they will also be paying for the relatively generous benefits of seniors who were lucky enough to turn 65 before the results of Republican political philosophy kicked in. 

Just how long do current seniors believe that the “youngsters” will tolerate that asymmetrical situation?  That’s why I believe Democrats should also make current seniors—who the GOP has ostensibly exempted from the draconian effects of their kill-Medicare plan—aware that unless everyone is playing by the same rules, there is some real danger that their comparatively generous benefits will also disappear.

These two graphs, which represent the past, present, and future, should pop up everywhere a Democratic candidate speaks.

“Happy Days” Is Here Again

In many ways, Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Republican Conference, is the prototypical contemporary conservative Republican: anti-choice, anti-stem cell research, anti-gay marriage, and so on. For my money, Hensarling, a rising star in the GOP, is the favorite to replace retiring Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2012. 

Congressman Hensarling was mentored in politics by none other than ex-Senator Phil Gramm, responsible for much economic mischief during the Reagan years. Gramm was also co-chair of John McCain’s failed 2008 presidential campaign, and just before the economy collapsed that year, he famously said:

Thank God the economy is not as bad as you read in the newspaper every day.

Apparently God wasn’t tuned into Republican prayers at the time, thus the Great Recession.

In any case, Jeb Hensarling’s mentor said that America had become “a nation of whiners” and that we were merely in a “mental recession,” not a real one.  As Phil Gramm’s state director in the late 1980s, this is where Jeb Hensarling learned to talk Republican nonsense.

Which leads me to what Hensarling said on Morning Joe this morning:

Let’s remember, again, that the main drivers of this national debt are three large entitlement programs, programs that have been of great comfort and assistance to my parents and grandparents, but are morphing into cruel Ponzi schemes for my nine-year-old daughter and my seven-year-old son.

You see how this works, right?  When Hensarling’s grandparents and parents were enjoying the benefits of our social safety net, entitlement programs weren’t Ponzi schemes, but sources of “comfort and assistance.” 

Today, though, those same entitlement programs are turning into “fraudulent investment operations“—the definition of a Ponzi scheme—because the Hensarling family—beneficiaries of years of socialistic welfare programs—receive their comfort and assistance at considerable cost to current taxpayers.  So, logic would dictate that the Hensarlings give up a little of that comfort and assistance, right?

Wrong.

Paul Ryan’s cynical budget plan—which Jeb Hensarling enthusiastically supports—doesn’t ask much of those 55 and over but asks a lot of younger folks.  Grandfathering in grandfathers and grandmothers is really a case of Republicans protecting those who are now comfortable, thanks to Social Security and Medicare, and who tend to vote for Republicans because they are so comfortable.

Hensarling suggests that his children will not get a good deal under the current system.  But the truth is that under the Ryan-Republican budget plan, the kiddies will really get the shaft. 

Those younger than 55 will be asked to continue to subsidize the older, more comfortable Hensarlings of the world—whose trillions of dollars worth of medical benefits will continue throughout their ever increasing life spans—while the youngsters will be lucky to get enough money under Ryan’s plan to pay for band-aids and aspirin, should they make it to a likely-increasing retirement age. 

That’s a pretty good deal for older Hensarlings, but not a good deal for the younger ones.  And since older folks vote in bigger numbers than younger ones, Republicans are hoping their own scheme—call it a “Fonzie” scheme—will work.

In case you are not an aficionado of the old 1970s Happy Days show, in a three-part episode, Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli, clad in trunks and leather jacket, jumped over a shark to prove how brave he was. The idiom “jump the shark” originated with this less-than-sterling example of 70s television. 

Wikipedia explains the connection to today’s Republican politics:

The usage of “jump the shark” has subsequently broadened beyond television, indicating the moment in its evolution, characterized by absurdity, when a brand, design, or creative effort moves beyond the essential qualities that initially defined its success, beyond relevance or recovery.

If that doesn’t define the Republican Party today, nothing does.

It might be helpful here to mention that the sensible, wholesome Richie Cunningham tried to tell the Fonz that jumping over the shark was stupid, to which the Fonz replied:

Stupid, yes. Also dumb. But it is something I’ve gotta do.

Exactamundo, GOP!

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