Insincere Republicans, Justified Cynicism

Republicans are deeply, sincerely concerned about the budget deficit. That’s why, in unveiling their plan last week, they declared themselves willing to give ground on their traditional priorities, signaling a readiness to accept higher taxes on the wealthy and reduced defense spending as part of a deficit-reduction deal.

Oh, wait.

You mean they didn’t do anything like that?

You mean that even while warning about an imminent fiscal crisis, they actually tried to cut taxes on the rich to their lowest level since 1931?

Why, you might actually think that they’re not sincerely concerned about the deficit. But that can’t be true, since they keep saying that they are.

O.K., you get the point. It’s truly amazing that so many commentators — people who presumably know something about the relationship, or lack thereof, between what politicians say and what they do — are willing to accept at face value claims of deep, sincere concern about the deficit from people whose actual priorities are demonstrated by their absolute unwillingness to sacrifice anything they want in the name of deficit reduction.

Duncan Black, better known by his pseudonym, Atrios, likes to say in his blog, Eschaton, that nobody cares about the deficit.
Basically, that’s right.

“For the millionth time, the Ryan plan isn’t a deficit reduction plan, it’s a cut tax on rich people plan,” he wrote recently. “And of course it is, because nobody cares about the deficit, and most of the people who claim to just care about cutting taxes on rich people. The deficit talk is just a way to sucker gullible beltway scribes into writing nice things about it.”

Look, we’ve been here before. The obvious parallel in my mind is what happened after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when more or less the same people declared themselves totally focused on fighting terrorism — but unwilling to give up anything they wanted, and in fact eagerly using the terrorist threat as an excuse to grab even more goodies.

I mean, within 48 hours of the attack congressional Republicans were preparing their response: a cut in the capital gains tax; in the immediate aftermath, the Bush administration fought hard to keep airport security in private hands.

Somehow, responding to terrorism only involved doing things the administration wanted to do anyway: invading Iraq, torturing people, tapping our phones, etc.

For what it’s worth, President Obama is actually offering to make some sacrifices on the budget; call it political positioning if you like, but that’s infinitely more than his opponents are doing.

So it’s easy to be completely cynical about self-proclaimed deficit hawks — and the cynicism is totally justified. There’s no sincerity here.