Tampa—Ever since Mitt Romney selected radical right-wing extremist Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his running mate, Republicans have been patting themselves on the back for telling hard truths to the American people.
Ryan has cultivated a false image of being politically brave and intellectually honest, because he has presented a budget that would (eventually) be balanced. But how would it do so? Not by demanding sacrifices from the Republican Party’s current base of older middle-class white people. Rather, it would snatch the safety net out from under young and middle-aged people when they reach retirement age, while cutting taxes for the wealthy. Ryan even indulges the fantasy that we can be fiscally responsible while militarily outspending all our potential adversaries combined by orders of magnitude. This is not political bravery, it is cowardice. Republicans are telling their voters that they can solve the country’s fiscal problems without sacrificing anything. All the suffering will be borne by the young and the poor.
But Republicans insist that their generational and class warfare is actually a bold effort to level with the American people and to tackle hard problems that President Obama avoids confronting.
Choosing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as the Republican National Convention keynote speaker was perfectly in keeping with that campaign theme. Christie is a belligerent man. He delights in bullying citizens who have the temerity to argue with him in public. This is what passes on the right for forthrightness.
Christie’s speech on Tuesday night was meant to demonstrate the stakes in the election, but in a more positive statesman-like frame than the churlish hatred of Obama and liberals that one typically sees from movement conservative figures. Christie was there to tell us what the GOP is all about. So he started by touting his own record of attacking public employees in New Jersey, and segued into how this willingness to slaughter sacred cows defines his party. In the most crucial section of the speech, Christie implied that the Romney/Ryan plan to gut entitlement spending is a manifestation of that admirable quality:
Here’s what we believe as Republicans and what they believe as Democrats.
We believe in telling hard-working families the truth about our country’s fiscal realities. Telling them what they already know—the math of federal spending doesn’t add up.
With $5 trillion in debt added over the last four years, we have no other option but to make the hard choices, cut federal spending and fundamentally reduce the size of government.
They believe that the American people don’t want to hear the truth about the extent of our fiscal difficulties and need to be coddled by big government.
They believe the American people are content to live the lie with them.
We believe in telling seniors the truth about our overburdened entitlements.
We know seniors not only want these programs to survive, but they just as badly want them secured for their grandchildren.
Seniors are not selfish.
They believe seniors will always put themselves ahead of their grandchildren. So they prey on their vulnerabilities and scare them with misinformation for the cynical purpose of winning the next election.
Their plan: whistle a happy tune while driving us off the fiscal cliff, as long as they are behind the wheel of power.
This is not a fair depiction of President Obama’s tenure, but it actually would be an accurate description of how Republicans governed during the George W. Bush years. Bush never empowered a bipartisan presidential debt reduction commission, as Obama did. (Ryan was on the commission and voted against its recommendations.) Bush never asked anyone to pay a little bit more in taxes, as Obama has. Bush never placed a freeze on domestic discretionary spending, as Obama has. Bush never agreed to severe cuts in spending as a condition of raising the debt ceiling, as Obama did.
In addition to those smaller lies embedded in Christie’s speech is the big one: that Republicans are even running on their budget proposals at all. Go to a Romney or Ryan stump speech, look at their press releases, look at Christie’s RNC speech itself, and all the speeches that preceded his on Tuesday. They don’t talk about the details of Romney’s or Ryan’s budgets. Of course, that’s partly because some necessary details—such as which tax expenditures will be eliminated, or which spending priorities within a given cabinet agency will be reduced by how much—are missing. But the details that could be discussed, such as turning Medicare into a voucher system, are not. Instead Republicans repeat ad nauseam the misleading factoid that the Affordable Care Act took money out of Medicare to pay for expanding Medicaid.
And, by the way, Christie is also lying when he says that seniors who whine about modest cuts in Medicare reimbursement rates are not selfish. They are. They receive high quality, comprehensive, guaranteed health coverage, as they should. But the vast majority of Medicare recipients will get more in benefits than they paid in over the years. They are being subsidized by younger workers, who often do not have any health insurance. Yes, the ACA redirected some healthcare spending from relatively comfortable seniors to younger, poorer people. And yes, it is selfish of old people to oppose doing so.
It’s unfortunate that Christie’s central claim is not, in fact, true. The American people undoubtedly do deserve an honest assessment from both parties of how to resolve our long-term fiscal imbalance. But so far they are not getting that the Romney/Ryan campaign, nor from the Republican National Convention.