Over the past couple of months Republicans have passed or proposed three big budget initiatives. First, they enacted a springtime-for-plutocrats tax cut that will shower huge benefits on the wealthy while offering a few crumbs for ordinary families – crumbs that will be snatched away after a few years, so that it ends up becoming a middle-class tax hike. Then they signed on to a what-me-worry budget deal that will blow up the budget deficit to levels never before seen except during wars or severe recessions. Finally, the Trump administration released a surpassingly vicious budget proposal that would punish not just the vulnerable but also most working families.
Looking at all of this should make you very angry; it certainly infuriates me. But my anger isn’t mostly directed at Republicans; it’s directed at their enablers, the professional centrists, both-sides pundits, and news organizations that spent years refusing to acknowledge that the modern GOP is what it so clearly is.
Which is not to say that Republicans should be let off the hook.
To be sure, American history is full of politicians and parties that pursued what we would now call nefarious ends. After all, the pre-Civil War Democratic Party – which shares nothing but a name with today’s Democrats – was largely devoted to the cause of preserving slavery. But I can’t think of a previous example of a party that so consistently acted in bad faith – pretending to care about things it didn’t, pretending to serve goals that were the opposite of its actual intentions.
You may recall, for example, the grim warnings from leading Republicans about the dangers of budget deficits, with Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, declaring that our “crushing burden of debt” would create an economic crisis. Then came the opportunity to pass a $1.5 trillion tax cut targeted on the rich, and suddenly all worries about the deficit temporarily disappeared.
Now that the tax cut is law, of course, deficit-hawk rhetoric is back – not as a reason to reconsider those tax breaks, but as a reason to cut food stamps and Medicaid. You knew this was going to happen, although even I expected the fake deficit hawks to wait a little longer before resuming their act.
You may also recall how Republicans posed as defenders of Medicare, accusing the Obama administration of planning to cut $500 billion from the program to pay for the Affordable Care Act. The legislation did in fact seek substantial savings in Medicare, for example by ending overpayments to insurance companies. But so did Republican proposals. And Donald Trump, who promised during the campaign not to cut Medicare or Medicaid, is now proposing hundreds of billions more in Medicare cuts and truly draconian cuts in Medicaid.
Why have Republicans become so overwhelmingly the party of bad faith? (And not just about budgets, of course; remember when Republicans cared deeply about a president’s sexual morality?) The main answer is probably that the party’s true agenda, dictated by the interests of a handful of superwealthy donors, would be very unpopular if the public understood it. So the party must consistently lie about its priorities and intentions.
Whatever the reasons for GOP bad faith, however, its reality has been apparent for a long time.
Yet the gatekeepers of our public discourse spent years being willfully blind to this reality. Take, for example, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a think tank that, to be fair, can be a useful resource for budget analysis. Still, I can’t forget that back in 2010 the committee gave Paul Ryan – whose fraudulence was obvious from the beginning to anyone who actually read his proposals – an award for fiscal responsibility.
And even now the committee is busy pontificating about the need to reform the “budget process.” Let’s get real, OK? The problem isn’t the process, it’s the Republicans.
Meanwhile, many news organizations – which, by the way, gave Ryan years of adoring coverage – treat recent GOP actions as if they are some kind of aberration, a departure from previous principles. They aren’t. Republicans are what they always were: They never cared about deficits; they always wanted to dismantle Medicare, not defend it. They just happen not to be who they pretended to be.
Now, there’s no mystery about why many people won’t face up to the reality of Republican bad faith. Washington is full of professional centrists, whose public personas are built around a carefully cultivated image of standing above the partisan fray, which means that they can’t admit that while there are dishonest politicians everywhere, one party basically lies about everything. News organizations are intimidated by accusations of liberal bias, which means that they try desperately to show “balance” by blaming both parties equally for all problems.
But our job, whether we’re policy analysts or journalists, isn’t to be “balanced”; it’s to tell the truth. And while Democrats are hardly angels, at this point in American history, the truth has a well-known liberal bias.