In the Arena

Wounded Elephant Screechings

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“I rarely heard a speech by a president so shallow, so hyper-partisan and so intellectually dishonest, outside the last couple of weeks of a presidential election where you are allowed to call your opponent anything short of a traitor.

That was Charles Krauthammer after Barack Obama’s speech yesterday. And here’s Pistol Pete Wehner:

President Obama’s speech today was both outrageous and insulting, a practically perfect combination of demagoguery and shallowness. It was not a serious substantive speech; it was a political missile whose intention is was to destroy, through libel, the House Republican’s 2012 budget. It was not an effort to engage in a serious discussion; it was an effort to create a cartoon image of Obama’s critics.

Oooh. Ouch. I could print another dozen such rantings, but why bother: these are the sounds hyper-partisans make when they’ve been successfully skewered. Republican World has become a very self-referential place, only vaguely in touch with reality. There is Fox News, there is the Weekly Standard, Powerline and the other clautrophobic blogs, there is Rush and the other radio screamers. When the same message is repeated over and over again–Obama is a spendthrift! He’s a socialist! He’s creating these huge deficits!–even intelligent conservatives, like Krauthammer, begin to believe it. (And sadly, far too many of my columnar colleagues have gone along with the deficit as be-all-and-end-all myth.)

And so it’s painful when reality intrudes. Here is the reality: the Republicans have spent the past 30 years creating deficits and the Democrats have spent the past 30 years closing them. The unimportance of deficits became an article of faith during the second Bush Administration: “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter,” Dick Cheney famously said. It has been rather hilarious for those of us with even a minimal grasp of recent history to watch these folks pull fierce 180-degree turns on the issue–and it is even more hilarious to watch them accuse Obama of hyper-partisanship after the dump-truck full of garbage they visited upon his head these past few years.

Indeed, the sheer hatred that Republicans have for Obama has led them to overreach, to latch onto Paul Ryan’s well-outside-the-mainstream budget plan. They now face a presidential election where they are completely tied to the idea of destroying the most popular government program out there–Medicare. They are now tied to the incredibly cruel and witless notion that they’re going to ask 90-year-olds to make free market choices, with vouchers constantly diminishing in value, in an extremely complicated health market. And most important, as the President said, they are now tied to a slick attempt to make middle class people pay more for Medicare while demanding lower taxes for the wealthy.

And so, the predictable screechings: It’s class warfare (as if Ryan’s plan isn’t)! It’s vague (actually, it’s based on the findings of the bipartisan deficit reduction commission)! It’s hyper-partisan (guffaw)!

From the start, I’ve said that Ryan’s plan was courageous. It was proved so yesterday–kamikazi courageous. It lays plain the true intentions of latter day radical conservatism: the gutting of the social safety net. Republicans will now have to run on this principle. We should all be grateful to Ryan for his intellectual honesty. The President should be especially grateful.

Oh, and finally, here’s the ultimate Republican response to Obama’s speech, from John Podhoretz: maybe the President’s emphasis on budget cutting wasn’t such a good idea in the first place, maybe he should have been more concerned about goosing the economy. This, at least, has an element of truth to it: all this deficit-cutting has been a diversion from Obama’s immediate task, the job most Americans want done–getting the economy back on track. To the extent that the President has allowed the Republicans to divert him into this foolishness, JPod has a point.