After a few decades of failed economic predictions, the Republican message machine has run into some trouble. GOP officials were absolutely certain the combination of the Affordable Care Act, higher taxes on the wealthy, and federal regulations would stifle the economy, and when the exact opposite happened, Republicans were left, well, stuck.
Left with limited options, the right has decided it now cares deeply about economic inequality. Up until very recently, the GOP condemned even factual acknowledgements of the phenomenon -- to even notice the problem was "class warfare" -- but Republicans at every level have nevertheless decided that the concentration of wealth at the top deserves their attention.
Indeed, it's the go-to rejoinder to economic optimism from the White House. "Sure," the GOP says, "unemployment is down and growth is up, but it doesn't really count if only 'job creators' are enjoying the real prosperity."
To be sure, the underlying problem is real. But as a political matter, Republicans are the absolute last group of people who should be casting blame in a debate about economic inequalities. They are, after all, the ones who (a) helped create this mess; (b) denied its existence; and (c) refuse to consider any measures that might improve the conditions they're now complaining about. Watching Republicans push their new talking point is like watching someone put on a mask that doesn't fit.
NBC's First Read had a good take on this last week:
[T]he income-inequality playing field isn't the friendliest terrain for Republicans. Are you for or against raising the minimum wage? (Boehner is against.) Are you for or against closing tax loopholes benefitting the wealthy? What about Medicaid expansion? The Obamacare subsidies the Supreme Court is deciding this year? And do you still call for reining in Social Security benefits?The GOP taking up the income-inequality cause is akin to a vegetarian becoming a food critic of America's best steakhouses. You can certainly do it -- but it's not necessarily your strong suit. Plus, it's QUITE the transition.
Just how awkward is this transition? House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) -- yes, that Paul Ryan -- is accusing President Obama and Democrats of imposing "trickle-down economics" on the nation.
No, seriously, that's exactly what the far-right congressman actually said, out loud and on purpose. "The Obamanomics that we're practicing now have exacerbated inequality," Ryan argued. "They've exacerbated stagnation. They're made things worse. The wealthy are doing really well. They're practicing trickle down economics now."
Jon Chait, understandably gobsmacked by Ryan's nutty rhetoric, noted that it's Obama who has pushed for a series of federal policies that reduce inequality and transfer resources from the top down, while the far-right Wisconsinite has done the polar opposite, rejecting the president's ideas and pushing an economic agenda that would slash taxes even more on the very wealthy, in the hopes that prosperity would eventually trickle down to every one else.
...Ryan flamboyantly advocated a sweeping budget plan that would have eliminated coverage expansions for the poor, layered on hundreds of billions of dollars in additional cuts in programs benefiting the poor, and in general produced "the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation's history)."And now Ryan is claiming Obama's policies increased inequality! There seems to be literally no limit at all to his shamelessness.
By any sensible, reality-based standard, blaming the president for income inequality is insane, all of which leads to an awkward question: what in the world is Paul Ryan talking about?
For Chait, the answer is that the GOP lawmaker is just shamelessly lying. That may be. But let's not rule out the possibility that Ryan has simply forgotten what "trickle-down economics" means and/or the economic debates of the last six years.
Because as long-time readers may recall, Paul Ryan appears to have the worst memory in American politics.
Ryan doesn’t remember that he used to refer to his own plan to end Medicare as “vouchers.”
Ryan doesn’t remember taking credit for the sequestration policy he later condemned.
Ryan doesn’t remember learning about Democratic alternatives to the sequester.
Ryan doesn’t remember what happened with the 2011 “super committee.”
Ryan doesn’t remember Bill Clinton’s tax increases.
Ryan doesn’t remember the times he condemned social-insurance programs as “taker” programs.
Ryan doesn’t remember all of the times he appealed to the Obama administration for stimulus funds for his congressional district.
Ryan doesn’t remember his marathon times.
Ryan doesn’t remember how much he was inspired by Ayn Rand.
Ryan doesn’t remember his own speeches.
Ryan doesn't remember spending cuts that he helped author.
Ryan doesn't remember who killed immigration reform in the last Congress.
And now he can't even recall what "trickle-down economics" means? As we’ve discussed, everyone can be forgetful once in a while, but the Republican Budget Committee chairman seems to forget rather important details and developments so often, it’s unsettling.
Unless, of course, his memory is fine and Ryan is simply prefers near-constant efforts to mislead the public. That couldn’t be, could it?