Social Security, Republicans, and post-policy politics

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About a week ago, when it became clear that President Obama’s budget would include the chained-CPI policy congressional Republicans are so fond of, Paul Krugman asked a poignant rhetorical question: “[W]anna bet that Republicans soon start running ads saying that Obama wants to cut your Social Security?”

I heard some scoff at the idea. Republicans are extreme, but they’re not that extreme. The GOP is shameless, but it’s not that shameless. They couldn’t seriously condemn the president for offering a policy Republicans demanded he offer, could they?

Of course they could.

For those who can’t watch clips online, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee who’ll oversee his party’s 2014 midterm efforts, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer yesterday that the chained-CPI policy is “a shocking attack on seniors.” Walden added that Obama’s proposal is “going after seniors” and “trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors.”

So, let’s recap.

1. Republicans demanded that President Obama accept Social Security cuts through chained-CPI.

2. Obama, eager to reach a compromise, grudgingly agreed and offered Republicans what they asked for.

3. Republicans then attacked Obama for proposing the policy they demanded.

This is, by any fair measure, insane. But it’s also predictable – this is the same caucus that demands Medicare cuts, but then based their 2010 and 2012 campaign strategies in part on attacks that Democrats cut Medicare.

No serous person could take such garbage seriously, but Walden apparently believes voters are easily fooled and manipulated.

But also let’s not lose sight of the larger context.

I should note, for example, that there were some divisions on the right about how to respond to the White House offer, and some, including House Speaker John Boehner, were inclined to give the president at least some credit. I mention this because Walden, while laughably ridiculous during his CNN interview, did not necessarily speak for a large contingent of GOP lawmakers.

That said, he is the NRCC chairman – hardly some obscure back-bencher – and it’s hard to dismiss craven arguments he presents to a national television audience.

But there’s also the “post-policy” thesis I’ve been kicking around the last couple of weeks.

Rachel used the phrase on the show, asking whether Republicans have become a “post-policy” party. This was the exchange between Rachel and Ezra:

MADDOW: Does that mean that [Republican policymakers are] post-policy, that the policy actually – even some things that seem like constants don’t actually a matter them, that it’s pure politics, just positioning themselves vis-a-vis the president, and they’re not actually invested in any particular outcome for the country?

KLEIN: I would like to have an answer where that isn’t true. I really would. And I’ve tried – I’ve been trying to find it. I’m sure part is I’m not smart enough to do so, that I’ve not found the right people to have spoken to them. But it is hard to come up with one.

This was nearly a month ago, and was unrelated to chained-CPI, but notice how well this applies to Walden’s perspective. His party supports and asked for the policy he condemned, but the Oregon Republican didn’t care – he’s only invested in pure politics, positioning himself and his party vis-a-vis the president, and Walden is unconcerned with any particular outcome for the country.

There is, by the way, nothing stopping Obama from taking Walden’s rhetoric at face value and dropping chained-CPI altogether. “I thought Republicans wanted this policy,” he could say. “But if they consider this ‘a shocking attack on seniors,’ I’ll gladly drop the idea.”

Social Security, Greg Walden and NRCC

Social Security, Republicans, and post-policy politics

Updated