When cynicism rules the day


Congressional Republicans pushed President Obama as hard as they could to put chained-CPI for Social Security benefits on the table. Obama grudgingly agreed, offering the Republican policy in exchange for concessions from the right on revenue. Liberals, not surprisingly, aren’t pleased.

The more remarkable turn came when Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee who’ll oversee his party’s 2014 midterm efforts, accused Obama of waging “a shocking attack on seniors,” and “trying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors.” The president’s biggest mistake, according to the Republican, was agreeing to Republicans’ terms. By conservative reasoning, Obama should have been more liberal to avoid criticism from the right.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) offered a mild rebuke of Walden’s antics, but Walden has so far refused to walk back or alter his shameless and rather pathetic attacks. Why? Because he’s just playing a post-policy game.

The debate Walden’s remarks has set off inside the GOP shows many Republicans harbor deep-seated fears about publicly supporting the entitlement cuts they supposedly back and have demanded Obama and other Democrats embrace since taking control of the House in 2011.

“Walden is doing the right thing for the 30 seats that control the majority of the House, and that’s what the mission of NRCC chair is,” said Brock McLeary, the president of Harper Polling and a former top political hand at the NRCC.

It’s an amazing perspective, isn’t it? Cynicism isn’t an unfortunate byproduct; it’s simply “the right thing” to do. Can there a more transparent example of the post-policy thesis? As Greg Sargent added, “[W]hat you’re seeing clearly demonstrated here is a kind of policy nihilism on the part of the GOP that helps explain why addressing the country’s problems has become all but impossible.”

And, of course, the further manifestation of this post-policy nihilism is a new effort from those on the far-right to attack Obama using liberal talking points.

It’s happening more than one might expect. Not only is Walden condemning his own party’s Social Security policy with progressive arguments, but as Jon Chait noted, Charles Krauthammer is calling for significant increases in revenue as part of fiscal deal and Matthew Continetti wants the White House to shift its focus to job creation. No, seriously.

[I]t is pretty rich to see his efforts to meet Republicans on their chosen ideological grounds met with a sudden decision by some conservatives to leap back over to Obama’s [left] and taunt him from there.

It is, indeed.