Wonder Where They Could Have Gotten That Idea?

This morning’s knee-slapper is in a report from The Hill‘s Jonathan Easley:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) ripped the media in a speech Tuesday to the Ripon Society, arguing press coverage is partly responsible for the GOP’s messaging woes.

Cantor, who has tried to recast the image of the GOP with his Making Life Work agenda, said the party’s economic message is often drowned out by coverage of debt and deficits.

“The media has done a great job of sort of shoving us in the corner, because all they say we are concerned with is somehow balancing the budget and cutting spending and taking things away from people,” Cantor said. “What we’re trying to say is that we need to do those things in order to reenergize the opportunity machine of America. We’re about giving people opportunity. And that’s really what our agenda this year is about.”

Gee, wonder where media types could have gotten the idea Republicans were a mite obsessed with debt, deficits and domestic spending? Could it be the fact that they were calling incessantly for deficit reduction measures at every single point during and after the Great Recession? Were the GOP’s serial threats (which continue today) to throw the entire global economy into chaos if they don’t get spending-cuts-only deficit reduction concessions of an epochal nature actually taken seriously?

Since it is quite literally incredible that Cantor doesn’t understand all that, it’s more likely his intention in lashing the media is to get them to report that Republicans don’t enjoy insisting on public-sector austerity. That probably is an argument worth making for a Republican leader these days, because there is in fact a lot of evidence that conservatives view with great satisfaction prospects for shredding the social safety net as an end in itself, and would (because they often have) support it even if the economy were booming. Sure, you could say they do so because they believe it is necessary in order to “reenergize the opportunity machine.” But we all know that for many conservatives that’s another way of saying lazy bums dependent on the federal government need to experience some real fear of starvation and then maybe they’ll learn to be grateful for whatever opportunities the nation’s “job creators”–the Atlases from whose efforts the rest of us are parasitically benefitting–see fit to give them.

Do Republican sincerely believe that in the long run their policies are in the interests of all Americans? Probably so, in the same sense that advocates of every political ideology think it will create the best possible society. It just so happens that this particular ideology takes a pretty big detour through entirely avoidable human misery to reach its goals. Every day now, we hear another economist admit that deficit reduction measures, and particularly spending cuts, have perpetuated high unemployment and sluggish growth, as Jackie Calmes and Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times note today:

The nation’s unemployment rate would probably be nearly a point lower, roughly 6.5 percent, and economic growth almost two points higher this year if Washington had not cut spending and raised taxes as it has since 2011, according to private-sector and government economists.

After two years in which President Obama and Republicans in Congress have fought to a draw over their clashing approaches to job creation and budget deficits, the consensus about the result is clear: Immediate deficit reduction is a drag on full economic recovery….

Tax increases and especially spending cuts, these critics say, take money from an economy that still needs some stimulus now, and is getting it only through the expansionary monetary policy of the Federal Reserve.

“Fiscal tightening is hurting,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist of Pantheon Macroeconomic Advisors, wrote to clients recently. The investment bank Jefferies wrote of “ongoing fiscal mismanagement” in its midyear report on Tuesday, and noted that while the recovery and expansion would be four years old next month, reduced government spending “has detracted from growth in five of past seven quarters.”

Now Republicans are free to argue such immediate pain is ultimately necessary to prevent some long-term debt crisis, or to bring to an end the long New Deal/Great Society era of a leaner-and-meaner (compared to Europe) but still-existing welfare state, or to help America survive in a vicious global competition for resources with societies even more unequal than our own. What they are not free to do is to complain when the media or people generally don’t buy their spin and notice that the GOP’s all-purpose prescription for economic, fiscal and social policy is to find every way possible to cut public spending on everything other than defense and maybe fossil fuel or farm subsidies, while cutting taxes on the wealthy and eliminating public scrutiny of their business dealings. Maybe they have pure motives for pursuing this agenda, or maybe their hearts have been hardened into stone. But it just doesn’t much matter to those most affected.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.