The motivation behind a bogus talking point

THE MOTIVATION BEHIND A BOGUS TALKING POINT…. Prominent Republicans, most notably House Speaker John Boehner and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, argue on a daily basis, “We’re broke.” It’s become a catch-all explanation to justify a reactionary, right-wing agenda.

Of course, as GOP officials almost certainly know, the talking point has no basis in fact. But more important than noting that Republicans are lying about this is appreciating why this particular lie has so much value.

E.J. Dionne Jr. explained very well today that “we’re broke” is being used “to hijack the nation’s political conversation and skew public policies to benefit better-off Americans and hurt most others.”

We have an 8.9 percent unemployment rate, yet further measures to spur job creation are off the table. We’re broke, you see. We have a $15 trillion economy, yet we pretend to be an impoverished nation with no room for public investments in our future or efforts to ease the pain of a deep recession on those Americans who didn’t profit from it or cause it in the first place.

As Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) pointed out in a little-noticed but powerful speech on the economy in December, “during the past 20 years, 56 percent of all income growth went to the top 1 percent of households. Even more unbelievably, a third of all income growth went to just the top one-tenth of 1 percent.” Some people are definitely not broke, yet we can’t even think about raising their taxes.

By contrast, Franken noted that “when you adjust for inflation, the median household income actually declined over the last decade.” Many of those folks are going broke, yet because “we’re broke,” we’re told we can’t possibly help them.

Give Boehner, Walker and their allies full credit for diverting our attention with an arresting metaphor. The rest of us are dupes if we fall for it.

Well said.

I’d just add that the timing of the GOP revelation is also of interest. In December, when Republicans wanted an $858 billion tax-cut package, we weren’t broke. How much of that package did the GOP suggest we pay for? None of it. Not one penny. The costs were simply added to the deficit, and are the driving force behind the rising deficit estimates for this year, which have sent the right into such hysteria.

But now we’re so broke, we’re told, that we have no choice but to make brutal cuts to education, medical research, infrastructure, job training, and national security, all of which is projected to cost the economy hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.