The politics of personal grievance

Based on all of the reports of yesterday’s White House meeting between President Obama and congressional Republicans, it seems one thing is perfectly clear: GOP leaders really want to talk about their feelings.

ABC’s Jake Tapper’s report went into more detail than most.

[House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan] then spoke, saying that leaders can either exacerbate the problem of demagoguery or tone it down.

The House Budget Committee chairman said he thought they were having a year of cooperation with the White House and House Republicans able to work together on preventing the Bush tax cuts from expiring, and a budget for the rest of the year, but President Obama’s GWU speech was the opposite. The president said in that speech that Republicans don’t care about kids with autism and other disabilities, Ryan said.

Healthcare is the driver of our debt right now, Ryan said. He also described his plan for Medicare reform for the president, saying Democrats were mischaracterizing it. Our program is not a voucher plan, Ryan said, it is premium support — which he then explained.

Ryan told the president that he is making a sincere attempt to address a problem, and he challenged the president: “Mr. President, the demagoguery only stops if the Leaders stop it.”

His fellow House Republicans gave him a standing ovation.

I can’t help but wonder what the weather is like in congressional Republicans’ reality.

The president’s speech in April really seemed to shock the GOP. Obama presented a vision for $4 trillion in debt reduction, but he also took Republicans to task for a misguided, right-wing approach that he would not accept. The politics of personal grievance was immediate and pronounced — Obama just isn’t supposed to throw elbows at his rivals, and two months later, the GOP still hasn’t quite gotten over the fact that the big bad president said mean things about them in public.

This is truly bizarre, even for Republicans. Do GOP leaders really want to get into a debate about excessive rhetoric and political demagoguery?

Obama reminded his guests yesterday, “I’m the death-panel-supporting, socialist, may-not-have-been-born-here president,” as a way of reminding Republicans that he’s not exactly a stranger to caricatures.

But really, that’s barely scratching the surface. Shortly before going to the White House to denounce demagoguery, Paul Ryan appeared on Fox News to say Democrats are trying to end Medicare and empower “unelected bureaucrats” to “ration Medicare for current seniors.”

It was the same morning. Ryan went from patently ridiculous demagoguery on a Republican cable news network to a White House meeting in which he lectured the president about demagoguery.

Indeed, Paul Ryan has been as shameless a demagogue as any member of Congress in recent years.

This is not to say Ryan and Dems are equally culpable; they’re not. Ryan has been much worse — his rhetorical excesses have been deliberately deceptive, whereas the Democratic rhetoric he’s now whining about happens to true.

And all of this is just about style over substance anyway. At the White House meeting, participants didn’t even get to specific policy discussions, because GOP officials wanted to whine incessantly about rhetoric. The politics of personal grievance has twisted Republican priorities in unhelpful ways.