Failing to appreciate the GOP’s extremism

Michael Gerson, the conservative Washington Post columnist and former Bush speechwriter, is willing to concede that Mitt Romney took President Obama out of context last week. Gerson, however, is not especially troubled by Romney’s dishonesty.

As the columnist sees it, “the truth often gets its hair mussed” in a campaign, and since President Obama “has frequently done the mussing,” the political world should just roll with it.

In fact, Gerson even tries to bolster his argument with evidence: “As president, Obama has asserted that Republicans want the elderly, autistic children and children with Down syndrome to ‘fend for themselves,’ and that the GOP plan is ‘dirtier air, dirtier water, less people with health insurance.’ In what context would these claims be true?”

As much as I appreciate the fact that Gerson is at least trying to support his observation with facts, the problem here is that congressional Republicans are far more conservative than he even realizes. This ignorance has left the columnist so confused about the policy fights of the last year that what Gerson sees as offensive hyperbole from the president is actually an honest description of GOP policies. Indeed, as Jon Chait explained, Obama’s criticism happens to be true.

The House Republican budget would cut Medicaid — a bare-bones health insurance program for the poor, disabled, and elderly — by $750 billion over ten years, ramping up the scale of cuts until funding has been reduced by 35 percent by 2022. When you’re slashing the funding of a program that’s far cheaper than private insurance and not replacing it with anything, you’re pretty much leaving people to fend for themselves.

As for children with Down syndrome, they’re an important part of the Medicaid program. (People with disabilities account for 42 percent of the cost of Medicaid.) Unsurprisingly, disability advocates were apoplectic about the Republican budget.

The dirtier air and water part is pretty straightforward: The House Republicans have voted to roll back basic air pollution standards and strip the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to enforce clean water standards. When you eliminate laws that keep air and water clean, you make them more dirty.

And the House Republican budget would repeal the Affordable Care Act and put in place nothing whatsoever to cover the uninsured, thereby increasing their ranks by some 32 million.

In other words, Gerson has examples of Obama playing fast and loose with the truth, but Gerson has it backwards — what the columnist sees as false happens to be accurate. The alleged proof of the president’s dishonesty is actually evidence of the opposite.

I suspect this is just the result of laziness on Gerson’s part. He heard the president’s criticism of GOP lawmakers and likely thought to himself, “Obama is making Republicans out to be heartless monsters! There’s no way those charges are true.”

But they were true; Gerson just didn’t feel the need to check. He assumes his party isn’t that extreme, and hasn’t taken the time to realize his assumptions are wrong.