One of the reasons that I find political narratives to be fascinating is because once they take hold, they are almost impossible to shake. For example, decades ago Republicans became the party of fiscal responsibility and, as such, their knee-jerk response to any Democratic initiative is that we can’t afford it. Perhaps the most persistent narrative in politics today is that the GOP is the party concerned about debt and deficits, when the exact opposite is true.
That narrative continues to persist, even after Dick Cheney told George W. Bush that “deficits don’t matter” when they went on a spending spree to fight wars in 2003. Then Obama got elected and Republicans went so far as to threaten to blow up the global economy over the standard procedure of raising the debt ceiling.
Most recently, Trump and Republicans went on a spending spree and blew up the deficit by doing the two things Republicans always do: (1) increasing military spending, and (2) giving huge tax cuts to the wealthy. But in case you didn’t notice, there was no mention of deficits in Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night. When Republicans asked budget director Mick Mulvaney about that, his response was that “nobody cares” about deficits anymore. That is the exact opposite of Mulvaney’s position when Obama was president.
Michael Grunwald captured the whiplash we’ve been exposed to from Republicans on this one.
R’s: Clinton is blowing up deficit!
Clinton eliminates deficit.
Bush blows up deficit.
Cheney: Deficits don’t matter!
R’s: Obama is blowing up deficit!
Obama reduces deficit.
Trump blows up deficit.
Mulvaney: Nobody cares about deficits!
— Michael Grunwald (@MikeGrunwald) February 6, 2019
If he had more room on Twitter, Grunwald could have gone back to that time when Reagan blew up the deficit with what George H.W. Bush called “voodoo economics,” which is what created the mess that Clinton had to clean up.
In other words, the country has now had almost 30 years of evidence that proves this narrative to be false, and yet it persists. You will find no better example of the power of narrative in politics than the lie about Republicans being the party of fiscal responsibility.