At his press conference on Monday, President Barack Obama had to remind Mara Liasson of Fox News and NPR that it was the Republicans who doubled the national debt over the past eight years and it’s a little strange to be hearing lectures from them now about how to be fiscally responsible. That interchange was my favorite part of the press conference. A savvy inside-the-Beltway reporter of Ms. Liasson’s caliber shouldn’t have to be reminded that George W. Bush and the Republican Congress were among the most fiscally reckless politicians in U.S. history.
The most inexcusable action the Republican Congress and the Bush administration took vis-à-vis the federal budget was to launch two wars and two open-ended occupations without raising one dime in revenues to pay for them. Never in the history of this country has an administration and Congress cut taxes while launching open-ended wars.
Bush and the Republican Congress didn’t think twice before throwing the entire $850 billion price tag for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars right onto the national debt. Not only did they refuse to pass new “revenue enhancements” to pay for the wars, but they also fought tooth and nail to block any legislation that would raise revenues. They didn’t budge an inch on repealing the totally irresponsible Bush tax cuts of 2001 that immediately ballooned the deficit before 9-11. Any “conservative” administration and Congress (one would think) would either raise taxes to pay for their new wars or at least roll back the tax cuts they enacted upon seizing power. In 2008, John McCain campaigned on making the Bush tax cuts permanent.
So pardon me for not being moved when I hear Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Jon Kyl, Lindsey Graham, John Boehner, and other Washington Republicans (along with the Right’s echo chamber) whining and griping about the “excessive spending” in the stimulus bill and the effects it will have on the national debt.
The journalist Will Bunch illustrates the cultural production and consumption of an ersatz Reaganism that contemporary Republicans are aping in his new book, Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future. Bunch lifts the veil on the Reagan myth and shows that it is a product of a “Ronald Reagan Legacy Project” that rightwingers launched in 1997. “The areas where Bush diverged” from Reagan, Bunch writes, “were the areas where the Gipper had done his very best: using rhetoric to motivate and inspire confidence, dealing with mistakes and those times when compromise or even backpedaling were necessary, [and] a willingness to talk to enemies…” (pp. 168-169).
The posturing of the Washington Republicans since Obama was elected proves correct the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard when he outlined his understanding of “simulacrum” in advanced capitalist societies where ideologies and images are copies of copies without originals. It’s the kind of Reaganism mass produced on T-shirts and coffee mugs, not the real record of Reagan’s actions when he was president like his “cutting and running” in Lebanon, or his raising taxes 13 times to ward off an even worse fiscal crisis, or his negotiating in an atmosphere of detente with the Soviet Union he once called an “evil empire.” The Republicans today are conforming to an ideology based on a myth that other Republicans created in 1997, a copy of a copy without an original.
So in 2009 what is left of the Grand Old Party? It appears that Republican politics today have become the politics of pastiche: They love independent women like Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter yet they hate independent women like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi; they love tax cuts and deregulation yet they also love to control women’s bodies and decide who shall marry and who shall not; they love fictive workers like Joe the Plumber yet they hate real workers who want to pass the Employee Free Choice Act; and they hate the Senate filibuster until they love it to death. And while the “angry white male” is becoming the UNEMPLOYED “angry white male” the Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele says “work” does not mean “jobs.”
Joseph Palermo is Associate Professor of American History at CSU, Sacramento. He’s the author of two books on Robert F. Kennedy: In His Own Right (2001) and RFK (2008).
Reprinted with permission from the author.