Are my eyes and ears deceiving me or has the GOP gone soft? Like the Grinch on Christmas day, maybe their hearts have suddenly grown three times in size? Perhaps there’s something to this compassionate conservatism after all.
Listening to Tom Coburn this past Monday, it sure seemed that way. You see Coburn released a report this week that revealed some rather startling and unsettling facts. Millionaires, it seems, are receiving billions in taxpayer dollars for things like childcare and bad debts. And Coburn was none too thrilled over the details. This is what he wrote in an accompanying letter to the report:
“From tax write-offs for gambling losses, vacation homes, and luxury yachts to subsidies for their ranches and estates, the government is subsidizing the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Multimillionaires are even receiving government checks for not working. This welfare for the well-off – costing billions of dollars a year – is being paid for with the taxes of the less fortunate.
“The income of the wealthiest one percent of Americans has risen dramatically over the last decade. Yet, the federal government lavishes these millionaires with billions of dollars in giveaways and tax breaks. The government's social safety net, which has long existed to catch those who are down and help them get back up, is now being used as a hammock by some millionaires, some who are paying less taxes than average middle class families.”
In case you were wondering that was the Tom Coburn, bad-ass Republican from the state of Oklahoma. It has suddenly dawned on him that the wealthy in this country have been getting along just dandy while the majority of Americans – the 99 percent – have not been nearly as fortunate.
And it isn’t just Coburn who’s had an awakening of sorts. Recently Darrell Issa, old Mr. Subpoena himself, while addressing a group of retirees whose pensions have been drastically cut, let slip the following:
“We don’t need laws for the powerful. We need the Constitution and laws for the weak. Ultimately the success of our Democracy is about the minority having rights, not the majority.”
Oops, that was rather transparent, not to mention quite obvious. But wait, as they say in that commercial, there’s more. In fact, I’ve saved the best for last. None other than Paul Ryan – yes the Paul Ryan who wants to privatize Medicare and turn Medicaid into a grant program for the states – agreed with a caller on a conservative talk radio show that Glass-Steagall should be reinstated.
“Mixing banking and commerce, meaning allowing banks to go do non-banking activities, by leveraging their deposits. The way I look at this, there’s a lot of merit to what you just said. If banks want to make hedge fund-like returns, then they should go be a hedge fund. But if you want to be a bank, then be a bank. Don’t try to be a hedge fund and take undue risks with your depositor’s money. So the way I see it, we need to have more conservative leverage limits, so you can’t leverage too much, and keep these firms within the silos where they are supposed to operate based on the degree of risk that they’re supposed to take. And if you’re just taking deposits, then I think we need to reestablish those kinds of limits.”
Wow! I hope you were sitting down for that last one, because it was a doozy! Now, before we start nominating any of these fearless leaders for a humanitarian award, a little context, I believe, is in order.
One, Republicans are starting to get an earful from their constituents over not just the state of the economy, but the side-show antics they’ve been engaging in. It has become abundantly clear to them that their dog and pony show is starting to wear thin with an electorate that has already seen fit to give the Democrats the heave ho in the last election and is now apparently prepared to do the same to them. Give them this much, they can read the poll numbers. President Obama may have a low approval rating, but he’s still considerably higher than anybody in the GOP.
Second, they’re taking a page out of Bill Clinton’s playbook. After seeing what happened in Ohio, Maine, Mississippi and Arizona just the other week, some Republicans have decided to engage in their own game of triangulation. They have figured out that crazy isn’t selling the way most of them thought it would, so they’re trying something unique. They are taking populist positions that resonate with voters in the hopes of stealing some of Obama’s thunder in next year’s election. Witness Mitt Romney’s flip flop over the Occupy Wall Street movement. First he was against it, then, when he found out how popular it had become with a majority of Americans, he quickly reversed himself and said he sympathized with their message.
Whether this new-found strategy is successful will depend on two things: 1. How many Republicans actually have the daring to break free from the wingnuts who control the apparatus of the conservative movement, and 2. How long they can keep up the show before their true inner selves re-emerge. And make no mistake about it: It IS a show. The greatest freak show on Earth, in fact. Just make sure you bring your shovel with you. It can get pretty messy having to clean up after so many elephants.
Compassionate conservatism? Sure, and I’ve still got that bridge in Brooklyn that I’m trying to unload.