You can never take the hypocrisy out of politics — without at least a little bit of hypocrisy, the conduct of politics would become impossible. But what is tolerable, even necessary in small doses can become downright toxic when administered on today’s scale.
Here’s what I mean:
Think back to the early days of 2009, and try to remember the sense of near-panic that engulfed the country.
We were losing 800,000 jobs a month. The stock market was in the midst of an historic collapse, with the Dow falling from a peak of 14000 in October of 2007 to 6600 by March of ’09. Nobody knew where the bottom might be. The housing market was an even bigger disaster — millions of American families were being kicked out of their homes due to foreclosure, and economists of all stripes were warning that another great depression might be looming.
So President Obama did what every previous president since FDR had done when faced with economic trouble, what every economics textbook in the nation would have advised. To calm the panic and put money back into the economy, he proposed a $787 billion stimulus package that would put Americans back to work, extend long-term jobless benefits to those who could not find work, and cut taxes to increase spending power.
Yet Republicans refused to support his plan, even in the midst of the greatest economic emergency since the Great Depression. As House Minority Leader John Boehner explained it, they opposed the bill because it added to the deficit, calling it “an act of generational theft that our children and grandchildren will be paying for far into the future.”
The bill still passed the House with a vote of 247-183, but not a single Republican voted for it. It passed 60-38 in the Senate, with just three GOP senators voting in favor, just enough to get it past the filibuster, and it was signed into law by Obama.
Since then, things have gotten a lot better. We just marked the 85th consecutive month of job growth, the unemployment rate is 4.1 percent, and corporate after-tax profits and the stock market have never been higher. We still face economic challenges, but they are largely distributional in nature, with the working and middle class not fully sharing in the prosperity. Overall, though, the difference from eight years ago could not be more stark.
Something else is starkly different as well. Remember the Republican Party, which claimed that it could not bring itself to support a badly needed stimulus bill because of what it would do to the national debt? Remember the party that preached to us so solemnly about “generational theft,” that clung to the purity of its position even in the midst of a dire economic emergency, that refused to cooperate with a newly elected Democratic president because their cooperation might help him politically?
Those very same people are now championing a tax-cut bill that will add another $1.4 trillion to the debt, on the theory that it will “stimulate” an already booming economy. They are advocating “generational theft” on a truly massive scale, borrowing from our children and grandchildren without their permission. And why? They are doing so not to rescue a collapsing economy, not to pay extended jobless benefits to millions of Americans who were laid off, but to put hundreds of billions of dollars into the already stuffed pockets of corporations and wealthy GOP donors.
Like I said, a little hypocrisy is an absolute necessity in politics. But this? This is utterly shameless.