Every few years or so, the Republicans trot out one of these little whippersnappers, who offer proposals to hack away at the federal budget. Each successive whippersnapper inevitably tries, rhetorically, to out-mean the previous one, and their proposals are inevitably couched as the boldest and most ambitious deficit-reduction plans ever seen. Each time, we are told that these plans mark the end of the budgetary reign of terror long ago imposed by the entitlement system begun by FDR and furthered by LBJ.
Never mind that each time the Republicans actually come into power, federal deficit spending explodes and these whippersnappers somehow never get around to touching Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. The key is that for the many years before that moment of truth, before these buffoons actually get a chance to put their money where their lipless little mouths are, they will stomp their feet and scream about how entitlements are bringing us to the edge of apocalypse.
The reason for this is always the same: the Republicans, quite smartly, recognize that there is great political hay to be made in the appearance of deficit reduction, and that white middle class voters will respond with overwhelming enthusiasm to any call for reductions in the “welfare state,” a term which said voters will instantly associate with black welfare moms and Mexicans sneaking over the border to visit American emergency rooms.
The problem, of course, is that to actually make significant cuts in what is left of the “welfare state,” one has to cut Medicare and Medicaid, programs overwhelmingly patronized by white people, and particularly white seniors. So when the time comes to actually pull the trigger on the proposed reductions, the whippersnappers are quietly removed from the stage and life goes on as usual, i.e. with massive deficit spending on defense, upper-class tax cuts, bailouts, corporate subsidies, and big handouts to Pharma and the insurance industries.
This is a political game that gets played out in the media over and over again, and everyone in Washington knows how it works. Which is why it’s nauseating (but not surprising) to see so many commentators falling over themselves with praise for Ryan’s “bold” budget proposal, which is supposedly a ballsy piece of politics because it proposes backdoor cuts in Medicare and Medicaid by redounding their appropriations to the states and to block grants. Ryan is being praised for thusly taking on seniors, a traditionally untouchable political demographic...