"PLEASE GORE MY OX"? I DON'T THINK SO
Nobody in Left Blogistan takes Ross Douthat seriously, but I want to address a point in his latest column because he has some credibility in other precincts. In response to the GOP's Pledge to America, he writes today:
Their eccentric elements notwithstanding, the Tea Parties have something vital to offer the country: a vocal, activist constituency for spending cuts at a time when politicians desperately need to have their spines stiffened on the issue.
I'm sorry -- what evidence is there of that? The fact that they talk in broad generalities about reducing the size of government or having a government that does only what's expressly mentioned in the Constitution? Sure, now, when it's completely theoretical, they talk like this -- but why should we believe any of them would actually give up or drastically reduce government programs they like?
We knew a year ago that the anti-government fervor of these people extended only to the point at which they thought their own ox was being gored: recall that a year ago they were going to town halls and saying, "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!" They were telling pollsters the same thing.
So Douthat has it exactly backward when he writes this:
... the only way to really bring the budget into balance is to reform (i.e., cut) Medicare and Social Security, a topic that nobody in Congress -- save the indefatigable Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan -- is particularly eager to touch.
But that means that the pledge is ultimately less about the triumph of the Tea Partiers, and more about their potential co-option by Republican politics as usual.
... it's all too easy to imagine the movement (which, after all, includes a lot of Social Security and Medicare recipients!) being seduced with rhetorical nods to the Constitution, and general promises of spending discipline that never get specific.
The Republicans didn't carve out spending-freeze exceptions in their Pledge for popular programs because they're trying to coopt teabaggers who are sincere budget-cutters -- they did it because they know that, except perhaps for a pure purist leaders, teabaggers aren't sincere, at least about cutting Social Security and Medicare and veterans' programs and defense. Knowing what the rank-and-file really believes, the GOP has made a politically astute decision: to give them just the pabulum they want.
Teabaggers favor "slashing government" only because they sincerely believe you can balance the budget without touching anything that affects them. They think it's just a matter of eliminating an ACORN subsidy here and a Planned Parenthood subsidy there, and voila! Balanced budget. Republicans certainly aren't going to disabuse them of this fairy-tale notion now.