Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Thanks to an ultraconservative congressional faction, many Americans now view the Republican Party as extremist, petty and irresponsible. You need look no further than the ridiculous, drawn-out drama over the so-called fiscal cliff to see the GOP’s inability to negotiate reality.

But while its brand is badly damaged, the Republican Party has managed to keep alive its mystique as the party of fiscal restraint. Shortly before the election, a Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that, by a margin of 51 percent to 43 percent, Americans believed Mitt Romney would do a better job on the deficit than President Obama. That’s in keeping with years’ worth of public opinion that gives Republicans credit for fiscal conservatism.

But it’s flat-out wrong. That’s just a convenient myth that Republicans have sold the taxpayers — a clever bit of marketing that covers a multitude of sins. There is nothing in the GOP’s record over the last two decades showing it to be a party that is sincere about balancing the budget, ferreting out waste or reining in excessive government spending. Indeed, it’s a big lie.

Just look back at the presidency of George W. Bush — eight years of red ink that Republicans would like you to forget. First, Bush pushed through the tax cuts that ruined the balanced budgets Bill Clinton had enacted. Then, he proceeded to prosecute two wars and enact a huge new entitlement: the Medicare prescription drug plan. In response to concerns about spending from then-Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, Dick Cheney reportedly said, “You know, Paul, Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.”

Here’s what Republicans and their base believe in: cutting spending for programs that benefit the poor, the darker-skinned, the sciences. They want to stop the flow of government funds to the arts. They want to fire bureaucrats who prevent businesses from harming their customers with poisons and bad products.

But the GOP doesn’t really want to end big government, nor does it really care about balancing the budget. If it did, wouldn’t its members be ready to tackle the Pentagon? As we wind down a decade of war, isn’t this an excellent time to cut back on hyper-expensive weaponry? Can’t we stop feeding the military-industrial complex?

Instead, House Republicans have done everything they can think of to protect current rates of military spending. Mitt Romney, for his part, campaigned on a promise to build more warships. Please remember that the Pentagon accounts for about 30 percent of federal spending.

Then there are those pesky retirement programs — Social Security and Medicare. House Republicans supported Paul Ryan’s plan to change Medicare to a voucher program, but they did so knowing that it would never see the light of day. If they were so proud of it, why didn’t Ryan campaign on it when he was Romney’s running mate?

Instead, the Romney-Ryan team denounced Obama for making cuts to Medicare. The party that claims the mantle of fiscal responsibility shamelessly pandered to its aging base by blaming Obama for trying to rein in one of the costliest government programs.

Democrats have their own soul-searching ahead on Social Security and Medicare, which cannot be sustained without tax increases, benefit cuts or a combination of the two. (Let me rush to say here that Social Security is a much easier fix. Just hike the payroll tax for people earning more than $114,000 a year.) Medicare costs, especially, are growing at an alarming rate as baby boomers retire.

Still, Tea Partiers — the core of support for arch-conservatives in Congress — aren’t keen on cutting Medicare, polls show. Many of them seem to believe that cutting spending means only cutting that which goes to other people, not to them. Indeed, political science research shows a sharp racial edge underlying those sentiments, with racially resentful whites likely to favor cuts to programs, such as Head Start, which they associate with the “undeserving” poor.

After winning the gavel as House Speaker again last week, John Boehner said the “American dream is in peril” because of debt and pledged to reduce it. As another budget brawl nears — a debt-ceiling fight will be upon us in a couple of months — you’ll hear Republicans frequently claim the mantle of fiscal responsibility.

There is no reason to believe them.

(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

If Boss Trump is headed for defeat, he's getting his revenge early. His revenge upon his deluded supporters and the people they love, that is. Trump's re-election campaign now consists mainly of what epidemiologists call "super-spreader" events: large-scale rallies of unmasked, non-socially distanced Trumpists yelling in each other's faces while the Big Man emits a non-stop barrage of falsehoods, exaggerations, and barefaced lies.

Let me put it this way: If, say, the Rolling Stones decided to put on free concerts at airports around the country, they'd likely end up being taken into custody and deported as undesirable aliens. Of course, they'd also draw far bigger crowds than Trump, but that's not the point. The point is that Trump's actions are reckless and immoral; the peacetime equivalent of war crimes.

"Covid, covid, covid, covid, covid," he hollers. Trump claims that the United States is "turning the corner" on the pandemic, and that the accursed news media will quit reporting Covid-19 fatalities come November 4. He claims that health officials are motivated by greed because "doctors get more money and hospitals get more money" if they report that the virus was the cause of death.

Surveys have shown that more than a thousand physicians and nurses have died fighting the disease nationwide.

As ever, what he accuses others of doing is an excellent guide to the question: What would Trump do? Answer: he'd steal the silver dollars off a Covid victim's eyes and demand an investigation of Joe Biden

According to the Washington Post, the Trump campaign organization signed an agreement with officials in Duluth, Minnesota to limit attendance at a September 30 fly-in rally, in accordance with public health guidelines. Hours before the event, it became clear that no effort was being made to honor the agreement; some 2500 Trump supporters bunched up without masks on the tarmac, ten times the agreed limit.

Health Department officials' protests were simply ignored. Three days later, Trump himself was taken to Walter Reed Hospital by helicopter. Three weeks after that, the following headline appeared in the Duluth News-Tribune: "St. Louis County sees another record-breaking week of COVID-19 cases."

Any questions?

The Trump Circus subsequently performed in Janesville and Waukesha, Wisconsin in the midst of a record-setting pandemic outbreak there. "It took us 7 and a half months to reach our first 100,000 cases, & only 36 days to reach our second," the Wisconsin Department of Health tweeted. "In just two short months, the 7-day average of new confirmed cases has risen 405%."

But the show must go on. Trump regaled his Janesville audience with a veritable torrent of lies. The New York Times did a thorough fact-check of his October 17 speech. Reporters documented 130 false statements during Trump's 87 minutes onstage. Nearly three-quarters of his factual claims were untrue. The most egregious concerned Covid-19, probably because the disease represents his single greatest failure and most damaging political liability.

Another question: Does Trump count upon his supporters' invincible ignorance or simply share it? I fear it's a little of both. In Janesville, Trump made this absurd claim two minutes into his harangue: "When you look at our numbers compared to what's going on in Europe and other places," he said "we're doing well."

Any regular newspaper reader knows that this is simply nonsense. As the Times reports, "America has more cases and deaths per capita than any major country in Europe but Spain and Belgium. The United States has just 4 percent of the world's population but accounts for almost a quarter of the global deaths from Covid-19."

Germany, to choose the most striking comparison, has suffered only 122 deaths per million of its population, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States has recorded more than five times as many: 686 per million. Neighboring Canada, meanwhile, is at 264 per million. Several Asian countries, have handled the pandemic even better.

It's a matter of capable leadership and public cooperation.

No wonder Trump appears to have succumbed to a case of dictator envy. "COVID, COVID, COVID is being used by [the 'Fake News' media] in total coordination" he tweeted the other day "in order to change our great early election numbers. Should be an election law violation!"

Yeah, well they all report the same World Series scores too. Furthermore, if Trump had good election numbers, he wouldn't whine so much. Has there ever been a bigger crybaby in the White House?

(In related news, Vladimir Putin has issued a mandatory mask mandate after a surge in Russian Covid infections. Go figure.)

Meanwhile, the rallies go on; a bizarre spectacle people treat as if it's normal. Trump has become Covid-19's Typhoid Mary, an Irish cook who unwittingly infected 53 people back in 1906.

But unlike Mary, he should know better. If anybody should be locked up, as his rapt admirers chant, it's the Super-Spreader in Chief.