Months of death panel promoting, senior citizen deceiving, and abortion mongering have left Republicans immune to facts. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has donned his Frank Luntz mask (maybe McConnell could borrow the pollster’s toupee too), lifting wholesale Luntz’s language designed to mislead the public about financial reform. Playing dummy to Luntz’s ventriloquist, McConnell now shamelessly characterizes the bill that would avert future bailouts on Wall Street as a license for endless bailouts on Wall Street.
This latest Republican exercise in duplicity is easily explained: The GOP can’t openly advocate the policies they believe in—because those policies led to the economic collapse of 2008. Meantime, GOP leaders look at the financial industry and see sacks of campaign cash. It’s no coincidence that last week two dozen Wall Street titans met with McConnell and Republican Senate Campaign Committee Chairman John Cornyn. No one was shy about the quid pro quo, according to Fox News (which helpfully repeated the Luntz propaganda). McConnell and House GOP leader John Boehner offered a pledge that revealed the reality: They would take on, and if they could, take out the government authority to determine when banks should be left to fail. And they said yes, they’d be back—to collect money for Republican candidates.
It’s a naked manifestation of the Republicans as the party of America’s wealthiest special interests. As the process moves ahead, President Obama and the Democrats can say exactly that and hold the political high ground—as they too seldom did during the health debate. But first, and to the consternation of many in their own ranks, Democratic leaders will attempt to reach across the aisle.
This makes sense. There are Wall Street institutions ready to cooperate, to give some ground just as the pharmaceutical industry did to the tune of more than $120 billion on health-care reform. And not every Republican will follow McConnell off the cliff. Tennessee Republican Bob Corker said he hadn’t heard McConnell’s acid comments. So did his colleagues from Maine, the self-professed moderates Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Sen. Scott Brown, the fading hero of the tea parties, says he’s not willing to commit to filibustering financial reform, or even voting against it; he’s clearly running for re-election in Massachusetts in 2012, not for a spot on a losing Republican national ticket.
So Wall Street reform will pass—or GOP hard-liners will pass the populist baton to Obama and the Democrats.
Either way, the day of reckoning for the Party of “No” is coming. The economy is improving. Democrats, who’ve been in the valley, have inched up to a midterm lead in at least one poll, CNN’s. The Republicans who rooted for Obama’s failure—and the economy’s—will only drive themselves deeper into a political cul-de-sac by standing against Wall Street reform.
In 2010, they’ll gain far fewer seats than the latter-day Gingrichites covet. And by 2012, as prosperity brings more Americans to Obama’s side, they’ll find their cul-de-sac is populated by a dwindling band of tea partiers. The prevailing politics of ignorance, fit for this season of discontent, is a tactic of convenience, not a sustaining strategy. The Republicans may have the benefit of coaxial cable to spread contrived calumnies. But in the end, you can’t Luntz reality. The Republican core, the Tea Party that the GOP has embraced, is no foundation for a political comeback.
New polling data this week confirm the true character of this phony populist movement. According to the CBS News/New York Times survey, Tea Party members are almost 50 percent more likely than Americans as a whole to have incomes over $100,000. It turns out that they’re not distressed; they are self-pitying and self-interested. They want their Social Security—and smaller government for everyone else. They are so out of step that 57 percent of them approve of the job performance of George W. Bush—who proliferated the deficits they claim to detest. They give President Obama a net favorability rating of Minus 77 while in the nation at large his rating is Plus 10.
Tea partiers are out of step in another, more shameful way. They are more than twice as likely to believe the president favors blacks over whites, and a majority believes that too much has been made of the problems facing blacks. Many tea partiers turn out to be self-serving bigots. This tells us what they mean when they say they want their country back.
Tea partiers will hasten the demographic disaster facing Republicans in an increasingly diverse America. But Republicans appear determined to accelerate their march of folly by weakening or defeating Wall Street reform. I’m confident the angry, irrational base that claims to be anti-bailout and anti–Wall Street will cheer them on as they do it. But for most Americans, the language of Luntz can’t square the circle; it’s too transparently deceitful, too contrived, too false. In the end, in the economy and even in politics, as Ronald Reagan used to say: “Facts are stubborn things.”