When reality bites back

Did the GOP con the Democrats into buying into deficit fever so they could run against them from the left?

It was just a week ago that Republican leaders like Reps. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump revokes Brennan's security clearance The Hill's 12:30 Report Poll: Republicans favor Scalise for Speaker; Dems favor Pelosi MORE (Wis.) and Ron Paul (Texas) were cavalierly dismissing the ramifications of default, with Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerWomen poised to take charge in Dem majority Freedom Caucus ponders weakened future in minority Consultant to Virginia Senate candidate compared GOP establishment to 'house negro': report MORE (R-Ohio) demanding trillions in immediate cuts or else. But a funny thing happened on the way to the deficit showdown: The housing numbers came in very grim, unemployment ticked back up over 9 percent and little tremors were felt in the financial markets. Suddenly the hard-line deficit hawks were sounding a little bit anxious about allowing the country to default if they didn’t get every last thing they wanted. On Monday, House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorHillicon Valley: GOP leader wants Twitter CEO to testify on bias claims | Sinclair beefs up lobbying during merger fight | Facebook users experience brief outage | South Korea eyes new taxes on tech Sinclair hired GOP lobbyists after FCC cracked down on proposed Tribune merger California wildfires prompt deficit debate in Congress MORE (R-Va.) warned that the need to come to an agreement was urgent, saying, “We don’t want the markets to make this decision for us.”

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It’s always hard to know what the truth is during a negotiation. Everyone’s posturing, drawing imaginary lines in the sand that are designed to psych out the other side. However, in this case, the ground seems to have shifted overnight, from an arrogant promise to burn down the house to a slightly more reasonable position in the face of a sputtering economy that desperately needs more stimulus. Reality, it seems, does bite. 

But perhaps there’s more to this than meets the eye. The motley crew of Republican presidential candidates is now yammering nonstop about nothing but jobs, jobs, jobs, issuing lugubrious paeans to the plight of the workingman and attacking the president for his incompetence and lack of compassion (that last charge given life by an unforced Obama error in characterizing the unemployment numbers as “a bump in the road”). Considering their party’s obstructive tactics and stated desire to do anything to prevent a second Obama term, including preventing a robust recovery, it’s a richly hypocritical charge. But you can’t fault them for their strategic instincts. After spending the last two years haranguing the president about the deficits caused by his predecessor’s malfeasance and Wall Street greed, they are now blaming him for failing to defy them. That takes nerve.

Now, one cannot absolve the administration and Democratic leaders of their responsibility here. Recent reports have made it clear that they placed far too much faith in the markets to somehow solve these problems and failed to understand, once again, just how quickly the GOP could turn from Deficit Hawks to Compassionate Conservatives (and probably back again). When you let people who have retired the concept of hypocrisy set the agenda, you should probably be prepared to get batted around like a political pinball.

It’s too much to believe that this was a master plan. Predicting the ups and downs of this economy has stumped the best market players in the world. But to be able to corner a Democratic president into focusing on deficits in the middle of the worst employment crisis since the Great Depression, and then pivot and run against him from the left, is a dazzling political move. It helps if you are completely unmoored from any kind of accountability for your former statements — as proven by front-runner Mitt Romney — but you just can’t help but be impressed by the sheer chutzpah of it all. Well played, GOP.

Parton writes the Santa Monica-based liberal political blog Hullabaloo. You can follow the blog at http://digbysblog.blogspot.com.