Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney’s Hypocritical Defense of Big Government

Food stamps are one of the most effective voucher programs in US history.

Newt Gingrich has doubled down on his food-stamp-king line about Obama. In last night’s debate and elsewhere the former speaker has maligned both the president and the poor people, and especially blacks, who rely on government assistance during hard economic times. David Frum writes:

It’s worth remembering that at least one quarter of the South Carolina Republican primary electorate will likely exceed age 65. These voters also depend on government: for Social Security, for Medicare, and for other benefits. Newt Gingrich understands the merits of such protections for these voters. Shouldn’t a man who wants to be president of the whole country show equal understanding of the troubles and dangers facing all those who depend on government assistance: the poor as well as the old, the black as well as the white?

Frum is a backer of presumptive front-runner Mitt Romney, but Romney has also defended the benefits of elderly Americans and framed the issue as us vs. them. Speaking to crowds of Republican voters suspicious of Romney’s own Massachusetts healthcare plan, Romney has said repeatedly that ”Obamacare takes $500 billion out of Medicare and funds Obamacare.”

Republicans talk about shrinking government but they have no intention of shrinking it for their electoral base: older, whiter, and more financially secure, the GOP base relies on programs like Medicare. Romney’s demagoguery on the massive government entitlement belies his, and the GOP’s, unseriousness about entitlement reform. Tax cuts for the rich, government programs for the elderly. But if we try to extend access to healthcare outside the bounds of the Republican electorate that’s socialism.

Gingrich’s race-baiting is reprehensible, but Romney is playing the same tune on the same piano.

Meanwhile Santorum panders to social conservatives on gay rights issues and abortion. But even the sort-of-populist Santorum thinks food stamps and unemployment are a bridge too far:

“What we should do, is have it just like welfare. Give it to the states, put a time limit. In the case of welfare, it was 40 weeks. Give flexibility to the states to operate those programs and even in unemployment, I mean, you can have as we did on welfare, have some sort of either work requirement or job training required as a condition. We’re not doing people any favors by keeping them on unemployment insurance for a long period of time.” [emphasis added]

Steve Benen is baffled:

So, in Santorum’s mind, it makes sense to require the unemployed to be employed before receiving unemployment benefits?

If you don’t have a job, you’ll be forced to get one before you’d be eligible to receive benefits that go to those without jobs?

It’s all the same act. It’s politics, sure, but it reveals a key truth: Republicans really do want big government, just a different kind of big government for a different segment of the population. Gingrich talks about ‘creating dependency’ out of one side of his mouth and defends government dependency out of the other.

The Tea Party is an illusion.

P.S. Actually, I do think we should help the unemployed find jobs instead of just giving them food stamps and unemployment benefits.

A looser monetary policy coupled with a serious fiscal policy and increased government spending (and decreased government firing) could help all these unemployed people get back to work. Maybe these Republicans are just advocating a sort of bizarre Keynesian jobs plan after all….

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Why Are Pundits So Fascinated With Jon Huntsman?

Jon Huntsman – the pundits' Republican

Maybe it’s because Huntsman has been open to criticizing his own team or maybe it’s because he’s sent out some tweets about his acceptance of global warming – maybe it’s just that his daughters are interesting – whatever the case, pundits of all stripes are fascinated with the man. Huntsman himself wants to ‘stay relevant‘ in South Carolina and I suspect that we bloggers and journalists will keep him as relevant as we possibly can. (Voters, on the other hand, may not.)

Will Truman explains:

I can speak, at least to some extent, as to why a moderate or moderate-conservative would sign on with Huntsman. In addition to having a cooler persona than the other Republicans, Huntsman is interesting. For those of us that like political discussion, he seems to be the most likely candidate to actually deliver it. Presidential debates between Huntsman and Obama would be interesting (and not just because one used to work for the other). And if Huntsman is more conservative than he lets on? All the better! It would draw a great contrast during the election discussion. Huntsman could even help redefine the right into something less piquish and flesh things out.

Huntsman may be conservative, but he is also (if that) a different sort of one. He has gone after the banks in a way that few other candidates have. His platform includes opening up energy exploration and eliminating oil subsidies. These are things he seems ready and able to talk about. The other Republicans, for the most part, don’t.

This sounds about right to me. I just keep trying to find a Republican I can respect and admire and Huntsman fits the bill. Romney, despite his more moderate beginnings, strikes me as simply too disingenuous – too much the slimy politician, and too much the brash, chest-pounding hawk.

But Huntsman I do admire. Not so much because he’s come out as a man who believes in science but because he has remained pretty cool-headed, because his foreign policy is more realistic than the general thrust of his party, and because he’s been strong on the issue of financial regulation. He is, quite bluntly, the antithesis of the talk-radio right that has so dominated the conservative movement since Rush Limbaugh first blazed his way onto the airways.

There is, of course, another Republican candidate who would provide even more – and more important – contrast with Obama. But Ron Paul represents such a fundamentally different vision of government and society that even I cringe at times. Austrian economics are fascinating and offer profound and valuable insights about society and human nature but they simply don’t offer up all the answers to this confounding economic crisis we face – even if the Austrians were good about diagnosing the disease.

In many ways that’s how I feel about Austrians and about Ron Paul: they have a good sense of what’s wrong with the country, but their prescriptions are unsatisfying and, to be honest, romantic. As a romantic I can absolutely sympathize with the Austrians, but I’m a reformed romantic.

The gold standard? End the fed? Scale back or eliminate relatively harmless limbs of the federal government like the Department of Education? From where I’m sitting these are all distractions from more important problems like war and the war on drugs – issues that Ron Paul is very good on. But that’s because I’m primarily concerned with civil liberties.

But I digress. The point is simply that, as interesting as Huntsman is, he’s not nearly the most interesting candidate. But he may be the most palatable mainstream Republican in the race for many of the reasons Will notes. He’s not a hawk so far as I can tell, whatever his statements on Iran. He strikes me as more of an owl – a term I’d also apply to Barack Obama. Back when I considered myself a reform conservative I think a guy like Huntsman would have really excited me – not so much these days.

And yet, I can’t stop writing about the guy. A part of me, I think, still has a dog in this fight. Maybe I was a liberal, non-interventionist Republican in a past life.

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