By Begala, Paul
Newsweek , Vol. 157, No. 26
Byline: Paul Begala
The GOP is ignoring a critical message from its base--and that will be the party's undoing.
As the spouse of the vice president of our local middle school's PTA, I know President Kennedy was right when he said, "To govern is to choose." My neighbors--prosperous, patriotic, family oriented--would likely nod readily in response to a generic call to cut government spending. But God help anyone who tried to lay off any of our teachers. Sure, my seventh grader could survive in a class of 45 instead of 28; no one ever died from head lice. But here's the deal: there is no head-lice caucus at the middle-school PTA.
And therein lies the conundrum for Republicans. They are working--earnestly, passionately, some say fanatically--to cut spending at a moment when voters say they oppose nearly all specific spending cuts and care far more intensely about jobs.
In the GOP's historic 2010 landslide of distant memory, reducing the budget deficit was the top economic priority of their voters by a 20-point margin. Just eight months later, most Americans are in a very different place. A Fox News poll (unlikely to skew left), found voters preferring their leaders to focus on jobs and the economy over the deficit and government spending by more than 2 to 1--a 28-point margin.
Call it the courage of their convictions or drinking their own Kool-Aid, but Republicans seem hellbent on an agenda most folks just don't want. The GOP budget plan, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan, would, in the words of The Wall Street Journal, "essentially end Medicare." Not just cut Medicare but essentially end it for future beneficiaries. And why not? Medicare is socialized health insurance for seniors, and we Americans hate socialism, right? In theory, sure. But in practice, umm, well, it's more complicated. An overwhelming 70 percent of self-described Tea Party supporters oppose cutting Medicare and Medicaid.
Come to think of it, when the Tea Partiers were rallying we saw plenty of photos of guys in tricorn hats and lots of images of patriots waving "Don't Tread on Me" flags, but I can't recall a single person burning his or her Medicare card. …