The Agony of the Moderate Republican

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A victim of cognitive dissonance speaks out.
A victim of cognitive dissonance speaks out. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

One thing about the hard right-wing turn the Republican Party has taken since 2009 is that many of its supporters genuinely seem not to grasp what’s going on. Take former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, a moderate who sometimes criticizes especially heartless positions taken by some members of his party. Gerson expresses his indignation at criticism leveled by President Obama against the House Republicans:

As president, Obama has asserted that Republicans want the elderly, autistic children and children with Down syndrome to “fend for themselves,” and that the GOP plan is “dirtier air, dirtier water, less people with health insurance.” In what context would these claims be true?

In what context? Well, let’s see. The House Republican budget would cut Medicaid — a bare-bones health insurance program for the poor, disabled, and elderly — by $750 billion over ten years, ramping up the scale of cuts until funding has been reduced by 35 percent by 2022. When you’re slashing the funding of a program that’s far cheaper than private insurance and not replacing it with anything, you’re pretty much leaving people to fend for themselves.

As for children with Down syndrome, they’re an important part of the Medicaid program. (People with disabilities account for 42 percent of the cost of Medicaid.) Unsurprisingly, disability advocates were apoplectic about the Republican budget.

The dirtier air and water part is pretty straightforward: The House Republicans have voted to roll back basic air pollution standards and strip the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to enforce clean water standards. When you eliminate laws that keep air and water clean, you make them more dirty.

And the House Republican budget would repeal the Affordable Care Act and put in place nothing whatsoever to cover the uninsured, thereby increasing their ranks by some 32 million.

Now, Republicans can certainly contest Obama’s description. I’m sure they have arguments as to why weakening laws that have produced cleaner air and water will not actually make the air and water less clean, and why cutting or eliminating programs that provide medical care to people who can’t afford it won’t deny them medical care. But Gerson doesn’t merely consider Obama’s description to be contestable. He considers it a lie so obvious it requires no rebuttal.

It’s genuinely interesting that Gerson objects so strenuously to these characterizations. He’s a useful stand-in for the mindset of Republicans who share a loyalty to their party but lack a deep attachment to its right-wing platform. When confronted with a relatively straightforward description of the party’s agenda, he instinctively recoils — not at the agenda, but at the description itself.