Populist Rhetoric Elitist Policy

Rick SantorumLast year, I applauded Rick Santorum’s middle class rhetoric. In particular, I liked his speech at the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference where he blasted the RNC for its long line of business owners who came up on the stage and proclaimed that they did, in fact, build that. He said, “One after another, they talked about the business they had built. But not a single—not a single—factory worker went out there. Not a single janitor, waitress or person who worked in that company! We didn’t care about them. You know what? They built that company too! And we should have had them on that stage.” It seems that now that the Republican Party is looking to garner some populist cred, people are starting to notice that Santorum really can talk that talk.

This morning, just like I did last year, Matt Yglesias noted that while Santorum does talk that talk, he doesn’t walk that walk. The evidence is clear. And it is the same with every Republican: his budget. As Yglesias said:

And indeed on the campaign trail, Santorum said a fair amount about this. He also championed a tax plan that relative to a scenario in which the Bush tax cuts were fully extended would have extended an additional $448,000 per year in tax cuts to people earning over $1 million per year, while delivering around $1,000-$2,000 to the median family. To pay for that, you would need to enact large cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other programs.

The truth of the matter is that populist rhetoric is not exactly hard to find in the Republican Party. Paul Ryan is a great talker. When given half a chance, he will talk about big corporations that pay no taxes. In fact, this created an uncomfortable moment during Ryan and Romney’s joint interview with 60 Minutes last year. Yet Ryan is the author of the middle class destroying House Republican “budget.”

There are a few ways to look at this. It could be that these guys are just lying and that they don’t care about the middle class. I think that’s unlikely. It could also be that they really do think that supply side economics is the way to help the middle class. While I think this is true, it isn’t the core reason for their cognitive dissonance. When Jack Kemp was pushing supply side economics back in the 1980s, I understand it. It seemed like a wild idea—even George Bush Sr called it “voodoo economics.” But it was at least plausible. But after 30 years of such policies, there is no longer any doubt: supply side economics was just a con game that justified taking wealth and income away from the poorer classes and giving it to the richer classes. So no reasonable observer can now think that giving even more money to the rich will help the middle class.

What distinguishes Santorum and Ryan is that they aren’t reasonable observers. Ryan hasn’t moved beyond Ayn Rand, Friedrich Hayek, and what he heard Jack Kemp say 30 years ago. I’m sure that Santorum doesn’t read or listen to anyone who doesn’t tell him the same thing. So these guys can hang onto their airy notions of helping the “common man” without ever seriously looking at how their economic policies might affect him. And what that means is that what matters first and foremost to these guys is helping the rich. But always with a sprinkle of tinkle.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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