The GOP's Clear Pattern Of Hypocritical Complaints About Accurate Criticism

June 02, 2011 11:46 am ET — Jamison Foser

Rep. Paul Ryan

During yesterday's White House meeting between President Obama and House Republicans, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) reportedly complained about the president's characterization of the GOP efforts to replace Medicare with vouchers:

The most dramatic moment of Wednesday's 75-minute meeting came when Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), the man behind the GOP's budget plan, said Obama is playing politics in the debt debate. He accused the president of mischaracterizing the GOP budget proposal as turning Medicare into a "voucher" program that would hurt seniors. Ryan's comments earned him a standing ovation from his colleagues.

After the meeting, Ryan complained about purported Democratic attempts to "demagogue" the GOP plan. Ryan's complaints might seem a bit odd, given that the plan he wrote would, in fact, turn Medicare into a voucher program and hurt seniors. Ryan's complaints were particularly disingenuous given that the very same day, he falsely claimed the Affordable Care Act "ends Medicare as we know it." And, of course, the barrage of attacks from the GOP about (nonexistent) "death panels" and even the president's birthplace make their complaints about demagoguery impossible to take seriously. MSNBC's First Read reports that, according to a White House source, Obama made that point to Ryan:

POTUS pointed out that he disagreed with Ryan's plan because he didn't think we should change Medicare fundamentally to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. And that both sides shouldn't demagogue, which is something he knows something about since he has been called the "job killing, death panel, probably-wasn't-born-here president."

All of this should sound familiar to those who remember the 1995 confrontation between a new Republican congressional majority and a first-term Democratic president. Then, as now, Republicans moved quickly to attack Medicare, which they have long disliked. And then, as now, they whined when Democrats accurately described their plans — even after they had spent years viciously attacking Democrats, going so far as to suggest President Clinton was responsible for the death of his close friend and aide Vince Foster.

In their 1996 book Tell Newt To Shut Up, David Maraniss and Michael Weisskopf describe a 1995 White House meeting between Republican congressional leaders, including Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and President Clinton:

Gingrich then complained that the White House was making movement toward compromise more difficult by labeling him and his troops "extremists."

"Newt," said [White House Chief of Staff Leon] Panetta, "you don't come to the table with clean hands."

[House Majority Leader Dick] Armey took up the Republican cause. He said that the Democrats' scare tactics on Medicare and Medicaid had frightened his mother-in-law and her friends. "We could hardly get her into a nursing home, you guys have scared them so much!"

Clinton had remained calm and relatively quiet until then. But he disliked Armey and what he was saying. He said he could not address the specific cases of Armey's mother-in-law and her friends. "But let me tell you there are a lot of older women who are going to do pretty darn bad under your budget," Clinton said.

"I'm sorry if you feel that way," the president went on. "But let me tell you, you're not going to get much pity from me. I sat there and watched all you guys talk about how our deficit reduction plan would kill the economy. And it didn't. And how our health care plan was bureaucratic. And it wasn't. So don't look for any pity from me. I want to make one thing clear. I am not going to agree to your Medicaid package no matter what. I am not going to agree to education cuts. If you want to pass your budget, you're going to have to put somebody else in this chair. I don't care what happens. I don't care if it all comes down around me. I don't care if I go to five percent in the polls. I am not going to sign your budget. It is wrong. It is wrong for the country." [...]

Armey was unmoved, and seemed alarmed by Gingrich's conciliatory tone. Clinton's speech, he said, did not impress him one bit. He complained again about having to "listen to all these lies" by the White House mischaracterizing Republican leaders and their budget.

"Mr. Armey," Clinton responded, "at least I never, ever have and never expect to criticize your wife or any member of your family." [pp. 147-148]

Newt Gingrich, who had risen to power by urging his fellow Republicans to describe Democrats as "sick" and "traitors" and the "enemy of normal Americans" actually had the audacity to go to the White House and complain about being called an extremist. After Gingrich and the GOP had lobbed false attacks on Clinton and Democrats over everything from the "largest tax increase in history" (it wasn't even as big as Ronald Reagan's 1982 hike) to allegations of murder, they had the nerve to complain that Democrats accurately quoted Gingrich's statement that Republicans wanted Medicare to "wither on the vine" and described the consequences of slashing Medicare and Medicaid.

And that's exactly what's happening now: Having spent years brutally and falsely attacking President Obama and Democrats, Republicans are now stamping their feet over the unfairness of Democrats accurately describing their plans to dismantle Medicare. Given this clear pattern of behavior there's really no reason to take their complaints seriously.