Obama Is Against Blowing a Bunch of Cash in Vegas, So the GOP Is for It

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The newest attack ad by Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS makes a mockery of fiscal conservatives and their place in the Republican Party.

For America's Maybach dealers, gourmet dog bakeries, and fancy French perfume shops, it is important that consumers keep spending on luxury items that they don't really need. It's the nature of the business. Those of us outside the 1 percent economy can nevertheless appreciate that blowing less dough on those sorts of goods is prudent in tough economic times for most people. Here in Orange County, California, I've observed numerous bankruptcies when folks enamored of status symbols failed to check their outlays as income dried up.

You'd think it would be uncontroversial to note that, for a lot of folks a bit farther down the income scale, certain moments in life aren't the best time to blow a lot of money on a Las Vegas binge. So when President Obama said in 2010, for example, "You don't blow a bunch of cash in Vegas when you're trying to save for college," fair to say he's expressing a truism, rather than casting aspersions on wining, dining, gambling, Celine Deon, or performance artists covered in blue.   

Enter Karl Rove's political ad factory, a shop of hackery so shameless it sees common sense and reacts with attacks like this:



One day, it would be interesting to tally up all the morally indefensible political attacks Rove has been party to in his life and to speculate about what circle of hell he and his hack Democratic analogs would occupy if Dante were writing today. These people are treated in television appearances as if they're upstanding community members, but it really is true that much of their professional lives have been spent deliberately manipulating people for financial gain*.

What interests me today is what this ad says about the GOP's relationship to fiscal conservatism. I've written before about how Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan pretend that they're intent on reducing the deficit, even as they demagogue cuts to Medicare, plan on increasing defense spending, and oppose all tax increases. Fiscal conservatives should be in open rebellion.

This ad is comparatively unimportant, having no impact on policy and only symbolic significance. Still: Is the GOP really now attacking the notion that blowing a bunch of cash in Vegas is imprudent? This is what the party has become? The calculated appeal to a regional special interest is no excuse. It's a quintessential example of the problem. Just as Republican politicians engage in "Mediscare" tactics to win seniors, the effect on deficit reduction be damned, so too will they oppose sound advice about personal fiscal responsibility for a few votes.

Just as significant, they don't see that as hurting their brand.

One ad put out by a GOP aligned group is a small signal, but it fits with all the others sent by the present incarnation of the Republican Party: Fiscal prudence isn't something the folks in the establishment particularly value, and the rank-and-file, insofar as they feel differently, are setting themselves up for the same disappointments they experienced the last time the GOP was in charge. Republicans are now the party that opposes all Medicare cuts and extols Vegas binges.

What a legacy Rove is leaving behind.

*In fact, this very ad misleads about what Obama actually said. His full statement: "You don't go buying a boat when you can barely pay your mortgage. You don't blow a bunch of cash in Vegas when you're trying to save for college. You prioritize. You make tough choices. And it's time your government did the same." In other words, a fiscally conservative message that every last Republican would totally agree with if they were presented with it in context rather than clipped. As Andrew Sullivan notes, it's shameless. I wish we lived in a political culture where Rove would be shamed for it.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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