George Will is more inured than most to this pathology. So as a testament to its power, note that the pessimistic conservative columnist has persuaded himself on the eve of Election 2012 that Mitt Romney will govern as a fiscal conservative, despite being the one who drew my attention to that quote about Republican presidents doing more than Democrats to expand entitlements.
"Why, then, should we expect Romney to reverse Republican complicity?" Will asks.
"Because by embracing Paul Ryan, Romney embraced Ryan's emphasis on the
entitlement state's moral as well as financial costs."
But the rhetoric of fiscal conservatism has always been embraced by the GOP!
- Mitt Romney has personally "embraced" a lot of policies he later disclaims or abandons.
- The Republican Party has now run in successive elections against cutting Medicare.
- Cutting entitlements is very unpopular, and Romney has showed very little political courage in his career.
- Expanding entitlements is popular, and Romney is a serial panderer.
Answering all those factors by citing an embrace of Paul Ryan would be a lot more persuasive if Ryan himself hadn't amassed a record of opportunistically expanding entitlements when politically convenient.
As Daniel Larison put it:
This is the same Paul Ryan whose record is littered with votes in
favor of every major Bush-era piece of legislation, including several
that added significantly to the debt and one in particular that added
trillions more to the government's unfunded liabilities. Ryan was complicit in the largest expansion of the welfare state in a
generation when he voted for Medicare Part D, and it was done entirely
at the expense of future generations. This is a perfect example of
"piling up public debt that binds unconsenting future generations to
finance current consumption."
When it comes to "mugging our
descendants," the members of Congress responsible for passing Medicare
Part D take first prize. If this degrades our political system, Ryan was
on the side of degradation until very recently. Before he became a fiscal conservative hero in the last two years,
Ryan was a typical Bush-era Republican with all of the considerable
baggage that goes with it. The idea that we can trust a Romney
administration to be better fiscal stewards than most of their
Republican predecessors is to ignore everything we know about how
Republicans typically act once in power. Assuming that Ryan's presence
in that administration is some sort of guarantee of fiscal
responsibility is simply the triumph of hope over experience.
Anything is possible, but Will would be wise to demand actual policy achievements from Republican officeholders before he assumes, based on their rhetoric, that they'll govern as fiscal conservatives. I can imagine a Romney Administration cutting Medicaid to pay for tax cuts. It is very difficult for me to believe that they're any more likely than President Obama to reform Medicare or to reduce entitlement spending on the sorts of people who make up their base of political support.