There's Shameless Demagoguery... And Then There's J.D. Vance
Another example of the new right emulating the old left.
“What the [Republicans] have done is practically commit political suicide to support a measure with 17 percent support in the population, that does what we know has to be done, which is to curtail entitlements,” said Charles Krauthammer back in 2017. “It’s inevitable. It’s in the future. Obama had eight years. He didn’t want to touch it.”
The conservative commentator was responding to Barack Obama’s acceptance speech for the JFK “Profile in Courage” award that the former president received for turning his deeply unpopular Obamacare legislation into law. Obama praised himself that night for bucking public opinion, and having the “courage to champion the vulnerable and the sick and the infirm.”
Krauthammer found glaring irony in his words, being that Obama and his party had just spent the last several years demagoguing the holy hell out of every piece of entitlement-reform legislation congressional Republicans had put forth. As Krauthammer said, what they did, in trying to avoid economic armageddon, took courage. The national debt was, and continues to be, perhaps the biggest fiscal threat (and most foreseeable crisis) in our nation’s history… and our waning entitlement programs are indisputably the leading drivers of that debt.
You may recall how Obama initially vowed to take seriously, and consider in good faith, any congressional plan that addressed the problem. Republican congressman Paul Ryan rose to that challenge, presenting a thoughtful budget to do just that. In response, Obama invited Ryan to a front-row seat at George Washington University… where the president took to the podium and disgracefully proclaimed to the world that Ryan's plan would essentially lead to the destruction of America, including letting bridges collapse and forcing autistic and disabled kids to fend for themselves.
As I wrote at the time, “It was truly a double-cross and one of the more shameful examples of demagoguery ever put on display by a president. A complete failure of leadership on the most important issue of our time.”
But the Democrats were just getting started. The followed the incident up with a well-financed attack campaign on the GOP budget and Ryan himself, falsely framing the congressman’s plan as ending Medicare for millions of senior citizens.
The effort included this gem:
The fact-checking organization Politifact later labeled the assertion, and Obama’s rhetoric on the issue, the "Biggest Lie of the Year." Yet, it was effective... as demagoguery often is. The bill passed the House, but it died in the Senate and the Democratic party won some special-election seats by running on the issue.
A lot has changed politically since then, especially within the Republican Party — including on the issue of entitlements. Donald Trump, a life-long Democrat until he decided to enter politics, adopted Obama’s profound negligence in the entitlements arena, promising to “not touch” the programs… which, in mathematical terms means letting them go insolvent. The rest of the Republican party followed suit, largely abandoning their previous warnings of fiscal calamity, and remaining silent as $7.8 trillion was added to the national debt in just four years (nearly as much as Obama added in twice the time).
While President Biden works hard to surpass even that number (while likewise ignoring entitlements), a freshman Republican Senator has aggressively picked up on the Democrats’ demagogic shamelessness on this issue, and advanced it for his own purposes.
I’m talking about J.D. Vance, who’s currently evoking entitlements to bolster his strong opposition to the United States funding Ukraine, as the country defends itself against its Russian invaders.
“There are people who would cut social security — throw our grandparents into poverty,” Vance told podcaster Steve Bannon this week. “Why? So that one of Zelensky's ministers can buy a bigger yacht? Kiss my ass… it's not happening.”
You could be forgiven for not having the faintest clue what Vance was talking about, since what he said was such complete gibberish that even Vladimir Putin, upon hearing it, had to be thinking to himself, “Come on, man. That was a little much.”
Brian Riedl, the former chief economist for Republican Senator Rob Portman (whose seat Vance won after Portman retired), responded with appropriate sarcasm, tweeting: “Yeah, economists like me have been working on Social Security solvency tirelessly since the late 1990s - working with the actuaries, taking all the public heat - all as a secret long-term plot to finance Ukrainian minister's yachts in 2023. Yeah, that's it.”
And just in case you were wondering who those “people” are, who, according to Vance, are diabolically planning to kick grandma and grandpa to the curb to class-up the Ukrainian yachting scene, Vance named names. Well, one name anyway: Nikki Haley, who just happens to be running for president against Vance’s top political benefactor, and the man he owes his senate seat to, Donald Trump.
“[Haley] wants to cut social security so she can send more cash to Ukraine,” Vance tweeted.
Of course, that’s nonsense.
Haley supports U.S. defense funding for Ukraine, a country Vance famously said he didn’t “really care what happens to” just days before Russia illegally crossed Ukraine’s border and committed a whole bunch of war crimes by murdering, maiming, and raping Ukrainian civilians.
Haley also supports familiar policies for reforming Social Security, for the purpose of keeping the program solvent for future generations. Those reforms include means-testing for wealthy Americans, and raising the eligibility age for younger workers who are many years away from retirement. These aren’t new ideas, but they do, as Krauthamer said, require some political courage.
But it should go without saying that Haley’s positions on Ukraine and entitlements, which are two entirely different issues, have no bearing on each other.
The Social Security trust fund isn’t headed toward zero because of the approximately $113 billion Congress has appropriated for Ukraine defenses (almost 90% of which has never left our country). Our total Ukraine funding is projected to be just 0.05% of all federal spending over the next 30 years, while Social Security is facing a $39 trillion deficit over that same period. Plainly put, Ukraine isn’t the problem with Social Security, and no intellectually honest, informed person believes that it is.
To be clear, J.D. Vance isn’t an idiot. He’s just counting on you being one.
I guess if I wanted to fight fire with fire, and fit in better with much of today’s politics, I could have just skipped all of the above and simply typed, “J.D. Vance wants to kill puppies to assure social security becomes insolvent.” But because I’m an adult, and because I’m confident my readers are too, I’m not going to say what Vance, an actual member of Congress who should be held to much higher standards, said.
“You can tell how seriously a man takes himself and his voters by what kind of lies he’s comfortable spewing,” wrote The Dispatch’s Jonah Goldberg of the Vance debacle. “You can also infer how weak his arguments must be on the merits if he thinks he can’t win the argument without this sort of demagoguery.”
If Vance actually cared about saving Social Security, as he pretends to, he’d be in favor of a serious proposal to fix it. But as he learned from the Democratic Party, the issue is much more easily used as political tool… in this case for Vance to, in very cowardly fashion, bolster his well-documented anti-Ukraine sentiments — something he’s also done with other unrelated political issues. As Goldberg says, it’s because Vance, a U.S. senator with a Yale education, can’t adequately defend his position.
Folks, we’re not sending our best to Washington.