The 19th-Century British politician Benjamin Disraeli once said, “A conservative government is an organized hypocrisy.” This was obviously a prescient review of the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address.
Mind you, it’s hard to know which Republican response to respond to, given that there were (at least) four. But let’s start with the official one, delivered by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wa), the highest-ranking woman in the House Republican caucus. With a lulling tone and a living room-like backdrop, McMorris Rodgers’s response was less like a speech and more like a bedtime story trying to use her sweet biography to mask more sinister policy implications.
McMorris Rodgers spoke of her son, who has Down’s Syndrome. The doctors, McMorris Rodgers said, “told us all the problems. But when we looked at our son, we saw only possibilities.” That was the moral of her story, that we all have boundless and equal opportunity in life and the only thing getting in our way is government—because of Democrats. What a nice story. It just happens to be utterly untrue.
Take just one example—when McMorris Rodgers insisted, “Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not the government’s.” Planned Parenthood quickly pointed out that just five hours before McMorris Rodgers spoke those words, House Republicans passed a set of sweeping bills that would significantly reduce the number of private health insurance plans that cover abortion. That, in other words, is Republicans using government to interfere in the private marketplace and control the decisions that women about their own bodies.
Disraeli might be disappointed—a well organized hypocrisy would probably wait at least 24 hours before uttering such a flagrant contradiction. But wait, there’s more.
McMorris Rodgers added, “whether you’re a boy with Down syndrome or a woman with breast cancer … you can find coverage and a doctor who will treat you.” What a great idea! Hey, there should be a health care reform law that prohibits private insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions—which, of course, is only possible if we expand the pool of people in private insurance pools. Republicans should, I dunno, get behind a law that supports that, doncha think? Instead of voting again and again and again to repeal it?
McMorris Rodgers started her speech by noting that she worked at a McDonald’s drive-thru to help pay for college and then, after talking about her son, said, “whether we are born with an extra twenty-first chromosome or without a dollar to our name—we are not defined by our limits, but by our potential.” Yes, but the problem is that Republican policies are expressly limiting that potential. When we allow highly profitable corporations like McDonald’s to pay their workers poverty wages at the same time we give those big businesses giant tax breaks and government handouts, we are limiting the potential for hard work to pay off in America. When instead of passing comprehensive immigration reform, we allow unscrupulous employers to exploit undocumented workers—driving down wages and working conditions for immigrants and citizens alike—e undermine equal opportunity. When we fail to acknowledge the simple reality that women and people of color and rural white folks in America face profound wage and wealth disparities not because they don’t try hard but because of policies that have stacked the deck against them, policies Republicans have continued to embrace, we naively pretend that the playing field of opportunity in America is a level one. It is not.
Talking about your son with Down’s Syndrome as a metaphor for the values of a Republican Party that cut federal funding for Down’s Syndrome research over the past several years is hypocrisy. Being a major political party that represents millions of Americans and yet fails to grasp the very real barriers to opportunity those Americans face, barriers made worse by your own policies, is beyond hypocritical. It’s sad.