The Republican Pledge predictably provoked charges of hypocrisy from liberal pundits anxious to contrast their own intellectual heft with vaporous Republican opportunism. Paul Krugman was in characteristically fine form characterizing the Republican message: “Deficits are Evil! Let’s Make Them Bigger!” Ezra Klein says substantially the same thing less epigrammatically:
Let’s take a step back from the partisan fray far enough to characterize what’s going on in this sort of exchange. We’re used to hearing an epigram commonly attributed to Daniel Moynihan: “Everybody’s entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” That makes it sound like political ideologies are unstable mixtures of ethical commitments and factual beliefs, as readily separable as the oil and vinegar in salad dressing. The implication is that, even if people on both sides of an ideological divide can reasonably disagree about questions of political morality, they can still hold each other’s feet to the fire by exposing factual mistakes. That’s the conceit behind Krugman and Klein’s allegations of hypocrisy.“What, exactly, does the Republican Party believe? The document speaks constantly and eloquently of the dangers of debt -- but offers a raft of proposals that would sharply increase it. . . .
“Take the deficit. Perhaps the two most consequential policies in the proposal are the full extension of the Bush tax cuts and the full repeal of the health-care law. The first would increase the deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next 10 years, and many trillions of dollars more after that. The second would increase the deficit by more than $100 billion over the next 10 years, and many trillions of dollars more after that. Nothing in the document comes close to paying for these two proposals, and the authors know it: The document never says that the policy proposals it offers will ultimately reduce the deficit.”
Yet, as I’ve noted before, that’s not how ideologies work. Our perception of the how the political economy actually behaves interacts, epistemologically and psychologically, with our views about how it should behave. So it’s no accident that conservatives and liberals not only have systematically different takes on political morality, but embrace systematically different explanations of our current economic predicament that imply conflicting prescriptions about how to reduce the deficit over the long haul.
Liberal wonks like Krugman and Klein think that, because we’ve gotten ourselves into a “liquidity trap” at a time when low interest rates preclude monetary remedies, the only way out is putting more publicly borrowed money in the hands of the people most likely to spend it. That liberal prescription just happens to coincide with the liberal view of distributive justice and the political interests of the Democratic Party.
The conservative wonks behind the Republican Pledge think that we’re suffering from a capital strike provoked by hyper-active governments. The only way they can see out of that predicament is a combination of tax policies that keep money in the hands of the people most likely to invest it and policies scaling back regulations that lower the expected rate of return on the dollars they invest. That prescription just happens to coincide with the conservative idea of economic justice and the political interests of the Republican Party.
Both sides can’t be right and neither side is immune to wishfully thinking that prudent management of the economy, their core ideological values and political expedience all happen to point in the same direction. But hypocrisy has virtually nothing to do with it. When people on one side of an ideological divide call people on the other side hypocrites, they're usually presuming, falsely, that the people on the other side agree with them about how the world works.
That's yet another rhetorical place holder that says a lot less than the people saying it seem to think.