Karl Rove Group Attacks Democrats—For Wanting to Cut Entitlements


credit: National Constitution Center / Foter / (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Over the past two weeks, Crossroads GPS, the Karl Rove-fronted mega-group devoted to putting Republicans in office, has launched multiple ads hitting vulnerable Senate Democrats Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Kay Hagan (NC) for their positions on old-age entitlements Social Security and Medicare.

You can understand why a Republican group might go after Democrats on these issues. Far more than Obamacare, Medicare and, to a lesser extent, Social Security are the nation's two biggest long-term fiscal problems, its most significant drivers of long-term debt, and arguably the hardest government programs to reform.

Here's the funny part. Crossroads is knocking both Democratic candidates from the left—criticizing both candidates for wanting to cut and reform entitlements.

"It's troubling that Senator Mark Pryor said we should overhaul Social Security and Medicare," the first ad says.

"Kay Hagan is a 'big believer' in a controversial plan that raises the retirement age, reduces the home mortgage deduction, and increases out-of-pocket Medicare costs," the other ad charges. From the dark music to the accusatory tone of the narrator, it leaves little doubt that this supposed to be a bad thing.

Watch the ad below:

We've seen this strategy before. In 2012, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney ran on a promise to "protect Medicare," and attacked President Obama for cutting Medicare to pay for Obamacare.

There are all sorts of issues here. One is that the ads are exaggerating the cuts and reforms the two Democrats support. As The Washington Post's Greg Sargent (who has written about both ads already) noted recently, the first ad is based on an interview in which Pryor talked hypothetically about raising Social Security's retirement age for today's teenagers. The second ad plays on Hagan's support for the Simpson-Bowles debt reduction framework, a Beltway-favorite plan to raise taxes and tweak the entitlement system into something like sustainability over the next six decades. The retirement age would rise with glacial speed, going from 65 to 69 between now and 2075.

This is what Republicans are telling people to vote against: hypothetical entitlement reforms and benefit tweaks that take decades to implement.

Yes, there were problems with the Simpson-Bowles plan, and reasonable people can disagree on its merits and particulars. But in this case, it's a mistake to worry too much about the details, which are secondary at best. Instead, it's important to focus on the essence of the ad, its lizard-brain appeal to a kind of inchoate fear of collapse and change.

It is almost totally incoherent. In a delightfully absurd twist, the second ad also goes after Sen. Hagan for "voting for trillions in wasteful spending and debt." This is like criticizing someone for being anti-sunshine and then immediately warning that she supports a plan to ban clouds.

Sure, the ad sticks carefully the word "wasteful" in the mix, and alludes to Hagan's spending priorities, but again, the details aren't the point. If rising federal debt is the problem, the cutting federal spending on Medicare is eventually going to be necessary. There's no way to solve the federal debt problem without touching Medicare.

Too many Republicans don't know how to talk about entitlement reform, or at least really don't want to. You can see that inability on display in this local news interview with Elise Stefanik, a Republican candidate for Congress in New York. She talks about preserving and protecting entitlements, promises no cuts for those at or near the retirement age, and then literally cuts off the interview and walks away when pressed for more details.

Here's what you learn from all this: that the Karl Rove-wing of the Republican party is happy to mislead and exaggerate in order to attack Democrats, that the Bush-era party establishment's commitment to fiscal reforms remains puddle-deep, that at least through the mid-terms the GOP aims to be the party of seniors, that parts of the party remain unwilling to discuss even the most basic details of the reforms they claim to support, and, most importantly, that Republicans are likely still far from making anything like a meaningful and unified push on entitlement reform.

Not everyone in the party is playing the game like this. As with just about every issue right now, Republicans are fractured and confused on how to handle entitlements. But with these sorts of well-funded ads (the Hagan spot is a $1 million ad buy), influential parts of the party are making it more difficult to sort out that confusion by walling off even the most timid of reforms. 

And even more than that, these ads illustrate the ways that the Republican party is still struggling to figure itself out while offering a glimpse into the state of policy discourse—not so much on the broader right, but within certain factions of the GOP power structure. These shallow, shell-game attack ads are meant to play on voter fear and confusion about important policy details, but what they end up revealing is the party's own fear and confusion about how to answer some of the biggest policy questions of the day. 

NEXT: Gene Healy Says the Fight Against Militarized Police Is a Culture War Worth Having

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  1. From a TEAM mentality, it makes perfect sense. It’s not about fiscal responsibility, it’s about “The other guys are running things”.

    1. “Senator Burbleframitz has been doing things we generally agree with.” :cue ominous music: “Is that really the kind of politician we want in Washington?”

  2. Piss on you, Rove. Statist crapweasel.

  3. Go, team, go! We’ve always been at war with entitlement reform.

    that the Bush-era party establishment’s commitment to fiscal reforms remains nonexistent


    1. In fairness, W did make SS reform his priority immediately after re-election and frittered away whatever political capital he had in 2005 on that issue for nine months.

      1. To the shame of the Republicans in office who sat on their hands while he toured the country promoting a MODEST reform/semi-privatization.

  4. Which is why, if I were holding an executive position in the political industry, I would quietly decline to hire any asshole who admitted participating in student government in high school, unless it was disrespectfully a la the Monarchist party at University of Maryland.

    1. I was appointed to fill a vacant representative seat, but lost the election when it came around. Does that disqualify me?

    2. I met a bona fide French monarchist once on my travels. He was highly monarchist and highly anti-immigrant. His best buddy that he was traveling with was a Moroccan communist. You can’t make this shit up.

  5. Scaring the shit out of old people is a time-honored tactic of Team Red, just like scaring the shit out of womenfolk is the time-honored tactic of Team Blue.

  6. I speak for ALL Reason commenters when I ask; How does this tie into the current ‘libertarian moment’ we are having?

    1. Not sure. Someone should ask some Millennials.

      1. It was a toss up as to which retarded Reason meme to use

          1. A poll of Millenials I hope

  7. the Republican party is happy to mislead and exaggerate in order to attack Democrats

    Shorter Suderman:

    “It’s NOT FAIR!”

    1. It seems like a fair observation to make. And only seems fair given that that is about all the Democrats seem to have in their electioneering arsenal anymore.

  8. Meesa so confus-ed, Anie.

  9. If they think this insanely hypocritical attack is so effective (and they must since they use it over and over) then there is little reason to believe they will ever be “brave” enough to actually cut these programs. I just don’t know what Republicans stand for anymore, except their own power. Are they completely overcome with a reactionary talk-radio mindset? Their only purpose is to keep the leftists from power and prevent the Red takeover?

    1. They want to cut government. Just not that part. Nope, not that part either. Military? Ha ha ha ha ha! But they really want to cut government. But not that. Or that. But they are the party of small government who will shrink government. Just not that department. Sorry, we need that department too. But really, they will cut government, just not any part that affects anyone.

      1. I laugh every time I hear Hannity say that Obama has “gutted” the DoD.

        1. And by “laugh” I mean cry.

          1. I can’t listen to that guy. His voice makes me climb the walls.

            1. “literally” climb the walls ?

    2. If they think this insanely hypocritical attack is so effective (and they must since they use it over and over) then there is little reason to believe they will ever be “brave” enough to actually cut these programs. I just don’t know what Republicans stand for anymore, except their own power.

      The only way those programs are likely to be cut is after they have bankrupt the federal government and the inflation required to finance them creates massive social discord.

      And yes, most Republicans, being Mark 1 Mod 0 politicians, are sociopaths utterly devoid of ideals.

    3. I just don’t know what Republicans stand for anymore, except their own power.


      Just like there’s little reason to believe that the Democrats will ever be “brave” enough to stop meddling in the Middle East.

    4. I just don’t know what Republicans stand for anymore, except their own power.

      Bingo! You nailed that one Tony.

      See, isn’t this nice when we can talk and agree on things? This is what it would be like if you didn’t often type your usual bullshit. 😉

    5. Yes Tony it sucks when your opponent lies and attacks you for doing things they claim to be for. This is the political climate your side created. Suck it. Your side has been full on fascist since at least the turn of the century. If you don’t like the effects that has had on politics, well too fucking bad.

      1. John, please, it’s been that way since the beginning, see Federalist 10.

        1. Fair point. It is just fun to fuck with Tony. Seriously, Reason is having a fainting fit over a “they want to throw grandma out into the street” political ad?

          1. I don’t think our ingrained cynicism should prevent us from calling out typical political BS. Isn’t that a core mission of H&R?

            1. Isn’t that a core mission of H&R?

              Indeed it is. Even when I’m the fountain that pours that bullshit out. (see previous thread)

          2. Reason is having a fainting fit over a “they want to throw grandma out into the street” political ad?

            Well, Reason is writing an article about it, anyway. Which is sort of what you would expect from a political magazine.

    6. Note: “Tony” is in full agreement with Suderman.

      1. Are you saying they are wrong?

    7. Their only purpose is to keep the leftists from power and prevent the Red takeover?

      Awwww. You’re so precious when you feign surprise and indignation!

      Now run along and play, you little tow-headed scamp.

    8. Tony is correct. But still apparently believes that the Democrats are different.

  10. What do Millennials think about this?

    1. They don’t think, that’s the problem.

      1. I used to be considered on the young end of Generation Y. Now I’m considered to be on the old end of the Millenials. Kill me.

        1. Gen Y is the Millenials. Gen X is our predecessor. Born in 82, I fall in millenials but find myself having much more of a Gen X mentality, in part for being the runt of my particular litter.

          1. You’re probably right. I’ve often heard it explained that Gen Y was basically my generation up until the late 90’s when those being born were the Millenials. I guess I just long for the days when I wasn’t lumped in with those born in the late 90s.

          2. and wikipedia agrees with you. for now…

            1. I knew you’d check it to try and call me on bullshit so edited it in advance of your research.

              Incidentally, I also edited the entry on women to reflect that “they are a vile breed, the whole lot of them.” I no longer have wiki editing permissions for now.

          3. Huh. I thought millennials were supposed to be after Gen Y, i.e. people who are in their 20s now. I don’t care. The whole concept of “generations” is stupid and meaningless.


    2. Whatever AUTHORITY tells them to think.

      1. Yes, they are all the same.

        Don’t you ever get tired of making stupid grumpy old man comments?

  11. Here’s what you learn from all this: that the Karl Rove-wing of the Republican party is happy to mislead and exaggerate in order to attack Democrats

    No, I learned that a long time ago.

    1. Now why would a political party ever want to mislead and exaggerate in attacking their opponents before an election?

    2. It’s as if Rove is just beating the conservative drum in order to make himself a pile of money.

  12. Forgive me if I have a hard time feeling bad for Democrats here. If they don’t like people demogoguing them for wanting to cut in entitlements, maybe they should have thought of that before they spent the last seventy fucking years doing it to everyone else.

  13. I am ten years from retiring. The “old folks safety net” is going to come asunder just as I retire, and it cannot be prevented. My preference is to just kill the fucking thing now while I still have a chance to take care of myself.

    1. I would be all for killing it if it meant that my taxes will go down. But you know as well as I do taxes will just continue to go up. Meanwhile, people like Tony will use entitlement reform as an excuse to fuck every single working person in this country and ensure there are two classes of people; the super rich and the dirt poor get whatever scraps their betters give to them, working your whole life buys you nothing that being a crack junkie would have got you rest of us.

      1. I imagine that at some point they will dispense with the fiction that it is anything other than a wealth transfer and start cutting people who meet certain financial criteria completely.

        1. That is what they are going to do. They are just going to take your savings and cut your access to these various programs that you were forced to pay into your entire life to make sure that every person in the country, sans a few connected super rich cronies has the exact same standard of living on retirement as the typical homeless drunk.

          You see, Tony never could get a job because he was hooked on crack and was too busy selling his ass to feed his habit. So it is just not fair that you get to keep all of that savings and Tony doesn’t have anything.

        2. There are three options.

          Cut Benefits: Already in progress — rampant inflation with fake CPI reduces the value of the benefits being paid out.

          Raise Taxes: They’re working on it back in the shadows. Out in the open, they are already talking about raiding 401Ks that are “over funded”.

          Means Testing: It gets talked about. It is probably the only way to actually save the system. So I expect it will become a very hot topic in the next 4 to 6 years.

          The only real solution is to kill the system. But that isn’t going to happen without violence.

          1. No Kinnath,

            The solution was what Paul Ryan wanted to do. Turn the entire thing into a voucher program that lets people buy their own insurance. That would eliminate the entire federal bureaucracy sucking off the top of the money we spend on the programs. It would also tell people what they are getting and get them to plan accordingly rather than just expecting the feds to pay for every bill.

            People need to be realistic. The country is never going to give up on giving old people health care. And that is not because old people are just greedy. It is because young people don’t want to have to pay for their parents health care either. That is too big of a political block to ever walk away from. We are stuck with it. Ryan’s plan to make it into an insurance voucher is really the only realistic way to do it.

            And Reason of course excoriated him for it because they are retarded but often try and make up for it by being dishonest. Reason never bothered to mention that Gary Fucking Johnson had essentially the same plan as part of his L party platform. Somehow that fact got lost in the “Ryan loves entitlements so we must re-elect Obama” posts that went up about five times a week in the fall of 2012.

            1. Ryan’s plan will made a bad system a lot less bad. I fully support his plan or anything like it that makes the situation better than it is.

              However, that is not the same thing as making it right.

            2. young people don’t want to have to pay for their parents health care either.

              But they are, just with a shit load of overhead tacked on.

              1. Not only that, those of us who have responsible parents who saved for their own health care needs in old age, have to pay for other peoples parents.

                Not that my parents arent collecting every medicare dollar they can.

                1. Yup. My father is 78 and still working 30 hours a week at a business he started 30 years ago.

            3. Yes, John. Reason has a secret agenda to elect Obama and other liberal progressives. The whole libertarian thing is just a clever ruse.

              Why shouldn’t they critically analyze the things that major party politicians are saying?

              And maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention, but I don’t recall anything positive being said about Obama in 2012 in Reason. Or are you going down the “vote for ___ is a vote for Obama” path here?

      2. I don’t recall the definitive number, but as I recall there will be about 2 people working for every retired person within the next decade and a half or so. Since my wife and I only raised two able-bodied working children, we need two of someone else’s kids as well to keep working hard so that our entitlements coming in.

        With any luck some smokers will kill themselves off young, and we’ll be able to live off their kids.

          1. thanks, so it only gets worse from here.

        1. Add in the other govt-subsidized parties: long term unemployed and welfare/SNAP receipients, school children and 25 year old university students in their 8th year of studies for a B.A. in Womyn’s Lit, and the ratio gets much closer to 1:1.

  14. There was some confusion about if Republicans are also progressives? I guess if you are a Team Player it might require some rationalization or double-think but as a libertarian I hear this and just go “Duh.”

  15. Its why neocons are misnamed. Nothing conservative about them.

    1. If the Republicans would just man up and run a campaign based on telling old people to fuck off they could probably win four or five percent of the vote like Libertarians.

      Really, what are these ads other than dirty politics? You seriously expect me or anyone else to care that some Democrat Senator is having their views unfairly portrayed? Really?

      1. ???

        What the fuck does that have to do with me calling neocons leftists?

        1. Nothing. But calling NEOCONs, whoever they are this week, leftist has nothing to do with this thread.

          1. Really? I thought that was the point. I mean, what is the practical difference? They grow government and criticize the other team when it proposes cuts. How is that not leftist?

          2. I define them carefully. I mean a very specific, relatively small group of people when I use the term. And Rove is one of them.

            They are trotskyites. Nothing conservative about them.

            1. I thought Rove was an evil SOCON? Or is that on odd days of the month.

              1. Ive never called anyone a socon, or very rarely. And never Rove.

                Burn baby burn. Poor scarecrow.

                1. I will say I may have confused Rove and Rumsfield. If anyone has proof of Rove’s non-neoconnism, I will rescind. They all look alike to me.

              2. Someone’s having a lingering case of the Mondays.

                Neocons are die-hard anti-socialists (in the old, now forgotten sense of nationalization of the means of production, not welfare-state taxation and “services”) who have no problem with cronyism and massive regulation provided that services remain nominally in private hands. Also military interventionists, as the FDR drubbing of the GOP left them scrambling to court an electorate that has voted for strong men and security for 100+ years. Neocons came to power in the GOP because Americans turned their back on foundational American principles in the early 20th century, presumably for good.

                Rove isn’t a neocon, as neocons operate out of principle. Same with socons–they actually believe what they’re pushing. Rove is just a political opportunist and a talented lobbyist who will do whatever’s needed to secure power for his chosen tribe and to maintain his own standing. If that means launching ads whose last 15 seconds blatantly contradict the first 15 seconds, he’s happy to do it, because underestimating the intelligence of the American electorate has worked out pretty well for him so far.

    2. Conservative means that once a shitty idea has been around long enough it becomes a great idea, apparently.

    3. I thought that was the “Neo” part.

  16. If an ad strikes you as blatantly hypocritical it wasn’t designed for your style of brain.

  17. On the one hand, I admire the ruthless effectiveness of political minds who operate effectively among fellow sociopaths day in and day out. This is something that those of us interested in theory and ethics can’t do or can’t bring ourselves to do.

    On the other, Rove and his band of compassionate conservative welfare-state warmongers make Hoover look good by comparison when they actually have their hands on the whip. I don’t know that Obama has been worse than Bush in effect if not attempt to wreck the last few shreds of what remains of the American Republic.

  18. I still don’t understand how a man who lost the popular vote to Al fucking Gore is supposed to be regarded as some kind of strategic genius.

    1. In a just world he (along with many, many other screw-ups) would put their tails between their legs and fun to their mansions to live out their declining years. But apparently no one is held accountable anymore — regardless of the team they’re on.

      1. run, not fun. Freud makes me do runny things.

        1. …runny things.


    2. It’s kind of like in foot ball where the one team racks up more yards and a better turnover ratio but the other team wins because – scoreboard.

  19. Note for the future: John will never ever call out any Democrat for saying or doing anything misleading or hypocritical. It’s jus’ politics!

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