09/17/2010 01:02 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Republican Pickpockets

Like pickpockets at a hanging, Republican politicians exploit public spectacles to distract voters from noticing that someone is lifting their wallets.

Party leaders have been using variations of the same M.O. for more than 40 years:

Of late, GOP politicos have made Mexicans and Muslims targets of opportunism.

Though some lazily label this a culture war, it is neither a clash of cultures nor a contest of competing ideas. It is a strategy of divide and conquer that plays on insecurity, fear and prejudice. The target may differ, but the tactic is always the same: demonize a group of human beings based on something that sets them apart -- skin color, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation -- and make them objects of derision. In short, dehumanize them.

Republicans use diversionary tactics to obscure their true objective, which likewise never changes: paying off those whose money got them elected and keeps them in office. When in power, they use the tax code and preferential legislation to shift public funds from the poor and middle class to the wealthiest in the nation. They run up deficits, adding to the ultimate burden all of us must carry and undermining economic growth.

Consider these numbers:
  • Under Democratic presidents since 1961, budget deficits amounted to $1.3 trillion; Republicans ran up $5.5 trillion in deficits during the same period.
  • Since 1961, the average annual growth of the gross domestic product was 4.09 percent when Democrats held the White House; with Republicans in power, the average was 2.81 percent per year.

When you follow the money coming in and going out, it becomes clear that today's Republican Party exists solely to enrich the upper one or two percent of the population. GOP fulminations about blacks, gays, Mexicans and Muslims serve solely to distract their own base from paying attention to Republican fiscal policies, which are carefully calibrated to screw them, along with almost everyone else, and transfer more wealth to the wealthiest.

Over the next few weeks, GOP pickpockets will be at it again. At the end of 2010, the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 will expire. That legislation, commonly called the "Bush tax cuts," lowered federal income tax rates for all taxpayers and greatly increased federal estate tax exemptions. (This year, in fact, the federal estate tax is zero.)

The U.S. government had to borrow $2.4 trillion to pay for the Bush tax cuts -- a fact that Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and other GOP politicians conveniently ignore. Nevertheless, GOP leaders in the House and Senate have been girding themselves for a scorched-earth campaign to resuscitate the Bush tax cuts for all tax brackets. (Without legislation to extend them, the tax rates will revert next year to those in effect in 2001.)

President Obama favors continuing current tax rates for low- and middle-income taxpayers but not for the upper two percent. The cost to include upper income tax breaks in new legislation would add about $700 billion to the federal deficit over the next ten years.

Republicans argue that tax relief will stimulate consumer spending and boost employment. That would be the case for middle-income taxpayers who spend their tax break, but million-dollar windfalls to those in the highest brackets will flow largely into savings and investments. If overseas markets look more attractive, they'll move that money offshore, where it will have no beneficial impact on the American economy. Indeed, greater investment in foreign interests will serve to increase the production of more cheap exports and lead to greater job loss at home.

Following a meeting of House Democrats on Tuesday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said, "We're for preserving Social Security, tax cuts for the middle class, and making it in America, as contrasted with Republicans who want to privatize Social Security, tax cuts for the wealthy, [and] send jobs overseas." House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) added: "The Republican phasing out of the middle class tax cuts will not happen. We're going to make sure."

Though some House Democrats have swallowed Republican propaganda and want to extend the Bush tax cuts for the upper bracket, Pelosi and Hoyer have drawn the proverbial line in the sand. If the House brings the proposed "Obama tax cuts" to the floor, Republicans and any wavering Democrats will have no place to hide.

To succeed, a pickpocket must first distract the intended victim. If congressional Democrats can maintain discipline and expose Republican machinations, Americans could well catch the Grand Old Pickpocket Party before it can get away with lifting their wallets once again.