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Cover Story

Big Red Lies

Does democracy stand a chance against the Republican Party's dishonest strategy?

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"This is the choice we now face.  This is what the election comes down to.  Over and over, we have been told by our opponents that bigger tax cuts and fewer regulations are the only way; that since government can't do everything, it should do almost nothing.  … You know what? That's not who we are. That's not what this country's about. … We also believe in something called citizenship – a word at the very heart of our founding, at the very essence of our democracy; the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations."

Whether you like the party's agenda or not, this is a good thing, a necessary thing if we're to have a meaningful conversation about our future these next two months. But that begets the question: Where were these guys the last three years?

If the modern Republican Party has invented its own reality – one in which climate change and evolution are myths and requiring people to purchase health insurance is socialism – Democrats by and large remain as feckless as they were when Karl Rove wiped the floor with them in the 2000s.

Give Obama credit: Health care reform, like it or not, was a monumental achievement. And those first two years – again, like it or not – were extraordinarily productive: the stimulus, Lilly Ledbetter, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Dodd-Frank. But on messaging, his party got its ass kicked.

You saw in the half-hearted defense they've offered of Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, as if near-universal health care and Wall Street reform weren't things to be proud of. You saw it, too, in Obama's capitulations to the House Republicans' debt-ceiling hostage-taking last summer. The deficits the Republicans had so glibly run up in the 2000s on wars and tax cuts and entitlement expansions were now, in the aftermath of the largest worldwide recession in 70 years, our most pressing problem. They mattered so much, in fact, that House Republicans, led by Paul Ryan, threatened to send the world's teetering economy into a death spiral by defaulting on the country's debt, unless Obama agreed to their demands for spending cuts.

Obama caved. The Republicans said it wasn't enough. Obama offered dramatic entitlement cuts if only Republicans would throw revenue into the mix. The Republicans said no. We ended up with a bipartisan debt commission, whose plan the Ryan-led House Republicans spiked (and then, audaciously, Ryan chastised the president for not supporting).