In the closing months of the 2012 campaign, Republican candidates up and down the ballot came up with a new strategy to respond to news that GOP policymakers want to end Medicare and replace it with a voucher scheme: they hit the campaign trail with their parents.
The gambit wasn't subtle: voters were supposed to see a Republican congressman alongside his elderly mom, for example, and think, "Well, he can't be that bad; his mom says he doesn't hate Medicare!"
The strategy didn't work out too well -- Democrats fared very well in the 2012 elections, and polls showed Americans strongly rejecting GOP Medicare plans -- and so Republicans have a new photo-op idea. Grandparents are out; grandchildren are in.
Many politicians talk about the impact of the soaring U.S. debt on the nation's children. On Wednesday, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) actually trotted them out.
The newly elected chairwoman of the House Republicans convened a press conference outside the Capitol with about 10 fellow GOP lawmakers and more than a dozen littler Republicans, in an effort to highlight the real-world effects of the fiscal crisis.
"As the debate is looming over the fiscal cliff, we stand here to fight for those hard-working Americans and their families," McMorris Rodgers said as she stood surrounded by children whose ages ranged from toddler to teenager, including one who wore a tuxedo.
It turned out that some of the young children didn't belong to members of Congress, but were brought in by "friends and family of Republican staffers."
But even putting that aside, what's striking about a stunt like this is the notion that McMorris Rodgers and other Republicans seem to believe they have the moral high ground on debt reduction.
As we talked about in August, towards the end of President Clinton's second term, debt clocks that had been established in various U.S. locations had to be shut down -- the deficit had been eliminated and the clocks had never been set to run backwards.
They started back up again during the Bush/Cheney era. Republicans took a massive surplus and turned it into an even more massive deficit, adding the costs of two wars, two tax cuts, Medicare expansion, and a Wall Street bailout to the national charge card.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) later referred to the Bush/Cheney era as a time in which Republicans decided "it was standard practice not to pay for things." In just eight years, GOP policymakers not only eliminated the surplus -- the nation had been on track to eliminate the national debt altogether by 2010 -- but they'd also added $5 trillion to the debt in eight years.
In other words, the "debt crisis" Republicans decry is a mess they themselves created. Indeed, it's GOP policies that are still driving today's deficits, even four years after Bush/Cheney left office and conservatives decided they now care about fiscal responsibility all over again.
In the Obama era, the deficit is shrinking at the fastest pace in generations. What's more, President Obama offered Republicans a $4 trillion debt-reduction package -- which GOP leaders turned out -- and proposed a series of policy proposals -- the Affordable Care Act, cap and trade, DREAM Act -- all of which would have reduced the deficit, and all of which Republicans refused to consider.
Even now, Democrats are eyeing a modest increase on income above $250,000, which would help reduce the debt, and despite strong public support, GOP policymakers oppose this, too.
Yesterday's photo-op on Capitol Hill made it seem as if those who care about children necessarily want to follow Republicans' lead on debt reduction -- as if GOP lawmakers have unique credibility when it comes to fiscal responsibility and concern for future generations.
All available evidence suggests that's exactly backwards.