With conservatives showing themselves to be livid over the president’s attempt to seize the moral high ground on cutting the deficit, it’s worth exploring the real reason they’re so angry.

Yesterday on Fox News, Post columnist Charles Krauthammer complained that “all of a sudden” Obama “is a man who wants to be the one who cuts the deficit and the debt.” Krauthammer said:

Look, he adopts this position of being the Olympian observer of all this, above all the squabbling. Everyone else plays politics, but he acts in the national interest. And he says, you know, ‘If not now, when?’ All of a sudden he’s decided we have to have a big deal, not a small deal. For months, he insisted we have no deal. For months, he insisted that we have a debt ceiling increase with no cuts at all. Now all of a sudden, only a big deal. He says, ‘If not now, when?’ How about in February when he, as president, submitted a budget that increased the deficit?

All of a sudden he is a man who wants to be the one who cuts the deficit and the debt. It’s a farce. And you see it in the threat he made where he said, ‘I will not sign a short-term extension.’ Let’s say we’re in negotiations, and we’re approaching, and we want something real like tax reform which takes a few months. And Republicans pass a tax reform — pass a debt ceiling increase for say three months to allow negotiations. He says he will veto it because he is acting in the national interest; has to be a big deal. I think the Republicans ought to call the bluff on this.

Republicans are furious because President Obama’s gambit — to make himself look like the “adult in the room” by offering Republicans a disastrous but sweeping debt reduction deal that would combine tax increases with cuts to the social safety net — appears to be working. It’s working in the sense that it has revealed for all to see that Republicans aren’t really interested in cutting the debt.

What Republicans are really interested in doing is cutting the welfare state. That’s why they’re opposed to any increase in taxes, even though the biggest single driver of the deficit is the Bush tax cuts, which Republicans overwhelmingly supported. Despite Krauthammer’s claim that Obama’s interest in the deficit is “sudden,” the truth is that it’s also ”sudden” for Republicans — it wasn’t an issue for them until Obama was elected president. Before then, Republicans were perfectly willing to increase the debt through tax cuts, war with Iraq, and Medicare Part D.

Moreover, Republicans had no issue with raising the debt ceiling without demanding spending cuts when Bush was president. It’s only now that Obama is in the White House that they’re insisting that a debt ceiling hike must be accompanied by major concessions from Dems. It’s true that as a Senator, Obama had no compunctions about voting against raising the debt limit, but this doesn’t make the GOP’s hypocrisy any less blatant.

For the record, I think Obama’s concessions to Republicans would have been a political and moral disaster had they taken the deal. But to the extent that anyone has shown good faith in deficit negotiations, it’s the man in the White House. And the real reason conservatives are angry is that they can’t make this simple truth go away.