At his news conference on Monday, President Trump boasted: “I built the greatest economy — with the help of 325 million people, I built the greatest economy in the history of the world. . . . I built it.” His remark hardly received any attention, because it doesn’t even make the Top 10 list of the most outrageous things that Trump has said during the past week. But I couldn’t help but wonder: What if President Barack Obama had said it? How would Republicans have reacted?

A far milder comment by Obama set off a thermonuclear reaction in 2012. Obama said: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” What he meant, as he explained, was that business owners have been helped by other people — “a great teacher somewhere in your life,” the government’s investment “in roads and bridges,” all of the people who “helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have.” Obama didn’t say that only the government creates jobs, but Republicans reacted as though he had.

“To say something like that, it’s not just foolishness,” said the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. “It’s insulting to every entrepreneur, every innovator in America.” James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal thundered: “The president’s remark was a direct attack on the principle of individual responsibility, the foundation of American freedom.” Mark Levin said on Fox News that Obama was “disrespecting the American people” and that the then-president “despises the capitalist system.”

By trying to reassign seats in the White House briefing room, the Trump administration is attempting to stifle real journalism, says media critic Erik Wemple. (The Washington Post)

So you would expect that all of the conservatives enraged by Obama’s remarks must now be apoplectic that his successor is claiming personal credit for all of the economic growth during his administration (while, of course, ducking all responsibility for the recent economic implosion). Dream on. There is, of course, not the faintest flicker of outrage from the right.

This is, by now, an old story. When you play this game — “What if Obama had done it?” — you quickly realize that most Republican talking heads and politicians are cynical hypocrites who will say anything for partisan advantage. They express no reservations about Trump doing on a much greater scale so many of the things that they bitterly denounced under Obama — e.g., deficit spending, expanding executive authority, meeting with dictators, resisting subpoenas, disrespecting the Oval Office, playing golf. Now, the great pandemic and recession of 2020 have added a few choice chapters to the annals of Republican inconsistency.

Republicans lambasted Obama for weak economic growth — and continued to do so even though the economy grew faster during Obama’s last three years in office than during Trump’s first three years. Obama “had the WEAKEST recovery since the Great Depression,” Trump tweeted on Feb. 17. Now, Trump has the WORST recession since the Great Depression: the economy shrank by 4.8 percent in the first quarter and is expected to shrink by more than 30 percent in the second quarter.

Are Republicans lambasting Trump for the policy failures that made the pandemic — and recession — so severe? Of course not. They’re making excuses by blaming it all on China or on Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden, who left office (*checks calendar*) more than three years ago.

As recently as April 17, Trump tweeted: “Biden/Obama were a disaster in handling the H1N1 Swine Flu. . . . 17,000 people died unnecessarily and through incompetence!” The actual death toll for the swine flu in 2009-2010 was 12,469 — one-fifth the number of deaths (60,000 and counting) that we have suffered from the novel coronavirus after just three months. So who’s the incompetent one?

Trump hasn’t made as much of an issue of the Ebola outbreak recently, but in the fall of 2014 he posted dozens of tweets calling Obama “nuts” and a “stubborn dope” for his supposed mishandling of this virus. “Ebola has been confirmed in N.Y.C.,” Trump tweeted on Oct. 23, 2014. “Obama’s fault.” Guess how many died in the United States from Ebola? Two.

During the Obama years, the Republican threshold for outrage was at ground level; now it’s so high that it’s lost in space. Back then, House Republicans created a special committee and spent more than two years investigating the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya. Now, Republicans resist any House attempts to investigate Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus — or his handling of nearly $3 trillion in stimulus. All the House Republicans voted last week against creating a subcommittee to track federal coronavirus spending.

Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) expressed concern that the new subcommittee would work “nonstop to criticize President Trump and try to influence the 2020 election.” Using a House investigation for political purposes? What an outrage — except when Republicans do it. In 2015, then-Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) bragged that the Benghazi probe was part of a strategy to defeat Hillary Clinton — and that it was working because her “numbers are dropping.”

Hypocrisy must be contagious because it has reached pandemic proportions in the Republican ranks. Trump didn’t start the outbreak, but he is a super-spreader with a viral load of shamelessness. We need to run further clinical trials but, so far, not even repeated exposure to sunlight has cured this malady. Is there some disinfectant that Republicans can inject?

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