What I get frustrated by is the use of such political realism/cynicism to mitigate against action. When Jonathan does it, he is merely presenting the facts of political science. When Rove and Cheney did it, they were engaging in the kind of deep cynicism that has helped destroy America's fiscal standing and economic future.Earlier discussion here and here.
I guess I can make a couple of points in response. One is that at least in my view, the federal employee pay freeze is awful close to the "political realism/cynicism to mitigate against action" that Sullivan finds distasteful. I think that explains some of the liberal opposition to the freeze; liberal budget hawks want substantive action, not symbolism.
Of course, the other liberal frustration is with those held in what Jonathan Chait calls the ideology of deficit reduction, who not only act as if the deficit is self-evidently bad and extremely important (I think Sullivan basically qualifies on that) but refuse to accept that there are real differences between the parties on the deficit, and have been for thirty years -- including failing to give Obama credit for his deficit-reduction efforts (Sullivan is certainly not guilty of that one -- he's been very good at apportioning blame and credit). I'd say [see Update below] that most mainstream liberal bloggers (Drum, Ezra Klein, Chait, Cohn) care quite a bit about deficits, but find the dynamics of deficit politics, in which liberals repeatedly clean up GOP deficit messes and get no credit from anyone for it, highly frustrating. They aren't exactly deficit hawks, because they have other values as well, but they do seem to believe that long-term balanced budgets are important to achieving other liberal goals.
My own view on the deficit, as I've said, is basically with Brad DeLong (long-term deficits are in fact a big deal, but are almost entirely about health care), and with Matt Yglesias (the time to deal with deficits is when they become a short-term problem for the economy).
Apologies to anyone if I have their positions wrong.
I'd say that the first group would be very happy to have a truly bipartisan long-run balanced budget deal, but are (correctly, I think) pessimistic that it can happen. And my guess would be that both the White House and the overwhelming majority of Congressional Democrats would be thrilled to have such a deal.
Also taking issue with me on this one is Barry Pump, who I think makes one good point and one that I'd strongly contest. The good point is that deficits may matter to electoral politics even if voters don't actually care about deficits because of how information flows work: if elite-level commentators believe that deficits are important, and evaluate politicians based on how they handle the federal budget, negative evaluations will eventually get picked up by mass publics. It's also true, as he says, that if pols (mistakenly) believe that their constituents care about the deficit, that matters. Fair enough.
However, his other point, I think, is just wrong:
How can one say that deficits do not matter politically? What is the Tea Party if not at least in some part a response to budget deficits? Are you going to argue that the Tea Party didn’t matter in the 2010 midterm elections? They may not have manifested themselves during George W. Bush’s reign of budgetary terror, but that’s not the same as saying there isn’t a sizable segment of the population concerned about budget deficits (his emphasis).I would not at all say that Tea Party activity is a response to budget deficits. I'd say that Tea Party activity is a response to (1) a Democrat in the White House -- see Kevin Drum's terrific article -- and (2) a massive recession. Indeed, to the extent it had positions on public policy issues, it's hard to see Tea Partiers, who wanted to cut taxes and repeal the deficit-slashing ACA, as placing a balanced budget as any kind of real priority.
[Update: After a twitter back-and-forth with Nick Baumann, I'm convinced of two things: one is that I may have botched my categorization of specific liberal bloggers, and the other more important one is that trying to quickly categorize a bunch of bloggers was one of the stupider things I've tried to do around here. I'll leave the original up, including the original apology-if-I-got-anyone-wrong line, but I wouldn't advise anyone to have a lot of confidence in that portion of the post].