Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Catch of the Day

I missed this yesterday, but it's very good. Adam Serwer asks:
Why is it, in our supposedly center-right country, conservatives seeking to dismantle the welfare state need to pretend they're actually preserving it? I thought the American people were just a bunch of rugged individualists seeking to free themselves from the yoke of government assistance thrust on them by crypto-fascist liberals. Apparently it's not that simple.
Just in case the point isn't completely obvious: if conservatives actually believed what they say about public opinion, they would behave in the exact opposite way -- they'd be exaggerating the effects of their programs.

Of course, one could argue that they did just that with respect to the deal on FY 2011, in which the cuts turned out to be less than advertised. But on Medicare, Serwer is absolutely correct: Republicans in the House voted for a significant change, but are all upset that Democrats are correctly accusing them of doing so.

Also, one could argue that it's hardly the Republicans' fault that the American people are apparently suckers for "government is too big" rhetoric and "don't touch Medicare and Social Security" rhetoric. Still, that's not what movement conservatives will tell you, and so it's a: Great catch!


  1. I've always recognized the "center-right country" claim as propaganda. The claim is in fact one I believe to be accurate--but not in the way Republicans use it. The US is definitely center-right in its orientation compared with other countries. But that's not what Republicans mean when they say it. What they mean is that the country tends to favor the policies of the GOP. The polling data over several decades overwhelmingly refutes that claim.

    Still, playing a little devil's advocate, I'm not sure this data point is as relevant as Serwer thinks. The welfare state isn't inherently in conflict with a "center right" viewpoint. Many "center right" thinkers accept the basics of the safety net, including Social Security and Medicare, though they may believe in making some cuts to them. Dismantling or privatizing or voucherizing these things strikes me as at least a touch beyond the "center" right.

  2. It occurs to me that there's a reciprocal argument to be made about Democrats: they always want to raise taxes after Republicans cut them to unsustainable levels, but they're extremely constrained in doing so because people don't like taxes. Hence Obama's self-imposed straitjacket: no new taxes on those earning under $250k. WSJ ideologue William McGurn has a not entirely inaccurate op-ed about this today http://on.wsj.com/j4kl4I

  3. Wait, Democrats ALWAYS want to raise taxes? I seem to recall the Dems having control of the House, Senate and White House from 2009 to 2011, and they... cut taxes.

  4. I wouldn’t call this a “catch”… Serwer is just repeating Democratic talking points. The Ryan plan is at least an attempt to put Medicare on sound footing… If Democrats have a magic plan that fixes the program without changing a thing, they should tell the voters what it is. Then let the party with the most effective hatchet-men win!

  5. Couves,

    I disagree!

    Two things. I agree with Yglesias that Ryan is basically ending Medicare and replacing it with something else (link above). I suppose you can call what Yglesias said Dem talking point, but I'd say it's true.

    But that's not what Serwer is saying; he's pointing out that, regardless of what the Ryan plan actually does, if Republicans really believed their rhetoric they would be emphasizing how much it ended the welfare state. That they don't implies that they know that people actually like the basic post-Great Society arrangements.

    That's not really Dem talking points, I don't think. But a better question, IMO, is: are there similar cases in which Democrats claim something about public opinion that, based on their actions, they don't really believe?

  6. "I agree with Yglesias that Ryan is basically ending Medicare and replacing it with something else (link above)."

    But he doesn't say that. He says that "conservatives [are] seeking to dismantle the welfare state." Ryan's plan clearly doesn't do this. In fact, it has extra protections for the poor and sick while asking middle and upper income recipients to pay more. If the Dems think they have a better way to address Medicare's problems, that's great -- let’s hear them! Until that happens, it’s difficult to gauge public reaction… chances are, people aren't going to be thrilled about any plan that seriously deals with such a huge liability. I don’t love Ryan and his plan is probably not perfect, but he at least had the courage to put it out there.


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