Thursday, April 28, 2011

Policy in the Age of Post-truth Politics

26 comments:

TJE said...

If the facts are on your side, pound the facts. If the law is on your side, pound the law. If neither the facts nor the law are on your side, pound the table. If that still doesn't work, complain that your side is the victim of a vast right wing conspiracy that dupes the stupid American public.

PBM said...

What part of the story are you talking about, TJE?

So, the author's thesis is that Republican policies are deeply unpopular so they dress them up with rhetoric and talking points to gain public support.

Now let's look at Paul Ryan's plan. The GOP rhetoric surrounding it is that it "saves Medicare," "cuts spending," and "give states more flexibility with Medicaid." The GOP/right-wing rhetoric avoids mentioning any sort of tax cuts for the wealthy or corporations because it knows those are deeply unpopular. The talking points also don't describe his plans for Medicare and Medicaid with actual facts about what they would do. I wouldn't say that putting seniors at risk to pay thousands of dollars more in medical costs is the equivalent of "saving Medicare," or that cutting hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicaid is somehow "giving states more flexibility." And those are the closest things to facts (provided by CBO) that you can get about this plan, yet to sell it, the GOP and right-wing commentators avoid all of those aspects of the policy in lieu of rosy rhetoric and talking points about this being "courageous" and putting us on the "path to prosperity."

I know you put up polling numbers that support your side more or less in an earlier post, but if you poll the individual parts of this plan (vouchering Medicare, cutting Medicaid, and cutting taxes for the rich), it is deeply unpopular.

TJE said...

So the claim is that Americans are so stupid that they can be knocked off the "truth" and their own preferences by rhetoric and talking points?

PBM said...

And I don't think that it's a conspiracy in the traditional sense. But the right seems to feed off of talking points from other right-wing sources without regard for their accuracy or truthfulness. E.g., Mitch McConnell saying taxing 100% of income on the richest Americans wouldn't close the deficit. E.g., that the health care law creates 50,000 new IRS agents, or death panels.

TJE said...

And the left is too noble or inept to counter?

PBM said...

When something is repeated enough by a source that is supposed to be respected like a news source, or a politician, then I think yes. I also don't think people really hold that strong of views in general, so when they just hear things repeatedly like "cut taxes," "reduce government spending," and "more freedom," then I think that can seep into public thought and influence public opinion.

PBM said...

Left is too inept because of a lack of cohesion and organization. The right can just go along saying, "no government, only free market," while the left has to say "well, we like government in some cases, but only to a certain degree, and only with these policies, but for other situations we like the free market." That is a much harder ideology to create cohesive and consistent talking points for.

TJE said...

Evidence? Labor unions are one of the largest and best organized forces in American politics.

PBM said...

Labor unions are also one part of the Democratic coalition and often butt heads with other parts like environmentalists, minorities, some corporations and consumer advocates on some issues. They certainly don't all have the same idea of what government should and shouldn't do, and their preferred policies also differ greatly. The right seems to have a less diverse coalition that is willing to accept the same solutions (cutting taxes, cutting spending, deregulating) for every problem.

TJE said...

Libertarians, social conservatives, populists, neoconservatives, tea partiers-- all of a piece?

Ryan Karerat said...

Libertarians, social conservatives, populists, neoconservatives, tea partiers-- all of a piece?

Libertarians tend to cross over with Tea Partiers, who heavily overlap with social conservatives, who overlap if not are one in the same with neoconservatives (which post-Iraq War does not seem to have much resonance with the conservative base any longer, at least publicly).

PBM said...

On domestic policy, they all want to cut spending, cut government, and deregulate. You can't honestly say that the GOP coalition is as diverse as the Democrats' in interests, class, and race. Yes, there is going to be dissent within the ranks on issues like military spending, farm and oil subsidies, etc., but you can pretty much count on every aspect of the coalition to repeat the "cut spending, cut taxes, deregulate" cry in some form at every possible opportunity.

TJE said...

And what exactly are the deep divisions on the left?

PBM said...

Moderates like Conrad and McCaskill want to cut spending, environmentalists like Boxer want emissions reductions, while coal and oil staters like Manchin and Landrieu don't, liberals want a public option while moderates do not, liberals support unions while blue dogs do not, the Black Caucus wants more spending on jobs for African-Americans, while noone else wants to spend any money, some Dems want stricter Wall St. regulations, while ones from New York do not, Hispanic members or members with largely Hispanic districts want immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship, while Southern Dems or Dems from more conservative states want more enforcement. I could go on and on but I know that you know that there are deep divisions on the left.

Ryan Karerat said...

I would say it's not as much divisions 'within the left' as it is divisions within the Democratic Party, although even among the unabashed lefties there is disagreement over what should be prioritized, as PBM pointed out. But the bigger picture is that there is a stronger centrist voice within the Dems than there is within the GOP.

Bigger tent --> more division.

TJE said...

Who would you say are the great Democratic centrists? And they prevent Dems from articulating a coherent message?

Ryan Karerat said...

Barack Obama
Mark Warner
Claire McCaskill
Kent Conrad
Steny Hoyer
Heath Shuler and the Blue Dogs
Ben Nelsen
Jon Tester
Max Baucus

and others.

And to an extent, yes, I would say that the centrists help prevent the Democrats from articulating a coherent message (although failure to do so goes beyond just ideological purity). How do I know? What exactly is the Democrats' message right now?

"We kinda sorta like government spending but agree that it should be cut but no! don't take away Medicare benefits except that we'll put Medicare reform on the table if we have to... Oh good, Obama's going to give a speech next week, that'll clear things up."

PBM said...

I'm gonna do Senate not House, but I'd say Manchin, Landrieu, Nelson, Lieberman, Warner, Webb, Tester, Begich, Pryor, Conrad, Baucus. There are more but I think that's enough for now. I think they are a part of the fact that Dems suck at messaging, but a huge part of it is that it is hard to simplify their message. Sometimes they want government intervention in the market, sometimes they don't. When they do want it, they have to agree on what level of intervention is needed. In the GOP, the solution is to cut the government out of the picture, to deregulate, and to cut taxes. There isn't a whole lot of nuance or intricate policy within that template. Yes, there are some moderate Republicans who are willing to look at policy without that template, but I can name like 3-6 Senators as opposed to the 11-15 Dems that are willing to cross the aisle and get behind the GOP "no government" agenda on a lot of issues.

TJE said...

Not sure how the presence of these senators keeps progressives from coherent messaging. The messaging from the right was developed largely outside of Congress.

Ryan Karerat said...

I suppose they could, but it's easier to do the sort of grassroots organizing you're talking about when you're the party out of power (look at how even since the midterms the Tea Party has become far less of a 'movement' compared to where it once was, see also: the rise and fall of MoveOn.org).

Progressives tried to do their fussing earlier on in Obama's term and ended up on the wrong end of the Gibbs/Emanuel verbal smackdown.

TJE said...

IMHO, the center/left has become a voice for defending the status quo-- Parental choice in education? No! Bold thinking about entitlements? No! Bold thinking about tax reform? No! Bold thinking about sorting out the functions of government? No!-- not a good place to be at a time of anger and anxiety.

PBM said...

TJE, I could say the same for equally important issues and the GOP. Those are just your priorities and not everyone holds the same things as dearly as you do.

The moderate senators hurt the messaging of Democratic politicians, yes, but not of the overall "left." What hurts the overall left is that people believe in government intervention but only to a certain extent. Some are socialist, others think that government should correct the market only to a certain extent.

Meanwhile you have the entire right, politicians and media, shouting the same things over and over again, with somewhat different nuances that they can all agree on. "Rich people are job creators so you can't tax them more," "never raise taxes," "cut spending," "reduce the deficit," "deregulate" (this one isn't very popular in the wake of the Wall St. crash and oil spill so the GOP just works on it behind the scenes now), "unions are greedy, corrupt thugs," "no government intervention," "Obama's government takeovers," "environmentalists want to destroy the economy," etc. Even though all GOP officials don't govern this way, a lot do, this is what you hear from their public statements, Fox News, Rush, other radio, Heritage, AEI, Cato and the like. It is a constant echo chamber of these same ideas, that even if they aren't factually accurate, invade the public debate because they are repeated so often. I'm not saying that they are working behind the scenes in every case to make sure this happens, but they feed off of each other and create a loop that often exists outside reality. So they have their "government is bad" message and are able to shout it from the rooftops from so many different places that it becomes legitimate.

Liberals, on the other hand, have a mainstream media that is more and more caught up with things that are just stupid and all for entertainment, and have a widely varying and complicated message. "We should do cap and trade which caps carbon emissions and gives businesses permits to emit CO2 that causes global warming, and this will boost green energy industry," or "health care needs a public option administered by the government as a cost-effective alternative that also creates competition with the private market." Not only are those messages really complicated, but you can't even get all Dems to support them or get a media obsessed with entertainment to give them adequate coverage to explain there proposals, because Donald Trump or Charlie Sheen are out there talking crazy and that's what's being covered.

TJE said...

PBM, is the problem that progressives can't get their message out or that they don't have one? You can't fight something with nothing.

PBM said...

It's both. They don't have one unified message the way conservatives have "government is bad," and when they do come up with a message, it is too complicated to elaborate in a way that appeals to the media, and by extension, potentially voters.

PBM said...

So instead of having an overarching message about government, the left jumps on specific opportunities to make the GOP look bad, like oil companies, Planned Parenthood, and birtherism.

TJE said...

Something>Nothing