Earlier today, I quoted Sherrod Brown making an expansive case that, yes, government does create jobs, and Dems should say so loudly and often. “During the fifties, the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the United States had great infrastructure programs,” Brown said. “We were the envy of the world. Those are clear formulaic job creating strategies that we know.”
Mike Tomasky comments:
Whenever I read something like this, what I wonder is, why isn’t there an organization on the left that’s dedicated to letting people know the good that government does, and has done — dedicated to trumpeting this kind of information?...
No one gets on an interstate highway and thinks, my government built this, and it did a fine job and it’s a great thing. Most people don’t look at their local river or lake and think, “Gee, I bet my government has spent millions of dollars over the years keeping this clean.” Actually, I do, but most people don’t. But if people saw television commercials reminding them that these good things were done through public means, they’d stop and think for three seconds. Three seconds is a good start...
It’s really weird when you think about it — and, frankly, very telling about the state of contemporary liberalism — that we have this situation where we have a thousand groups dedicated to their particular causes, each of which can only be advanced through government — and no one, no one is bothering to defend the instrument through which these causes can be advanced. An instrument, by the way, that also happens to be heavily under attack from the other side.
This, of course, is why Mitt Romney’s comment about cops, firefighters and teachers is so important. People like government when you talk specifics, whether it’s interstate highways, cleaner water, or cops, firefighters and teachers. Romney accidentally reminded everybody that when he says he’d cut government, he’s talking about cutting services people like. And by the way, Romney is, in fact, talking about cops, firefighters and teachers whether he admits it or not, because as Paul Krugman notes, they are the ones who tend to get cut when government jobs are lost, and Romney doesn’t want to invest federal money in protecting those jobs.
There are many reasons for the communications failure Tomasky identifies here, from the success of the decades-long campaign by the right to undermine faith in government, to the odd Dem willingness to embrace conservative frames about “tightening government’s belt,” to the fact that the stimulus did underperform and sour people on government’s ability to fix the economy. But it’s good to see that this argument has now become central to the presidential campaign. And as Jonathan Chait points out, no matter how many times people say Obama’s “doing fine” gaffe was deadly, the larger story here may turn out to be that it initiated a debate over government employment and the economy that Dems were able to win.