December 10, 2012

Republicans are touting a Battleground poll that finds:

Three in four voters want to “cut government spending across the board,” but 59 percent oppose making significant cuts to the defense budget and 46 percent support ending foreign aid. The slightest majority backs reducing Social Security and Medicare benefits for seniors that have higher incomes, but 64 percent oppose raising the retirement age to begin collecting Social Security benefits.

But, wait. The same poll finds “60 percent of respondents support raising taxes on households that earn more than $250,000 a year and 64 percent want to raise taxes on large corporations.” However, “69 percent of respondents oppose raising taxes on small businesses that earn more than $250,000 — a group that the GOP is trying to protect with its push to extend the Bush tax cuts.”


Alan Simpson, left, and Erskine Bowles (Alex Brandon/AP)

In other words, the American people want cake and ice cream for dinner  –  and a unicorn. They want contradictory things. They imagine the only taxes that need go up to sustain the entitlement programs as currently constituted are those of mega-millionaires. They don’t perceive the trade-offs between unrestrained entitlement spending and pressure to cut other spending (e.g., education). They apparently don’t understand that many small businesses pay taxes under the personal income tax code, making them “the rich.”

Looking for guidance from the public — or pretending the other guys don’t understand public opinion  —  is a fruitless exercise. Moreover, the contradictory poll numbers (which are nothing new) make clear how poorly both parties have explained all of this to the American people. Heck, most Americans still think foreign aid is about a quarter of the budget. (It’s less than 1 percent.)

It is not that politicians are bad communicators, although some are. It is that they do not want, as President Obama keeps instructing, to do the math. If they did, they’d have to concede, for example, that raising taxes on the rich raises a pittance compared to our $16 trillion debt. In particular — and this is critical in assessing the president’s moral obligation — Obama has not prepared the American people for the fiscal changes that are needed. He’d rather score political points than be honest with voters. He’s got the biggest megaphone and if he doesn’t level with voters, they aren’t going to get it. (So he doesn’t. And they don’t.)

Nevertheless, the confused state of public opinion provides an opening. Can articulate conservatives do the math for the American people, explain what they stand for and why?  They might have some running room since the president has been hiding the ball (i.e. the debt, the increase in discretionary spending, the percentage of income taxes already paid by the rich). Unfortunately, they have a smaller megaphone than the president. Nevertheless, instead of telling us what plan they want ($800 billion in tax-loophole closing) why not take a run at explaining with actual numbers why they favor their approach? Hey, there’s a first for everything.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.