The Washington Post

How Democrats help Republicans

As I’ve been arguing here regularly, the Dem willingness to get drawn into a Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop — where the chatter about the deficit and the need to cut government has drowned out any discussion of job creation — has helped Republicans by validating the conservative fiscal worldview in the public mind.

Now Bruce Bartlett has a good post spelling this out. He seizes on Obama’s decision to withdraw an Environmental Protection Agency regulation that’s widely supported by scientists, and argues that it validates the conservative frame that regulation is a drag on the economy.

In a particularly good line, Bartlett adds the crucial point that the public can’t be blamed for internalizing the conservative worldview, given that liberal economics has been entirely marginalized from our political conversation:

In a courtroom, justice requires that both sides be equally well represented. If one doesn’t do its job properly, the jury cannot be blamed for a wrong result. If Democrats are going to accept Republican premises, they shouldn’t be surprised if a majority of people eventually conclude that Republicans ought to be in charge of government policy.

Atrios also puts the point really well, noting that by validating the GOP view that deficits must be dealt with right way, Dems are not neutralizing the issue, but are actually making voters think Republicans are right about what’s important:

The problem that arises is that if you start beating the deficit drum, then you haven’t made voters “trust you” on the deficit, you’ve made the case to voters that they should elect the Republicans who will be better on this very important issue ... If you make the case that Republican issues are important, you’re making the case for ... Republicans.

As it happens, this point is supported by the political science literature, which endorses a venerable concept known as “agenda setting.” The more the public hears about the importance of an issue, the more the public thinks it’s important. And it’s also supported by polling, which has found that during all the deficit and austerity chatter we’ve also seen a substantial swing in support for the GOP idea that spending cuts will create jobs.

Maybe it’s true, as some Democrats will tell you, that Dems simply had to act on deficits and spending in the wake of the 2010 shellacking. But the downside is painfully clear: It has left Dems with far less maneuvering room to make the case for meaningful government job-creation policies. The question is whether Obama’s speech later this week can break this dynamic.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.


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