Matt Yglesias made an important point the other day when he observed that ‘conservatives’ never remotely earned their reputation as deficit hawks. What really got my attention was how weak the pushback to Matt’s post was: some people said that the movement cares about deficits even if elected conservatives don’t (…so why elect conservatives?), and Jonah Goldberg basically pled guilty. Kevin Drum pointily observed that even Tea Partiers care more about cutting taxes than reducing the deficit.
I think that most people don’t yet realize how John Kyl and Mitch McConnell stepped in it. No intelligent person – not even conservative economists who worked for George W. Bush – would simply say that they still care more about tax cuts than the deficit during a deficit crisis, or deny that massive tax cuts diminish revenue. Normally I would consider that kind of sweeping generalization to be a risk, but Jonah Goldberg makes me feel pretty good about it.
I think that Matt is on to something. Conservatives have the deficit ingrained too deep to toss away like their skepticism about unprovoked foreign wars or detaining US citizens without trial. John Kyl’s artless rhetoric just crystallized a point that conservatives artfully danced around for at least the twenty-some years that I’ve paid attention. Their economic message during good times is tax cuts, and their agenda for bad times is tax cuts. Their “new ideas” are tax cuts for wealthy people, even though vast majorities favor taxing top earners to fix the budget. This seems like a ripe topic to bring up with conservative friends. Do they stand with their party or do they supporting reducing the deficit? As Matt noted conservatives who have grappled with this question in the past, Douthat and Greg Mankiw for example, have gone suspiciously silent. Coinkydink? I imagine that they want to feed Kyl and McConnell’s message mistake like Sharron Angle wants to chat with Rachel Maddow about Social Security, “second amendment solutions” rape.
Why do media figures treat conservative deficit hawkery like given truth? I’d wager that it mostly gets repeated because nobody has made them defend it. Writing a blog that links to Matt Yglesias via Kevin Drum barely registers. This could become the biggest meme on whatever meme aggregator kids use nowadays and most beat reporters still wouldn’t know. Drudge could rock the world with an unsourced rumor, of course, but nobody said that life is fair. You work with what you got, and I believe that it would do some good if news outlets got more pushback from their readers and if TV and radio stations started getting calls from listeners. Think of it as a service to give ombudsmen and ombudswomen something to do besides parry enraged, screeching wails from Glenn Beck fans.
Sitemeter tells me that we get a bit over 40k visitors a day. If four hundred of you (that’s one in a hundred) makes a measly phone call or pens a letter to the editor, a couple of small-market ombudspeople would probably answer right away. If you make a habit of it or if several of you reach the same reporter or ombudsperson then we might hear a more substantial response. Even Pittsburgh’s arch-rightwing Tribune Review (both Malkin and Goldberg syndicated) runs one or a few liberal letters on a given day.
IMO an effective place to start is the local newspaper. A good percentage of papers have editorial staff who lean right or right-ish, and these have run a more or less nonstop reel of deficits and immigrant hate since the healthcare issue faded. You therefore ought to find plenty of local grist for a reply.