Tuesday, February 11, 2014

National Review Waking Up To Reality

This is good news. A couple people sent me a link to an article written by Ramesh Ponnuru and Yuval Levin (P&L) at National Review. What’s interesting about it is that while they still make some of the mistakes commonly made on the right, they seem to be catching up to things I’ve been saying here for quite some time. This is an important step for conservatism

As you will recall, I’ve been talking about income inequality as a huge issue conservatives are missing. I’ve also pointed out that conservatives have a tin ear when it comes to the public, and that the conservative "agenda" (what there is of it) is meaningless to the public, i.e. the public is not the one acting irrationally or stupidly. Pointing this out has led to lots of bad blood and the loss of several readers who are happier drinking the Kool-Aid of talk radio. Good for them. Well, the conservative world is starting to wake up to what I've been saying. Indeed, check out this quote to get a flavor of this National Review article:
“Republicans could do better: If they took better account of what worries Americans today and why, they would see that the Democrats’ obsession with inequality could leave the GOP with a great opportunity to offer the public an appealing, constructive, conservative economic agenda.”
Those are my points: conservatives have lost touch with average Americans, they don’t offer a worthwhile agenda, and they are blind to an issue that is becoming huge. There’s more too. P&L note that the Democrats have managed to sell the public on the idea that they care about the public whereas Republicans don’t, but P&L blame the right for this: “this success has had more to do with Republicans’ lack of understanding of (and at times discomfort with) the public’s economic concerns than with the strengths of the Democrats’ arguments.”


How long have I been saying this? The problem is that the right does not understand or care about the public’s concerns -- instead, they mock the public. And what do P&L recommend? Well, they engage in a lengthy discussion in which they highlight some areas where the right can win the public. Here are some of their quotes:
● “Voters are worried about stagnating wages, inadequate mobility out of poverty and through the middle class, weak growth, and the high costs of raising a family.”

● “People worry that the cost of health insurance is too high, putting coverage out of reach for too many and depressing wages.”

● “Higher education is another source of great anxiety in American life: Will we able to afford it for our kids, and will it leave them with an unbearable debt burden?”

● “The cost of raising a family is another issue where conservatives can offer potentially popular reforms.”

● “To stand a chance of being enacted, the agenda conservatives offer must speak directly to the needs and wishes of middle-class voters.”
Sound familiar? These are same points I've been making since December 2012. Seriously, go back and look. While others have been arguing that we just need to up the hate against gays, Mexicans, women and Obama... and have been trying to dismiss their failure by calling the public "low information voters," I've been making the point that conservatives are the ones who need to start offering something that people outside the fringe will want. Now P&L are making that very same point.

Interestingly, P&L reached these conclusions despite continuing to make some of the common mistakes that continue to cripple conservative thinking. Specifically:
● They use the wrong data to delude themselves into thinking that income equality is about greed rather than pain. What they do is use the nominal data, which results in them admitting that incomes at the top grew a lot more than incomes at the bottom, but then they claim that all incomes rose: “Everyone’s incomes grew, but those of the wealthy grew more, leaving America’s wealth more concentrated at the top.” Hence, they see income inequality as being about greed. But this isn’t true. If you factor in inflation, which you must, then everyone from the middle class on down lost income during that period. So while they claim the “most prominent plank of the left’s inequality argument” is disproven, they are wrong. The reality is that people are concerned because their incomes have been falling, not because they are upset that the rich are doing better than they are.

● They are still comparing income inequality to “growth,” as if growth is a proxy for the economic security of the public. As I’ve pointed out before, growth and economic security have proven themselves to be unrelated. To really understand the problem, conservatives need to start focusing on jobs and income, not growth, because it is jobs and income that are vanishing even as economic growth soars.

● They take the same wrong approach conservatives take regarding other issues, particularly scientific, and they conclude that while there is evidence to show that income inequality is a problem, it’s not conclusively proven. No one cares about “conclusively proven” because there is no such thing in life... asking for conclusive proof is a delaying tactic.

● Fourth, they have wrongly interpreted the polls. They point out that polls show “income inequality” as being a relatively low concern of the public compared to other issues. But as I pointed out the other day, that misunderstands the nature of polling, and it misidentifies the actual issue.
Indeed, building on this last point, even as they dismiss the idea that “income inequality” is something that does or should concern the public, they then conclude that the base elements of income inequality (vanishing jobs, shrinking incomes, loss of upward mobility) are concerns of the public. That's arguing form over substance on their part.

It would be nice if P&L could finally look beyond the years of propaganda they have ingested, but frankly, I’ll take what they have given here and be happy with it: this is a good start. Conservatives need to realize that until they grasp the concerns of the middle class and start offering solutions for those, the middle class will continue to look elsewhere for solutions. Articles like the one by P&L are a huge step in the right direction because they shatter the idea that the public is at fault for conservative failures and that a platform aimed at addressing the pet peeves of the fringe can succeed. Said differently, this is the kind of article people like P&L should have been writing since December 2012 to send conservatives in the right direction. They didn’t, but at least they are starting to now... and that's a good thing.


tryanmax said...

I can't recall the last time I heard a politician from either side discussing "kitchen table issues" but that is what is missing from today's politics. This used to be Republicans' home turf, and Democrats clamored to snag a piece. With the GOP ignoring such issues, they've made it safe for Dems to do the same.

It's gotten to the point where I believe I am detecting a bit of anxiety from the MSM (read Democrat) pundits. They are just shy of writing a strategy for the Republicans. Not b/c they are likely to switch camps, but b/c they are desperate for ideas to piggyback on. Even with the GOP consuming itself, their own rotten ideas have an expiration date, one that may be approaching fast.

Over the last five years or so, the pundits on the left have gone from crowing over the right's imminent demise to moist palm ringing that their own party is off the rails. The GOP isn't even spoken of in terms of being in the game, but in ways wondering why they aren't and when they'll return.

Again, there's no threat of media leftists turning coat. But they instinctively know that the right is their guardrail and a few are getting nervous about it not being there.

El Gordo said...

No one cares about “conclusively proven” because there is no such thing in life... asking for conclusive proof is a delaying tactic.

In life, I would say there is. But not in politics.

"Growth" and "income inequality" can be defined and redefined in economics. But in politics, they are meaningless, abstract terms. They have to be filled with meaning. The rest is just packaging.

That is what politicians do. Democats are very good at that. If liberals are good at one thing it is the manipulation of language. Republicans are terrible at it.

20 years ago, I believe "growth" was generally seen as shorthand for jobs, better incomes and a secure future. Liberals worked hard to discredit the term. Remember "jobless growth" that creates only "hamburger flippers"? The problem and the irony is that, not least due to liberal policies, we actually have jobless growth. People feel, with reason, that wealth creation passes them by. Growth is good, but the term by itself doesn´t convince voters anymore.

"Income inequality" can also be defined any way you want - in politics. It can be a cry for envy and punitive redistriubution. It can also mean we need to spell out conservative policies leading to jobs, better incomes and a secure future. But it cannot be dismissed. It has to be used.

Conservatives (not just Republicans) usually let liberals "occupy" a phrase and that leaves few options to deal with them: wonkish bs, abstract generalities and finally me-too-ism.

Kit said...

"Conservatives (not just Republicans) usually let liberals "occupy" a phrase and that leaves few options to deal with them: wonkish bs, abstract generalities and finally me-too-ism."

You forgot the other: "Cheer for the negative".

Income inequality is bad you liberals say? I say its GOOD! And all Reel 'Merikans should love it!

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Kitchen table issues were Reagan's thing. He spoke directly to average people about their issues. The GOP today speaks to activists and bunker dwellers. There is nothing in the GOP agenda that anyone outside the far right cares about. I even know a lot of conservatives who don't care about any of the issues the GOP pushes.

I'm not sure if the left wants a competitive right -- they seem pretty happy about winning by default. But the media is all about ratings and a close race means ratings.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. As an aside, the GOP is in loony obscura land, but the left is increasingly being described as "exhausted." And that's true. They haven't had any ideas in decades. Raise the minimum wage? Give me a break.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, anyone would be happy with winning by default, so I don't believe the left consciously wants a competitive right. At the same time, they know what arouses their vigor and too many default victories could eventually turn into "let's-try-something-else-ism." They've also got a sitting president who is campaign poison--no one wants his endorsement. So they've got no one to campaign with and no one to campaign against. The threat of having to actually offer ideas looms large for the Dems.

Kit said...

The problem with activists is that while they can do great good they, even at their best, are kind of loopy.

El Gordo said...

Kit, yes indeed. Income inequality is inevitable and not always unjust, but the same is true of gravity. That doesn´t mean we cheer gravity when people fall off the stairs. Well, not most people.

AndrewPrice said...

El Gordo, Agreed. And that's why people don't report "income inequality" being as big of a concern as "jobs," because it is a meaningless term. But the mistake the right is making in dismissing this is that they are falling for form over substance and they are ignoring the fact that while the public doesn't care about the term, they do care very much about the issues that are the result of/causing/offshoots of "income inequality."

On "growth," I actually blame the right, not the left for this. As you say, at one point, "growth" was shorthand for jobs and income and overall economic health. But somewhere in the 1990s, the right began to conflate growth with GNP and a booming stock market. Not coincidentally, that's when the jobs started vanishing even as the market boomed.

At this point, unfortunately, the shift is complete and when the right talks about "growth" they have internalized the idea that stock markets, balance sheets and GNP are what matter. And all of their ideas have shifted over to how to help the market and company balance sheets. No one in the GOP thinks about people anymore... just balance sheets.

The public, however, doesn't see a connection between growth and their own situations because they have 40 years of proof that the two aren't connected. In fact, right now, growth is probably around 4%, which means "boom times," But look around and find me anyone who thinks things are going well for them or their neighbors.

"Growth" is comfortable for conservatives to talk about because they can talk about it without having to actually talk about real people, but people vote, numbers don't.

On the bad jobs, there is absolutely something to that. And it's worse now than ever under Obama, and his policies are making it even worse.

On letting the left occupy a phrase, that's absolutely true. In fact, I've been discussing this with some people and the more we looked at it, conservatives run away from anything liberals do or say. It's almost comical. It's like cooties.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, Very true and that's a huge problem. That's why conservatives have such a nasty reputation. If the left says, "We want to feed puppies and educate children," the right will turn around and mock both ideas, with some important (Congress, talk radio, pundit) invariably saying, "The world would be better off if puppies starved and kids remained ignorant."

How can you win the public over with allies like that?

BevfromNYC said...

And it is the constant onslaught of mixed messages from both sides. How can anyone keep up. We can't agree on the message because we can't agree on what the problems are. Seriously...it's making me crazy because EVERYONE has a pet issue that MUST be solved today, so we have created 330million different issues - [THANK YOU INTERNET!!]

- Unemployment is BAD - Until Unemployment is GOOD because that means more people can afford to be unemployed Those employed who were "locked-in" to jobs they hated now making employment BAD; [Apparently you've been a chump for working to pay the bills...btw, I have much the same feeling about this that I had with the subprime lending fiasco when I thought all these years that to get a mortgage one had to have a down payment and be able to pay it back...silly me]

- Wall Street BAD Unless the stock market is at record highs, then Wall Street GOOD [We tend to forget that high stock market are bubbles that burst]

- Continuing on Wall Street - rich people investing in the stock market is good until they make oodles of money doing it, then it's bad.

- Deficit spending good (or bad depending on the day and who is office)

- Ever Growing Debt of $17trillion+ bad (also depending on the day and who is in office at the time)

- Most people do not know the difference between "Deficit spending" and "Debt".

- Bombing the sh*t out of people BAD until Democrats are in office then we can bomb American citizens at will in foreign countries

- Selling our secrets to the highest bidder BAD/Treasonous, unless it makes your political enemies look bad, then it's GOOD/Righteous.

I could go on and on and on, but I am getting a headache for the spinning and spinning. Is there anyone who can dare be honest and straightforward?

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That could well be. The left seems bereft of ideas and they probably do need the right to mooch ideas from and to keep them motivated. Boy did we fool them!

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, The activist are way out of touch with the rest of the public. That's the problem with activists on any issue. They rarely understand what the public cares about. They can't relate to non-activists. And they get angry when people don't accept what they consider to be "obvious."

The problem on the right isn't just the activists though. It's also talk radio, which does a lot more harm to conservatism than the left could ever do.

AndrewPrice said...

El Gordo, Well said. Just because something will always be a part of life doesn't mean we need to cheer it. And income inequality will always be with us and that's probably a good thing, honestly. That tells us that people are capable of achieving as much or as little as they desire.

The real issue is the elimination of the sense that the game is rigged and that people are moving backwards.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Yeah, hard to disagree with that. I think you've identified several problems:

1. The biggest problem is that there is blatant dishonesty and hypocrisy in our politics now. We've reached a level of open deceit that is truly stunning.

2. There are many issues we need to deal with, but I'm not sure that our ruling class actually understand what the real issues are -- as compared to what sounds good.

3. The internet has flooded us with stupidity and it's made it that much harder to spot the good information.

In any event, see this NR article as a good sign that the right is finally coming back into the game of sane politics. This is one more sign to me that the conservative tantrum is finally ending.

tryanmax said...

Boy did we fool them!

Ye-e-a-ah... *glances sideways* ... *and again* ...we sure did. Didn't we?

tryanmax said...

I've got a problem right now that Congress needs to solve: we need a bill that would make it so that submarine sandwiches don't get soggy from the oil and vinegar before I'm done eating it.

Yes it's a first world problem, but I'm facing it as I type. (My keyboard is so shiny!)

AndrewPrice said...

Yeah, we sure did. Just wait until you see our next trick.

On the sandwich, I'm sure there are some Congresscritters who will be happy to spend tax money to study the issue. But what I recommend is asking that they put the oil in an extra little cup. Then apply it yourself.

tryanmax said...

Hmmm, I think the Sandwich Artists' Union would have something to say about that.

AndrewPrice said...

Well, you don't tell them, "Just give me the ingredients, I'm going to have cheap Mexican, non-union labor assemble it for me as I eat it."

BevfromNYC said...

Tryanmax and Andrew - Then the NoMoCON-diments and Stop the CON on CON-diments lobbies will chime in that you should just go {with/without} the oil & vinegar altogether because it causes {fill-in-the-blank} disorder of the {fill-in-the-blank} and will {fill-in-the-blank} us {less/more} to {fill-in-the-blank} it or will {fill-in-the-blank} you or they will just blame Israel...

BevfromNYC said...

"...that our ruling class actually understand what the real issues are..."

Andrew - I think you've hit upon something even more important. Unlike any other time I can remember, we actually DO now have a "ruling class". And they think of themselves as such too. I think I first really noticed it when Senator Boxer chided a general that she was not "Ma'am", she was "Senator" in a monumentally imperious tone. In NY it is particularly acute.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I can clearly see how it would be Israel's fault that tryamax's sandwich is moist. Talk about a obvious connection! ;-)

As for group names, how about the Association of Sandwich Stuffers?

Also, wouldn't asking to have the dressing on the side create work as you would now need specialists in each shop to handle those difficult orders?

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I concur. I know that throughout my lifetime, I've never seen them act more as a people apart from the rest of us than they do today. They live apart, they give each other special deals and jobs, they move back and forth between the private club of Government to the private club of Big Business, and they don't even pay much lip service to concerns of the rest of us anymore.

AndrewPrice said...

Go hounds!

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew- Are being chased by a dog?

AndrewPrice said...

Watching Westminster. The Obama dog lost. :)

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