Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Republican Talking Points Everywhere, and Not a Drop to Drink

David Sirota writes about the dishonest GOP spin machine, and how it is helped by self-identified progressives/liberals/democrats such as Ari Melber.

Sirota's view is that people like Ari Melber are "only interested in promoting their name at the expense of others," and he may be right about Melber. But I think there is another factor at work here.

The strand of liberalism I identify most closely with is pragmatic and relatively nonideological. Consider the Brookings Institution, which is perhaps the premire liberal think tank in Washington. It was "was founded on the principles that research, expertise and administrative competence were needed for government efficiency." In contrast, its conservative counterpart, the Heritage Foundation, was founded "to formulate and promote conservative public policies." The liberal notion that we are all in this together and should be working together for the common good is reflected in the Brooking's mission. In contrast, the Heritage Foundation's purpose is to do battle against the liberals.

Matt Miller comes from the same strand of liberalism, to judge by his NY Times column titled "Is Persuasion Dead?" But let's see how that worked out in the first column he wrote for the NY Times. Miller says that Democrats shouldn't call Bush's proposed Social Security benefit cuts "cuts," because they aren't cuts if you measure them the way that the Republican talking point does. However, it is standard in financial planning to measure retirement income as a percentage of pre-retirement income, and by that measure, Bush's cuts are cuts.

I think it is pretty clear what happened. Miller doesn't appear to have any expertise in financial planning. So he heard the Republican talking point, thought about it, failed to spot the flaw in it, and accepted it as valid. I can't really blame Miller for this. Everybody makes mistakes, and I don't think it is reasonable to expect a columnist to become an expert on finance before commenting on Social Security. But when liberal columnists endorse misleading Republican talking points, we have a problem.

Whenever I think about the state of political discourse today, I find myself feeling pessimistic. The conservative approach to politics strikes me as fundamentally unpatriotic. In my view, Americans should care more about America than about the success of a political party. At the same time, I can't deny that it has been successful. As far as I can see, the left has no choice other than to copy some of the techiques used by the right. The Center for American Progress is a liberal think tank designed to counter conservative think tanks like Heritage. Air America Radio is breaking the conservative monopoly on political talk radio. The challenge is to avoid selling out our souls for political success.


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