« The New Guy | Main | Truth in Subheading »

March 12, 2005

It's Not the Size of the Government, It's the Motion of the Leaders

Matt Welch has an idea so crazy it just might work:

There's a better and arguably more attractive ideological option than being anti–"pro–free market," and it's sitting right in front of the Democrats' noses. When the party you despise controls most of the levers of government, it's an excellent time to run against government.

Disparate threads of limited-government rhetoric have begun to pop through the seams of the New Old Left unity. In the wake of the gay marriage wipeout and unpopular federal laws concerning the environment and medical marijuana, many Blue Staters are rediscovering the joys of federalism. "Fiscal responsibility" has cemented itself as boilerplate Democratic rhetoric, and not just as an excuse to jack up tax rates: Rising Democratic star Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico, has been drawing praise from Cato for slashing his state's income taxes, and pushing his fellow Democratic governors to follow his lead.

I couldn't disagree more. (I tried, and sprained something.) For one thing, we'll have the same problem John Kerry had when he tried to say he opposed gay marriage: No one will believe us. Unless we're willing to abandon things like Medicare, Social Security, and good public education, we'll never be able to take the argument to its logical conclusion. Opponents will say we're  half-assing an ideological commitment because it polls well. And if we adopt any strategy that garners Megadittoes from the guys at Cato, they'll be right. More importantly, it's not who we are. Liberals don't dislike government. To many liberals, Reagan's declaration that "government is the problem" amounted to political hate speech. I still bristle at Clinton's "era of big government" schtick.

Worst of all, Welch's suggestion is short-sighted. Suppose Democrats do define themselves as opponents of big government. Fast-forward that tape to 2008, when there's a Democrat in the White House. What's our agenda? We can't promote gay rights or universal health care; those would be Big Government things to do. It gives us nowhere to go, and further calcifies the frame that Reagan spent a decade constructing.

Interestingly, the second thing Welch said hints at a much more appealing option. None of the causes he listed - none of them - are supported by liberals because of a belief in limited government. Our support for gay marriage stems from a belief in equal rights; how many liberals would use the limited-government argument to oppose a constitutional amendment guaranteeing gays the right to marry? Support for environmentalism and marijuana legalization stem from a belief in providing the best natural environment and health care possible, irrespective of ideology. Our paeans to fiscal responsibility are premised largely on our disgust with what created our current deficits: A dubious foreign adventure, and two unnecessary tax cuts that screwed the middle class with their pants on. (Would liberals object as harshly if Bush had spent the money ensuring universal health care?) Even Richardson's tax cuts were aimed at the middle class; he calls them "sensible" so often in the course of a single article that you'd think he had Tourette's. Democrats have lots of values, and small government isn't one of them. But, these issues do have a common thread that unites them: They all emphasize material benefits over ideological goals, and are premised on facts, not beliefs. In short, they are a microcosm of the two fundamental values that are liberalism's secret weapon: Relying on facts and making people's lives better. So, let me propose an alternative Democratic message: We are the party of Real Solutions That Help Real People.

We ought to end the conversation Goldwater started, and pull up the curtain on the big government/small government dichotomy, exposing it for the ruse it is. We should make the case that government is just like anything else: In good hands, it does good. Bill Clinton got this; at his best, he dissolved Americans' resentment towards Washington, and showed that wise leaders could use its power to produce tangible, shared benefits. Unsurprisingly, Hillary has picked up the idea, asking pro-lifers (as William Saletan put it): How many abortions are you willing to endure for the sake of avoiding the word "condom"? Quoth Lord William:

Once you embrace that truth—that the ideal number of abortions is zero—voters open their ears. They listen when you point out, as Clinton did, that the abortion rate fell drastically during her husband's presidency but has risen in more states than it has fallen under George W. Bush. I'm sure these trends have more to do with economics than morals, but that's the point. Once we agree that the goal is zero, we can stop asking which party yaps more about fighting abortion and start asking which party gets results.

Is there any doubt which party would win that conversation? (Hint: FDR was one.)

It is counter-productive and foolish to try to become the party of small government. The entire idea of small-versus-big is, to paraphrase Lincoln, a dogma of the quiet past that is inadequate to our stormy present. Instead, we should convince Americans to stop tying their votes to an arbitrary bureaucratic statistic, and award them to the party that doesn't let ideology cloud its emphasis on results. This is what Howard Dean is asking when he asks southerners what they have to show for forty years of voting Republican: Do you want leaders who get you angry and resentful? Or do you want leaders who get you low abortion rates and good health care? Democrats should spend the time between now and 2008 making a persuasive case for reality-based, results-oriented leadership. If we do it right, the party of Real Solutions That Help Real People will soon be the party of Picking Our New China Pattern For The State Dinners.

Update: I have a brief follow-up back at my place.

- Daniel A. Munz

March 12, 2005 in Democrats | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c572d53ef00d83457415a69e2

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference It's Not the Size of the Government, It's the Motion of the Leaders:

» Reframing the Debate from Fiat Lux
Daniel Muntz takes a long time to get there, but he makes a really good point over at Ezra Klein's blog today. In short: It's not about whether we should be choosing big versus small government.... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 12, 2005 1:17:15 PM

Comments

that's an interesting post, and i think there are several things worth commenting on running around there. what immediately strikes me is that your statement "Democrats have lots of values, and small government isn't one of them" could just as easily have been "Republicans have lots of values, and small government isn't one of them." Which is to say that I essentially agree that the the big vs. small government debate is a red herring.

as for the "real solutions" thing: i think it's a great idea in theory, but am afraid you're overestimating the American electorate. fundamentallly, people want to get angry. i'm not sure that they really care about having a lower abortion rate, but i am sure that they care about being angry about abortion.

perhaps what i'm most convinced by in all of this is the idea that we can and should do more exposing of right-wing small-government rhetoric for the load of shit that it is. something like this:

"you thought too much government was the problem? well, look what voting for your anti-government friends has gotten you. it's not our fault. they have all the power. you should be pissed off at the rich guys who got an extra $100,000 a year while you're struggling to make ends meet."

this has the virtue of being both anger-inciting and essentially true.

Posted by: michael | Mar 12, 2005 4:14:53 AM

Michael-

The point about anger is something that I wrestled a little as I wrote this. But the Clinton quote, to me, shows how that problem solves itself. This philosophy gives you something obvious to get angry about: The fact that Republicans are letting their ideological extremism deny you of the best possible health care, environment, jobs, etc. Democrats love to talk about right-wing extremism, but they usually do it in the manifestly unpersuasive context of "they're outside the cultural mainstream." That frame just engages the ideological argument; the frame I'm proposing shifts the game entirely. Let them make their speeches about the evils of condoms. We'll be over here, enjoying our health care and good jobs.

Posted by: Daniel A. Munz | Mar 12, 2005 4:33:31 AM

I just want to speak to the Cato Fiscal Policy Report Card. It sucks. Not just a little in the usual conservative think tank way. That baby is prima facie evidence that conservative policy, as opposed to Republican politics, is desperately grasping at life as it sinks into the quicksand of overwhelming bullshit.

I spent a few hours analyzing Cato's crap, and I will perhaps go into detail on its problems and their significance in the future. But just so you know: the conclusions in that report are meaningless in the most literal sense.

Posted by: Marshall | Mar 12, 2005 8:12:47 AM

Daniel - Thank you. You may be the first person I have read that actually put a frame out there. There has been much bitching in the last year or so that we Dems/Liberals/Progressives have to speak to people in frames (a thought with which I agree), but no one, at least to my knowledge has spoken of such a frame.

It's like we are waiting on the fossilized leaders to do it for the party, and schmucks like Al From and Bob Shrum have no vested interest to do it any other way, since they get handsomely rewarded for doing the same, losing, way over again.

I am not sure what you say works, but it is a start (and not a bad one, either).

Posted by: Jason N | Mar 12, 2005 10:03:38 AM

I'll just put it this way. I like smaller government. However, I want that smaller government to be effective, responsible and well..powerful. In fact, no. I don't want smaller government. I want less beauacracy in my life. Less of the Vorgon-influence so to speak. Which is why I like single-payer over HMOs, against this whole SS privitization mess, and so on. As someone who does both US and Canadian taxes, let me tell you that Canadian taxes are so much easier, so tax simplification, if done right, would be a good thing as well.

I want much less of the Vorgons. I just don't trust these guys to do it.

Posted by: Karmakin | Mar 12, 2005 10:07:02 AM

Excellent points. Now all we need to do is unite behind those points. With dems, that will be like getting toothpaste back into the tube - especially this DLC outfit. There also has to be a way to present dems as just as tough as repubs concerning defense/military matters. Bush/rove/cheney are in the White House right now because of one very important human emotion - fear. No matter his personal history, Kerry came off as northeastern elite, and did not impress as having that "tough" quality folks want these days in a president. That is just the way it is, and dems have to overcome this "weak on defense" label. But dems first have to unite, and work as a team this time - and that most certainly includes our legislators.

Posted by: badgervan | Mar 12, 2005 12:54:53 PM

Great post, Daniel. I totally agree.

Tangentially, in response to badgervan's nod to the lack of toughness view from which our candidates suffer, Looking at the Stars' Linnet has some excellent thoughts on how making gender politics front and center, instead of relegating them to seconday imporatance, can help solve this problem. The key point here is that gender politics are front and center for the conservatives (though it's attacking them), and that our inevitable hiding from feminism, abortion rights, gay rights, etc., giving them only nervous lipservice, is counterintuitive to showing strength.

I highly recommend checking it out.

Posted by: Shakespeare's Sister | Mar 12, 2005 1:09:55 PM

托盘
托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
木制托盘
纸托盘
木塑托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
钢托盘
木托盘
钢制托盘
托盘
塑料托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
南京托盘
南京钢托盘
上海托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
南京托盘
南京钢托盘
上海托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
纸托盘
南京托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘
广州托盘
杭州托盘
成都托盘
武汉托盘
长沙托盘
合肥托盘
苏州托盘
无锡托盘
昆山托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
纸托盘
南京托盘
南京钢制托盘
南京钢托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘

托盘
托盘
托盘
托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
塑料托盘
塑料托盘

托盘
塑料托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
铁托盘
托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘

托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘

托盘
托盘
钢托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
塑料托盘

托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘

托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘
托盘
托盘
托盘
钢托盘
铁托盘
钢制托盘
塑料托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
铁托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
木制托盘
纸托盘
木塑托盘
柱式托盘
波纹托盘
镀锌托盘
南京托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘
广州托盘
托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
铁托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
木制托盘
纸托盘
木塑托盘
柱式托盘
波纹板托盘
镀锌托盘
南京托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘
广州托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
铁托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
木制托盘
纸托盘
木塑托盘
柱式托盘
波纹托盘
镀锌托盘
南京托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘
广州托盘
托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
铁托盘
木托盘
塑料托盘
木塑托盘
柱式托盘
波纹板托盘
镀锌托盘
南京托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘
广州托盘

托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
铁托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
木制托盘
纸托盘
木塑托盘
柱式托盘
波纹托盘
镀锌托盘
南京托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘
广州托盘
托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
铁托盘
塑料托盘
木托盘
纸托盘
木塑托盘
柱式托盘
波纹板托盘
镀锌托盘
南京托盘
上海托盘
北京托盘
广州托盘


托盘
钢托盘
钢制托盘
托盘
塑料托盘

Posted by: peter.w | Sep 15, 2007 5:29:21 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.