REPUBLICANS BELIEVE IN THE FREEDOM FAIRY; VOTERS BELIEVE IN THE WASTE FAIRY
In New Hampshire today, Dave Weigel asked Tim Pawlenty why his economic plan would succeed at cutting the debt and turbocharging the economy when George W. Bush's tax cuts did no such thing. Pawlenty had an answer:
"Keep in mind," said Pawlenty, "our plan does not just cut taxes. It cuts spending. Big time.... We're not proposing to cut taxes and raise spending. We're proposing to cut taxes and cut spending, and if you do that we're going to grow jobs by shrinking government. We're going to grow the private sector by shrinking government."
Steve Benen says:
In other words, Pawlenty and other Republicans want voters to believe this is an entirely new GOP -- one that will slash taxes and slash spending, taking money out of the economy, making things much deliberately harder on working families, and effectively embracing an economic model unlike anything Americans have seen in modern economic times. The pitch boils down to this: Republicans intend to be much more right-wing than George W. Bush.
Is this really what the American mainstream wants?
I wish I were sure the answer was no, but I'm not.
It's not that "mainstream America" sees this as left-wing or right-wing. Republicans have lulled mainstream America into hearing right-wing descriptions of a nakedly right-wing agenda and thinking, "That sounds like simple common sense." It worked in the 1980s. It worked in the first Bush term. It worked in the run-up to the 2000 election.
Many of the Republican politicians proposing this stuff, I'm convinced, actually believe it will work. The others are just sleazy cynics. Of course, what the believers think will work is precisely what Steve describes: a drastic shock to the system, the evisceration of the social safety net, and then ... a new dawn of laissez-faire, pre-Progressive Era freedom. The economy will run like a Ferrari. Maybe it will be brutal and pitiless to a lot of Americans who can't compete, but it will work, dammit. It will be the best of all possible worlds. Freedom is good; maximum freedom is as good as it gets.
What mainstream America thinks is that there's just got to be enough fat in government's budget that can be cut without causing mass suffering; just based on the size of our budgets (trillions!), huge, fatty portions of waste must be there. The fact that politicians somehow never find all this waste, and always cut actual necessary programs when they're belt-tightening (i.e., tightening our belts), never leads mainstream Americans to doubt that someone -- somehow, someday -- will get our financial house in order without causing pain on Main Street.
So Republicans are expressing their belief in the Freedom Fairy. Mainstream Americans are expressing their belief in the Waste Fairy. Voters think they're talking about the same thing. Republican pols know they aren't, but they don't care, because they know this message sells to base voters (who also believe in the Freedom Fairy) and to everyone else (because the message is misunderstood as a message about the Waste Fairy).
I wish it weren't a winning strategy, but I'm afraid it's going to be one in 2012.