It’s sometimes useful to think about politics and public policy with the terminology and schema of other fields of organized activity. Think about manufacturing. When it comes to R&D, liberals are much stronger. There are some outstanding social scientists like James Q. Wilson or John Diullio who provide the basic research that inspire some conservative policy initiatives, but most of the scholarly firepower is concentrated on the liberal side of the political spectrum.
For instance, when the last federal budget debate led to a case of dueling economists, the liberal Economic Policy Institute
mustered over 400 economists, including 10 Nobel Laureates, to sign a statement against Bush’s tax policies. Grover Norquist’s American Taxpayers Union
responded with a statement signed by only 3 Nobel Laureates
and just 115 “economists,” including luminaries like game show host Ben Stein
If you think of campaign operatives as production engineers, Democrats acquit themselves well in constructing the product. Despite being outspent in almost every close election, we tend to win our share of races. We simply produce more with less, and we do it very efficiently: Gore won the popular vote, and there continue to be more Democrats representing Republican-leaning Congressional seats than Republicans representing
If we continue the manufacturing analogy, however, we can see where progressives tend to fall behind the conservatives is in product design—the political rhetoric
and images we use to make our plans and policies understandable and appealing to voters.
Conservatives have spent the last couple decades figuring out how to package their unpopular ideas and ridicule the policy nostrums of people who know what they’re talking about but aren’t adept at talking about what they know. So it’s encouraging to see a brilliant economist like Paul Krugman
match his economic knowledge to his increasingly impressive skills as a political rhetorician:
George W. Bush is like a man who tells you that he's bought you a fancy new TV set for Christmas, but neglects to tell you that he charged it to your credit card, and that while he was at it he also used the card to buy some stuff for himself. Eventually, the bill will come due — and it will be your problem, not his.
Still, those who want to restore fiscal sanity probably need to frame their proposals in a way that neutralizes some of the administration's demagoguery. In particular, they probably shouldn't propose a rollback of all of the Bush tax cuts.
…These middle-class tax cuts were designed to create a "sweet spot" that would allow the administration to point to "typical" families that received big tax cuts...And such families played a big role in selling the overall package.
So if a Democratic candidate proposes a total rollback of the Bush tax cuts, he'll be offering an easy target: administration spokespeople will be able to provide reporters with carefully chosen examples of middle-income families who would lose $1,500 or $2,000 a year from tax-cut repeal. By leaving the child tax credits and the cutout in place while proposing to repeal the rest, contenders will recapture most of the revenue lost because of the tax cuts, while making the job of the administration propagandists that much harder.
…Will someone be able to find the political sweet spot, the combination of fiscal responsibility and electoral smarts that brings the looting to an end? The future of the nation depends on the answer.