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The Pundit Fight Against The Progressive Majority (and Real Responsibility)

Much of the pundit class may not have recognized it, but that debate is percolating. And the progressive view of responsible, long-term public investment is winning.
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HuffPoster David Sirota rightly flags what to expect after Election Day, regardless of the outcome -- an "onslaught" of media Establishment punditry that America is a "center-right nation" which will either help McCain clamp down on Congress or constrain Obama from following through on his issues platform.

Sirota cites today's Newsweek cover, "America the Conservative," and it's accompanying essay by Jon Meacham, which asserts "we are at heart a right-leaning country skeptical of government." A perfect example of how the rest of PunditTown reacted to the piece: the pundit roundtable reaction on NBC's Meet The Press. is a conservative country. Not the type of conservative country that the Republicans have been talking about in the past several weeks, but on economics in particular. That's why you're talking about how McCain will campaign in the end? I think we're starting to see the shift. William Ayers goes to the side, but they start talking about economics, income redistribution, get--you know, taking from the most productive members of society and giving tax breaks to people who don't pay taxes.

In making his case, Scarborough repeated the lie about Obama "giving tax breaks to people who don't pay taxes," debunked by myself on this site and by Sirota on Fox News. (See, if conservatives can win arguments by lying, then this must be a center-right country.)

The lone follow-up to the conservative pundit Scarborough, offering the full ideological spectrum of respectable punditry, was the ... conservative pundit David Brooks.

After describing an Obama presidency along with a Democratic Congress as "misery," he said:

Obama's going to face a choice, and the Democrats are going to face a choice, if he wins. We're going to have a deficit of ... $750 ... billion. Is he going to magnify that, or is he going to try to balance the budget?

The implication of course is that if Obama does not prioritize deficit reduction, he is an out-of-control left-winger ignoring the center-right needs and desires of the nation.

This presumption has found its way into the questioning of every presidential debate, that the financial crisis requires our federal government to postpone or scrap public investments for lack of resources.

But that is not an objective fact. It is a policy question to debate.

Facing prolonged recession and following neglect of key components of America's foundation -- energy, health care, education, transportation, broadband -- what is the responsible approach to getting our economy back on track? Lined-up budget ledgers in the short-term? Or public investments that pay off in the long-term?

Much of the pundit class may not have recognized it, but that debate is percolating. And the progressive view of responsible, long-term public investment is winning.

All economic indicators are now pointing toward a deepening recession. Unemployment is already high, and the trend is not encouraging. Factory orders are down. Worried about their jobs and rising costs of fuel, food and health insurance, middle-class Americans are unable or unwilling to spend on much other than necessities.
Under these circumstances, deficit spending is not unwelcome. Indeed, as spender of last resort, the government will probably have to run deficits to keep the economy going anywhere near capacity, a lesson the nation learned when mobilization for World War II finally lifted us out of the Great Depression.

...not all deficits are equal. As every family knows, going into debt in order to send a child to college is fundamentally different from going into debt to take an ocean cruise. Deficits that finance investments in the nation's future are not the same as deficits that maintain the current standard of living.

...there's marked difference between 1993 and 2009. Then, some of our highways, bridges, levees and transit systems needed repair. Today, they are crumbling. In 1993, some of our children were in classrooms too crowded to learn in, and some districts were shutting preschool and after-school programs. Today, such inadequacies are endemic. In 1993, some 35 million Americans had no health insurance and millions more were barely able to afford it. Today, 50 million are without insurance, and a large swath of the middle class is barely holding on. In 1993, climate change was a problem. Now, it's an emergency.

Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, in a Washington Post op-ed, also made the point that the right kind of investments in energy, infrastructure and health care are fiscally sound in the long-run:

in the current circumstances the case for fiscal stimulus -- policy actions that increase short-term deficits -- is stronger than ever before in my professional lifetime. Unemployment is almost certain to increase -- probably to the highest levels in a generation. Monetary policy has little scope to stimulate the economy given how low interest rates already are and the problems in the financial system. Global experience with economic downturns caused by financial distress suggests that while they are of uncertain depth, they are almost always of long duration.

The economic point here can be made straightforwardly: The more people who are unemployed, the more desirable it is that government takes steps to put them back to work by investing in infrastructure or energy or simply by providing tax cuts that allow families to avoid cutting back on their spending...

...the worst possible actions would be steps that have relatively modest budget impacts in the short run but that cut taxes or increase spending by growing amounts over time. Examples would include new entitlement programs or exploding tax measures. The best measures would be short-run investments that will pay back to the government over time or those that are packaged with longer-term actions to improve the budget, such as investments in health-care restructuring or steps to enable states and localities to accelerate, or at least not slow, their investments.

These were arguments have been further echoed by liberal commentators such as E. J. Dionne and Joe Conason but have received little currency from most of the punditocracy.

Yet the argument has legs. Today's New York Times headline reads, "Consensus Emerges to Let the Deficit Rise," with folks such as former McCain Social Security adviser Maya MacGuineas and Investment Technology Group chief economist Robert J. Barbera quoted saying balanced budgets should not be the short-term priority.

That emerging consensus, I suspect, does not fully extend to congressional conservatives in both major parties, who can be expected to take up John McCain's call for a spending freeze and distort the meaning of responsibility. And I suspect, they will be buoyed by the cheerleading squad of the pundit class.

But many of our intellectually exhausted stable of veteran pundits appear to have a stagnant worldview shaped by the age of Reagan, Gingrich and Bush. That age is past, the rubble wrought from the Conservative Era is all around our feet, and the progressive majority is calling for our government to play a significant role in getting our economy back on track.

As these pundits appear to be the last to recognize it, perhaps their punditry should not dictate the terms of the post-election debate, when substantive arguments can suffice.

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