Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Failure Of Memory

James Pethokoukis, writing about the left's obsession with income inequality and the government's role in remedying this alleged problem (but don't call them socialists! That's H8!), reminds us that we should all know better:

This is the one-sentence story now being sold to America: “The middle-class is no better off than it was 30 years ago because the rich greedily grabbed all the money.” If this narrative—that America’s experiment with freer markets, lower taxers, and lighter regulation was a failure—can be successfully planted, it will be easier for Washington to tax, spend, and regulate in the future. And to elect politicians pushing that agenda. 
On its face, the whole storyline’s a laugher—at least to anyone who lived through both the terrible, volatile, inflation-wracked 1970s and then the 25-year boom that followed. Indeed, brand-new research from the University of Chicago and Notre Dame finds “median income and consumption both rose by more than 50 percent in real terms between 1980 and 2009.” Incomes are never equal, of course. And the rich did somewhat better for a variety of reasons, including America’s failed government school system that can’t produce enough skilled workers for America’s high-tech economy.

I was in elementary school during the Carter years. Even us kids were aware that things sucked, and that whiny liberals were a big part of the problem. Shame-faced liberals know this too. I was eating lunch at Le Central in SF a few months ago. As it happened, Willie Brown - that's former SF mayor and CA Assembly Speaker Willie Brown to you, mister - was sitting at an adjacent table with a guy trying to raise $$ for some noble effort. The conversation turned to the Seventies, and Willie's companion admitted that things were so bad back then that he voted for Reagan. Brown said nothing, but his grim silence spoke volumes. How quickly we've forgotten.

It should be the easiest thing in the world to defend the economic and political record of the 25 years that preceded the Crash of '08, especially the Reagan years, but a lot of folks on our side haven't been willing to make that argument. Instead, they followed the Reagan Revolution by arguing for a "thousand points of light" and compassionate conservatism, buying into the idea that conservatives are heartless ideologues who only want the poor to suffer. No, we want everyone to be prosperous enough that they don't need to look to the government for succor.

Voters know the truth. They know what works. Given the chance, they will vote for principled free market conservatism. But, the usually don't have the chance. The media makes life intolerable for popular right-wing politicos, meaning there can never be a conservative equivalent to Ted Kennedy - a movement leader who can draw on decades of life and legislating in the public eye. Meanwhile GOP moderates lose elections on platforms that do little more than nibble at the edges of the welfare state. And, leftists enjoy a political halo that can't dim until their destructiveness becomes so total -whether you are talking about Occupy Oakland or the ruinous Jon Corzine - that even their allies can no longer ignore them. 

Honestly, this sh*t shouldn't be so hard. That's why it's so frustrating to watch the GOP's two "serious candidates." Rick Perry is literally inarticulate, which tells me he doesn't really understand conservatism or free market economics, even if he is instinctively in favor of them. Mitt Romney might be speaking out about cutting spending now, but he is undeniably a part of the wing of the GOP that has spent the last 20 years running away from the Reagan legacy. Is it any wonder there's been some "second look at Gingrich" talk? At least the guy's articulate. 

Again, we know what works. The only people who don't know, alas, are our leaders because they never bought in to what works.

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