The GOP is losing a winnable battle over public opinion on government spending because they lack a narrative to counter the one being used by the Democrats and the media. Not only are some high profile GOP leaders failing to counter the Democrats narrative, they are actually repeating it and merely arguing about how fast it will be implemented. That may seem like a harsh assessment, but it is hard to come to any other conclusion while watching the debates over the sequester. In a previous True North Reports article I noted that the so-called “cuts”, which the sequester would trigger are not really cuts at all, merely a slowdown in the rate of spending growth. The anemic magnitude of these “cuts” are underscored in a recent Reason Magazine article:
According to the Congressional Budget Office, we’re actually looking at a $44 billion spending reduction in 2013—or reducing what the federal government planned to budget this year by 1.5 percent. So it’s a cut that would total 0.5 percent of gross domestic product. Does the average American believe that living without a week’s worth of government spending would crush civilization? Does anyone? Notwithstanding Obama’s contention, not a single penny has been cut by his administration. So when Obama claims that the sequester cuts would take a “meat cleaver” to government, he’s arguing that even a modest reduction in future spending could devastate the economy. Does that fly?
This is an argument that one would think the GOP could win. Consider the following from a post election Breitbart article:
According to the first batch of exit polls, a majority of Americans — after four years of President Barack Obama — believe the government is doing too much.
Fifty-three percent of voters believed government is “doing too much” while 41% said government “should do more.”
Four years ago, these numbers were flipped, with 51% of Americans in 2008 saying government “should do more” while 43% said government is doing too much.
Obama, of course, rammed through Obamacare and tried to pass Cap and Trade legislation, which, along with his other big government tendencies and excesses, seems to have pushed Americans into wanting more limited government.
That reaction has not died down yet, but the hope that anyone will respond to this concern seems to be dead. In a January Pajamas Media article, the headline noted that: “62% Favor Across-the-Board Spending Cuts, But 57% Think They’re Unlikely” Here is how the article put it:
Even as official Washington signs off on a “fiscal cliff” deal with $1 in spending cuts to every $41 in new taxes, most voters continue to favor across-the-board spending cuts but doubt they are likely to happen. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that only 39% of Likely U.S. Voters think it is even somewhat likely that government spending will be significantly reduced over the next few years. Fifty-seven percent (57%) see significant spending cuts as unlikely. This includes 11% who believe such cuts are Very Likely in the near future and 20% who say they are Not At All Likely.
Given the religious like commitment to government directed social engineering that the left has, one would not expect the Democrats to be making the argument for such spending. On the other hand, one would think that the Republicans would see an opening here and craft a narrative to counter the one being used by the Democrats. It did not happen during the elections, nor during the fiscal cliff battle and, according the the Reason Magazine article, it is not happening in the discussion over the sequester:
Republicans can mess this up, of course, by creating confusion about their own position. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week, House Speaker John Boehner makes a confused argument that cutting is “ugly and dangerous.” Does any fiscal conservative really believe that carving out $44 billion of a $3.8 trillion budget is dangerous? And Sen. John McCain argues that sequester would be a “devastating” blow to America’s security. As a political matter, a willingness to slightly reduce spending across the board could only add credibility to the GOP’s argument on spending. If cutting $500 billion from the Pentagon budget over a decade means ruin, hey, we’re already ruined.
Outside of a few diehards like Rand Paul, where are the serious calls for real spending cuts coming from? Those people who believe that the social good can be advanced by expanding the role of government are well served by the Democratic Party. What are those who see an expanded role for government to be hazardous to human thriving to do when major GOP leaders refuse to argue over whether the role of government should be expanded, but only over how fast and in which areas? This is not a new dilemma. The role of government has been steadily increasing under the leadership of both parties for over a century. The last time we actually had a real cut in government spending was under Calvin Coolidge, who led us out or a serious recession by drastically cutting both taxes and spending. Despite this fact, when the media argues that the GOP is not popular because it has moved too far to the right, some in the GOP repeat this assertion like a religious mantra without stopping to consider actual history. When it comes the the role of government in society, we have been moving exclusively in one direction for a very long time and it has not been in a rightward direction. The GOP needs to find a narrative that will justify changing this disastrous course or it will go the way of the Whig party, which it replaced. The Democratic Party has a clear rational for its existence and the GOP needs one for theirs.