David Brooks in Democratic “narrative capture”

Indecent proposals.

Bless his heart.  There are times when I think we have David Brooks around to remind us why at least some of the “old conservative punditry” – like the GOP’s one-time career as a “normal party” – wasn’t working for us.

The Democrats in Congress hand him an axe to swing at them, and Brooks takes no notice of it in his haste to range himself with the Democrats, and excoriate Republicans.

Brooks reports that Democrats will “agree” to cut Medicare if Republicans will raise taxes – and jumps on the likely rejection of this (unofficial) proposal as evidence that the new wave of Republican legislators has “no moral decency.”  These “members of a movement” (gasp?) aren’t behaving like a “normal party”:  a normal party would greet the Democrats’ big “concession” with acclaim, and make concessions of its own.

Ed used a Lucy-and-the-football image with his piece on the Brooks editorial, focusing on valid concerns like whether the Democrats can be trusted, and the illogic of persisting with their fiscal strategy if our goal is to pay down the debt.

But I’m still back on that cutting Medicare thing.  Talk about a stark unmasking.  These are the same Democrats who never cease shouting that the evil, mean Republicans – with their suggestions for reforming Medicare – want to end the program, and by extension life, as we know it.  The Democrats have been flogging that theme for years, groaning about balancing the budget “on the backs of our seniors” (see here or here, if you want more).

The Democrats don’t want to reform Medicare.  They’re just willing to cut it.  And right off the bat, that’s not a “compromise.”  A compromise involves making a concession to the other side – but the Republicans haven’t asked for this.  They propose to reform Medicare, not simply make cuts to it.   Mere cuts to the program, without reform, are, precisely, a recipe for denying care to seniors.  There is no Republican proposal to do this.  This is a Democratic proposal.

If we were to employ the hyperbole Brooks falls into, we might ask where is his moral decency, if he accepts without demur this false implication about what the GOP is after?  The Democrats’ narrative may hold that they are making a concession to the Republicans, with their proposal to cut Medicare.  But it’s the job of a pundit to recognize when narratives of this kind are invalid.

Brooks could point out the gaping hole in the Democrats’ narrative, instead of basing his own appeal on it.  He could point out what it says about the Democrats, if they won’t allow reform of Medicare so that citizens can have more control over their own medical arrangements – but they will cut Medicare’s budget, which will ensure that fewer and fewer services are available.

He could point out how clear it is that the Democrats’ highest priority is raising taxes.  They’d rather cut Medicare than go without tax increases.

And if they have to cut something, it’s apparently going to be Medicare.  Brooks could point out that there are other things that could be cut: that Obama has not increased the federal debt 35% by putting previously unprogrammed money into Medicare (or Social Security).  The new deficit level created since 2009 is not due to Granny’s hip replacement or Grandpa’s triple bypass.

He could point out that cutting spending and raising taxes are not our only options.  Deregulating our economy is one of the most effective steps we could take to whittle down the growing distance between government outlays and revenues. 

He could point out a lot of things.  But instead, Brooks serves politics as usual with punditry as usual.  The problem with both is that they’re what has gotten us to where we are in 2011.  More of them is not what we need.  In fact, a pundit who can’t unpack a Democratic narrative should think about turning in his “conservative” card.  The mother of all going-in positions is that Democrats don’t get to dictate the terms of the public debate.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air’s Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, and The Weekly Standard online.

15 thoughts on “David Brooks in Democratic “narrative capture””

  1. opticon, what does “Deregulating our economy” mean in practice for the US, how is it done, and what will that produce?

    1. Gee, let me take a shot. Deregulation: Less regulation, fewer restrictions, fewer rules, less government control by fiat , less government interference in daily business activities (such as forcing lending institutions to make funds available to folks that cannot afford the loans, Barney Frank call your office) (such as a using taxpayer dollars to buy a portion of GM and appease an important voting block, making management changes at GM. GM will ultimately fail by the way. Their business model was bad before the bailout, it is bad today.)( such as interferring with Boeing to appease an important voting block) (such as trying to slow down and disrupt the oil industry so that oil prices will rise to the point of making some of the 22nd Century Green Crap look a little less idiotic at the beginning of the 21st century) etc.etc.etc.
      How is it done? By electing mature people that understand the world as it exist in reality. People that will help to empower citizens to help themselves in business and personal goals as long as they do not hurt other citizens.
      How is it done? Elections.
      What will that produce?Jobs, higher standards of living for everyone ( and no, not everyone will live at the highest standard. That includes yours truly.)
      No it is not a perfect country or world. It is better to be self reliant than have faceless Govt Department nannies decide what best for all of us.
      Do gooders of all stripes give me gas.
      Yes, someone my fall and hurt their wrist, a child may fall off a tricycle, someone may be overweight, someone will die in an automobile accident(in an undersized car for better gas milage standards), there may be a Snickers bar that is out of date, someone may be having fun, and yes there are plenty of crooked people, in and out of business that will do something wrong. People hurt people every day. Laws have existed for thousands of years to temper and prevent the dark side of human nature.
      Tomorrows lesson is how to cry and whine privately The English way. Tissue?

      1. deregulation is a term that allows for many different actions.

        of the 88 billion regulations pertinent to business, which ones are to be removed? all? most? half? sixteen really bad ones?

        someone calling for deregulation is saying something about as vague as farmers need more freedom and a better atmosphere in Washington.

  2. I have no idea how feasible this would be legislatively, but I’ve been thinking that a great thing for Republicans to demand in order to sign on to an increase in the debt ceiling would be the elimination of one (or more) of the Commerce Dept, Energy Dept, Agriculture Dept, Education Dept, etc, etc….

    I figure put a drop dead end date for 2-3 years down the road so that employees of these govt departments have time to find another job and aren’t tossed to the streets tomorrow. Also, it would allow time for things to wind down to avoid shocks to the system. And have it built into the legislation so that there’s no way that said elimination can be rescinded due to some concocted “emergency.” For those few aspects of these mostly unnecessary departments that are truly needed, those sections can be folded into some other department.

    This would certainly help with cutting back on some regulations that choke off private enterprise. It would also save the taxpayers a huge chunk of change.

  3. Deregulation is indeed a vague term. All the regulations on the books have very specific champions who favor them either because they benefit them or respond to their particular fears or tastes. But most ordinary people with lives to live don’t dedicate themselves to removing regulations; they are no match for the regulation champions.

    That’s why the EPA was charged in legislation with investigating the negative economic effects of its rulings. However, it has not been following this requirement. No such report has been filed for the new mercury levels aimed at destroying coal generation of electricity.

    My personal favorite: I bought an African violet plant at a grocery store and found labels, carefully applied to both the pot and the foil wrapping, reading “Decorative plant. Caution: Not for human consumption.” Fun, isn’t it? Unless you are the person with the useless job of applying the labels, or the person who has to pay that person. (P.S. African violets are non-toxic.)

  4. Deregulation would address a combination of prohibitions and mandates. Margo has a good example of a ridiculous mandate; there are plenty of less-ridiculous ones that we could nevertheless get along perfectly well without, like 90% or more of food labeling laws.

    Regulations that require manufacturing shops to install wheelchair ramps — even when the kind of manufacturing is something the wheelchair-bound can’t do — are another example. Only if you know nothing at all about business can you persist in ignorance of the fact that there are literally tens of thousands of such regulations on business now. I wrote recently about a new principle for noise abatement in the workplace, which will dictate not that workers’ hearing be protected, but that the noise level literally be abated, even if the cost is prohibitive to many businesses. A chain restaurant franchise in the Bay area went out of business recently because it couldn’t operate at a profit while fulfilling the local infrastructure improvements the city kept levying on it. A new $15,000 requirement to add a wheelchair ramp at each corner of the intersection where it was located was the final straw. Basically, to cover that requirement, the owner would have had to not pay himself for 3 months.

    Laws on how long worker breaks have to be are asinine — obviously they cannot be positively enforced, but in states like California, one of their principal consequences is lawsuits against perfectly benign, reasonable employers. This is one example out of hundreds.

    Other laws simply cost money outright, like minimum requirements for worker compensation insurance or employer-paid health insurance plans.

    Some regulatory schemes are a bad idea when there’s a good one available that would work better. An excellent example of this is the federal government’s network of regulations on offshore drilling, which is coupled with a very low cap on the liability to which drillers can be subject. We would get a better result if the government raised the liability cap significantly, or did away with it altogether, and cut back severely on the federal agencies’ role in policing drilling practices. Industry would be far more draconian with its own membership if uncapped liability threatened the availability or cost of insurance — and of course any given company’s profits. The incentive for industry to keep itself clean and safe would skyrocket.

    Prohibitions could be lifted, like the prohibitions on offshore drilling. Doing this would automatically bump up revenue.

    For the long term, two basic things need to be done. One is taking it out of the hands of the agencies to add or change regulations. Only Congress (or the state legislatures) should have the authority to do this. No matter what the EPA wants to change, it should have to ask Congress for permission to change.

    The other thing is that the courts should not be a separate resort for regulatory lobbies. Congress has the constitutional power to restrict the courts’ authority to rule on areas of regulation (environmental, workplace safety, etc), and it should act to ensure that the judiciary is not a method by which activists can make end-runs around the intent of Congress. (The power of Congress in this regard comes from Article III Section 2 of the Constitution, and is actually used pretty regularly, although most Americans are unaware of it.)

    This isn’t a comprehensive treatment, by any means, but should give a flavor of the ways in which the burden of regulation can be lightened.

    1. there’s are literally thousands of absurd regulations or regulations that require absurd applications, opticon, but reform and repeal of the absurdities is not the only way that “deregulation” is used or the entirety of what people advocating deregulation advocate.

      in my ignorance, I usually consider that you advocate more than reform to eliminate the absurd.

      your idea about curbing the power of the executive agencies is interesting, but casting all the decisions back onto Congress is dubious. in practice, it’s gonna mean that congressional staffers replace agency staffers and not much more, except that it’s likely to increase the size of the purses tossed by lobbyists to congressfolk and thus, increase the cost of congressional campaigns to unseat incumbents.

      the notion of eliminating judicial oversight as a way to choke a channel is again something that is extremely dicey.
      the idea has merit, goodness knows, as damn near everything gets litigated, but there are big problems with simply disallowing citizens to petition the courts for relief from government action.
      try crafting such a thing or finding a link to someone who has.

      1. fuster, you make a good point, but I’d still rather those congressional staffers doing the regulating rather than unelected bureaucrats from executive agencies. At the very least, that congressperson is going to be held responsible for the actions of his staffer – a whole lot more than the President when someone from the NLRB assaults a company like Boeing.

        As for incumbents becoming hard to displace, let’s have term limits! If it’s good enough for the Presidency, it’s good enough for Congress I say. (One term in the Senate and three in the House would do me just fine).

        And as for everything getting litigated, it’s high time that we institute a system where the legal costs of the defendant get covered by the plaintiff when the defendant wins the case (with perhaps some exceptions). That would go a long way to “de-litigating” this country.

      2. No, fuster, there would be a significant difference in the prospects for regulation if it had to be voted on. Congressional staffers can’t force anything to happen. Their principals, the elected representatives, have to vote; that’s the only way anything is done by Congress.

        The issue with executive agencies is that when they are given portfolios, they can adversely affect the people’s lives, finances, and businesses without going through the voting process and subjecting their proposals to opposition that is likely to shut them down.

        1. I tend to think that you’re a good bit off on this.

          first off, the Congress DID vote and they authorized each and every and they defined the scope and if they are not happy with it, it’s still within their power to alter or abolish.
          they ain’t gonna issue blanket revocations and they damn well don’t want the responsibility and they can’t possibly do the job. they ain’t but 24 hours in a day, Dyer and the congressfolk ain’t gonna be spending them that way and if they tried they might get about 2% of the job done.

          secondly, there’s not near the power to affect the people’s lives, finances and businesses in the agencies as there is in the hands of
          those congressfolk

          it was my friendly local draft board that sent me the notice and they said that it was the president sending me greetings, but it sure as hell was the congress that authorized it all.

          1. I don’t know what you do or did for a living, fuster, but if you really think the federal agencies don’t have the power to affect people’s lives, I think you can’t have been aware of very much over the past 30 years.

            The point about creating an agency and giving it discretion over regulation is that it can implement rules without applying to Congress. Congress rarely has a majority big enough to simply revoke new regulations it didn’t approve. The issue has become markedly graver under the current administration, and the decline in a number of forms of economic activity, continued sluggish/spotty performance by the economy as a whole, etc are due in part to the concerns of businesses about the effects of Obama-era regulations on their costs. The EPA’s new emissions caps, for example, will put quite a few power plants out of business and cause the cost of electricity to go up signficantly. The regulations in Obamacare will reduce the discretion of both employers and employees over compensation and personal income — which will put downward pressure on consumption of all kinds and major purchases (e.g., a home) — and that’s just one of the significant economic effects it will have. It will kill jobs outright, among many other effects.

            To suggest that Congress “chose” to impose those regulations is absolutely hilarious. No one in Congress had even read the whole bill when it was passed. It was passed very narrowly by some of the most unseemly arm-twisting we have seen since LBJ was in the Oval Office. It wasn’t passed because our elected representatives had the positive intention to impose the particular regulations that are in it; it was passed out of party solidarity on the Democrats’ side, and plenty of them came out afterward and started criticizing it. But I doubt even you would suggest that it will be an easy thing to undo Obamacare.

            Obamacare is a good case in point, because it’s the kind of law that is too detailed for anyone in Congress to have known all its provisions. That is exactly the kind of imposition on the people that regulatory agencies can achieve. Congress has tried to stop Obama’s use of multiple agencies on this basis — the EPA, the FCC, the Department of the Interior, etc — but has not been able to, largely because Congress is so closely divided.

            If Congress doesn’t have time to personally and positively approve all the regulations imposed on the people, then there is too much regulation. We don’t need to have more regulation than Congress can attend to during its working hours.

            1. I read that first paragraph…. and you’re just completely mischaracterizing what I said.

              I never, ever, ever said that federal agencies haven’t the power affect our lives …..they have the power because they most certainly have the authority,,,,,lawfully devolved upon the congress…..re-read and try again.

              BTW… “To suggest that Congress “chose” to impose those regulations is absolutely hilarious. No one in Congress had even read the whole bill when it was passed”””

              anyone who writes that and advocates that every piddling decision now made by the agencies should instead be voted upon by the congress is being rather a chucklehead herself.

  5. Fuster, why don’t you try crafting such a thing?
    The difference between legislative staffers and executive staffers is that legislative staffers do not have the power to actually require businesses and individuals to do specific things. The initiatives they come up with must be approved by the whole of the legislature and by the executive (president) as well. Also, they have to figure out ways to come up with the money to pay for executive actions. Executive staffers translate the more general language of legislation into specific procedures, which they have the power to compell people to follow.
    Somehow we need to get the 10th amendment operative again.
    Another example from my knowledge: I was a member of a cooperative pre-school in a small town. We needed to hire a pre-school teacher for a 15-hour work week, 9-month job. Due to changes in civil rights related hiring requirements. our lawyer (a dad) tried to get us a waiver from the requirement that we advertise within the required area (much larger than the town; took in a major metropolitan area 60+ miles away). Waiver wasn’t granted, and since the cooperative (about 40 families, no paid employee except a teacher) was not able to process the applications our required search turned up, the cooperative had to disband.

    1. —Fuster, why don’t you try crafting such a thing?—

      because I think it have to be complex and I would have to spend a year or so going through the original legislation

      and I doubt the constitutionality of a simple ban

      but I’m gonna think a bit on it.

  6. ..Congressional Republicans are using a vote to expand the nations borrowing limit to press the much larger issue of halting a growing deficit and debt that threaten the nations economic health and national security. That mentality led us to the current predicament of a 14 trillion-plus national debt with more needing to be borrowed.

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