Ideas Have Consequences (When They're Sophisticated)

As I've written before, to call public furor thus started "astroturf" or phony misses the point; people can try to make an idea catch fire, but it only does so if it genuinely meets the emotional or political needs of a mass; and the need to pretend that the only reason anyone is against public unions, taxes, and spending is that evil oil billionaires are paying them or manipulating them is mighty strong out in the rank and file as well as among progressive leadership, in government or the foundations.

That's Brian Doherty, weighing in on the latest round of blogospheric pondering over the Koch brothers, this time set off by an blatantly flattering portrait by Matthew "The Persecution of Sarah Palin" Continetti in The Weekly Standard. I actually agree with Doherty that "ideas can have consequences" if they're compelling enough, but he seems to believe that the Kochs' embarrassingly unsophisticated ideas about how economics work are expressed in the public's desire to "cut spending" and "cut taxes."

I can prove the public wants to "cut spending" and "cut taxes" -- all it takes is a vague poll question. But as we know, the public has quite incoherent opinions about what the federal government is spending money on and how much, and they have little to no interest in cutting spending on what Ezra Klein called "an insurance conglomerate protected by a large, standing army." And as far as cutting taxes goes, Americans always want that but believe they're being subjected to unreasonably high rates of taxation, and much to the wealthy's dismay, really want to soak the rich.

All of this gets back to a basic, pan-ideological tendency to see yourself reflected in public opinion. Libertarians do it, conservatives do it, and yes, liberals do it. But outside of a hard-core set of political junkies who have firm opinions on all matters politics, are highly informed, and aren't particularly willing to change their minds on anything, the public simply is incoherent. This is why strong political parties matter: rather than pretending the public believes what you believe, tell them what you believe and trust them to make a choice. It sounds corny, but that's what democracy is all about.

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