Conservatives and Their Memes


Jon Chait notes that even David Brooks has bought into the idea that Democrats have screwed up the economy by introducing “uncertainty” into its every nook and cranny:

This may be the single most vapid Republican talking point of the last two years. And yet it’s been endorsed by moderate conservatives like Brooks and even elite outposts of the conventional wisdom.

[Some sentences making the obvious point that Republicans are probably introducing more uncertainty into the regulatory environment than Democrats.]

You would expect the center-right to buy into the most convincing GOP talking points, and to scoff at the least convincing ones. But here the center-right is parroting talking points that are absurd on their very face. Why? I can’t say. My guess is….

OK, that’s enough. Click the link if you want to see Jon’s guess. But since this is my blog, let’s go straight to my guess: Frank Luntz.

Not literally, mind you. I have no idea whether Luntz came up with the uncertainty meme or whether he’s been advising Republicans to push it. But just in general, I’ve long been impressed — genuinely impressed — with the conservative ability to come up with talking points that would never occur to me in a million years. Calling healthcare reform “socialist”? No problem. I expected that. But death panels? Where did that come from? Arguing that financial reform will hamper credit? Sure. But charging that a bill designed to end bailouts is a bailout? Damn! That’s clever. Claiming that huge deficits are hurting the economy? Bog normal conservative rhetoric. But “uncertainty” is hurting the economy? Who came up with that?

Seriously: who comes up with this stuff? These are things that would never occur to me, and judging by the unimaginative nature of liberal opposition to conservative ideas, they’re the kinds of things that never occur to liberals either. But they take hold anyway, and not just among the Fox News set. If Democrats were pushing some liberal version of the uncertainty meme, there would be whole piles of mushy liberals like me who’d write earnest blog posts about how this isn’t really such a great argument and we should instead focus on X, Y, and Z. We’d just be too embarrassed to buy into obvious nonsense like this. But on the right, this stuff ends up filtering down to everyone. The uncertainty meme has, almost literally, no evidence at all to back it up, but that doesn’t matter. It sounds good, so why not?

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