Last week, Reed Richardson wrote a really good column comparing the Republican and Tea Party responses to the State of the Union address, How the Media Skews its State-of-the-Union Response Coverage. I thought about this before the event. Marco Rubio is a Tea Party darling. He wasn’t going to say anything that the Tea Party would disagree with. So what’s with the Tea Party response?
Richardson notes that the Tea Party is only supported by about 8% of the population and yet the major media treat it like an important group. Compare this to a Gallup poll that found that 36% of Americans view socialism positively. That’s 4.5 times as many people. And what do we get from the major media: a heavy diet of extreme Tea Party policy.
Let’s look at budget ideas. Paul Ryan has offered up two budgets in a row. These are harsh policy ideas that large majorities of Americans disagree with. What’s more, they aren’t really budgets at all: they are just claims that somehow (Magic!) the budget will be balanced. Ryan never explains what he will cut. (This is typical of Republicans because they know that what they want to cut is toxic to most people.) This unserious and unpopular budget gets loads of attention from everyone in the media!
Now compare that to the yearly People’s Budget from the Congressional Progressive Caucus. It is an actual budget: it says what it will cut (lots of military spending). Say what you will about it, it is a serious budget and it is far more popular than Ryan’s budget. And yet: most people don’t even know it exists because the media don’t cover it.
I think it is an outrage why truly liberal ideas that are fairly popular are considered outside of the Overton Window while extremely unpopular conservative ideas are considered just things that important people say—things that deserve blanket coverage on the the TV machine. Why is this? Journalists usually argue that it is because these liberal ideas have no chance of passing. Even ignoring the obvious self-fulfilling aspect of this: the same thing can be said about the conservative ideas that these journalists do cover.
My theory for why this happens is a little complex. It comes from the fact that regarding economic issues, journalists tend to be conservative. When it comes to social issues, they tend to be liberal. But here’s the key: they think of themselves as liberal in a general sense. Thus, they mistake their conservative opinions about economics as liberal. They push against this because they want to be seen as objective. And so their reporting on economic issues gets even more conservative.
I’ve written about this quite a lot. It frustrates me that MSNBC is seen as a liberal network. Most of the time when I watch it, I see a lot of socially progressive ideas but mostly moderate or even conservative economic discussion. This bugs me because I continue to think that social issues don’t matter all that much. If we have extreme economic inequality (which we do), then we are not going to have social justice either—regardless of what the law is.
This is why when we have a Democratic president, we get two conservative responses to the SOTU address. And what’s more, both are fundamentally the same because there really is no difference between extreme and moderate Republicans: they are just Republicans. But when we have a Republican president, the media would never stand for a Democratic and Socialist responses. This even though the Socialist response would better represent the views of a large section of Americans than the Democratic response (much less the Tea Party response).
I am not against social liberal policy. It is important and at times it is the most important thing. Voting rights can often take precedence. My point is that social issues are not a substitute for economic issues. If someone is a social liberal and an economic conservative, then he is a conservative. Or let me be perfectly blunt: social conservatives are bigots. So most American journalists are not bigots. Hooray for them! But that doesn’t make them liberal.