Very Serious Conspiracy Theorists

Fred HiattFred Hiatt is one of the Very Serious People (VSP) we so like to mock around here. And like all VSP, he is very concerned about the deficit. He is one of the cheer leaders for the Grand Bargain: Democrats cutting Social Security and Medicare in exchange for Republicans raising taxes on the wealthy. What’s so terrible about people like Hiatt is that they always talk about shared sacrifice, but that sacrifice never seems to include themselves. Such people always want to cut social security benefits, never raise the payroll tax cap that would increase their taxes.

Yesterday, Hiatt published an editorial, How Obama’s Poll-Testing Misfires. It’s about how Obama should have shown “leadership” and tried to push through Congress that holy grail of VSP everywhere: the Simpson-Bowles plan. (Note: Haitt refers to it as the “Simpson-Bowles commission plan” but the commission could never agree on a plan, so it never released one.)

Jonathan Chait made a great point about these people today, America’s Most Powerful Conspiracy Theorists. His point is that people who believe in standard conspiracy theories like the 9/11 Truthers owe their beliefs to being estranged from establishment information sources. And the people who argue that the Grand Bargain is just a question of both sides compromising are similarly cut off from reality. He calls them Tax Truthers.

Tax Trutherism sustains itself among elite political and business circles through constant repetition by fellow believers, creating a cocoon, much like the Alex Jones listening audience, where the preposterous becomes mundane. Unfortunately, that cocoon includes large sections of the seat of government of the United States.

The problem is not the Grand Bargain itself. That’s a bad idea, but reasonable people could be for it. The thing about the Tax Truthers is that they believe that if only Obama and the Democrats offered up cuts to the entitlement programs, the Republicans would follow and match them with tax increases for the rich. The problem is that, much to the consternation of liberals like myself, Obama has been giddy for just such a deal. He’s been incredibly visible in his embrace of Social Security cuts. But the Tax Truthers refuse to accept this.

They are committed to the idea that the problem must be that neither side will compromise. This actually goes back to what I discussed yesterday, David Brooks Plays Centrist. It is this idea of the VSP and the professional centrists (who are mostly the same people) that what they believe is just The Truth or at very least the objectively correct policy. Therefore obviously the only reason it isn’t policy is just because of all those ideologues on both sides who, unlike the the VSP, don’t care about getting things done.

Chait noted that what it really all comes down to is the fact that this is the issue that is most important to the VSPs. It is no surprise that elite opinion just happens to be what they think is in the best interest of their own class:

Interestingly, the Tax Truthers don’t believe that “leadership” could persuade Republicans to change their position on, say, climate change, or abortion, or financial regulation. The conviction that Obama could talk Republicans into supporting policies they forcefully oppose is limited to the issue that they care about more than any other.

There’s a very big difference here between being for a Grand Bargain and thinking that the reason we don’t have one is because both sides just won’t compromise. In the former case, it would just be elites looking out for what they think is their own interest. I have no problem with that. It strikes me as greedy and shortsighted, but there is nothing especially wrong with being guided by your own personal interests. But the latter case shows a group that just can’t see reality.

Of course, this is why I’ve long argued against all of Obama’s attempts to seem reasonable. It would be one thing if people like Fred Hiatt would write editorials proclaiming that Obama was being reasonable and the Republicans were not. But it never goes like that. All such attempts at reasonableness do is push the playing field further to the right. And that’s where we get all the calls for “leadership” from Obama. Hiatt must know that Obama has offered up entitlement cuts. I’m sure it has been pointed out to him many times. But when he is faced with such facts, he just retreats into his argument that while Obama may have offered up the compromise, he hasn’t done it with enough force or intelligence or panache. The fact that Obama put such cuts into his budget matters not at all. Both sides do it. Both sides always do it. That is the immutable truth for the VSP.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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