Right-leaning outside groups would do better to spend more of their hundreds of millions of dollars on making conservative ideas popular rather than acting as partners to (often cynical) Republican candidates.
It turns out that the “Gang of Eight” comprehensive immigration reform bill is going to have a guest worker component that will grow over time. The border security “trigger provisions are eyewash. Marco Rubio gives the game away when he explains that we need a guest worker program or else will get a new surge of illegal immigration from the border that would have just been certified as “secure.” The Republican establishment given up making much effort to fool us and are expecting us to do at least half the job of fooling ourselves.
That doesn’t mean they won’t succeed. I don’t see a consensus within the center-right on an alternative approach to immigration. Reihan Salam argues persuasively for reforming our immigration policy in order to increase high-skill immigration and reduce low-skill immigration. If you listened closely that is sort of what Mitt Romney suggested when you put to the side his views on amnesty. But that kind of reform approach just doesn’t in isolation from the rest of a candidate’s message and policy agenda. It makes a lot more sense to talk about transitioning to a higher-skill immigration system in the context of the declining wages and family disruption of lower-skill American citizens and residents. Transitioning to a higher-skill-oriented immigration system makes the most sense if you’re also talking about tax and health care policies that will increase the take home pay of lower-skilled current US citizens and residents (two categories that include large numbers of foreign born.)
That means that we will get a more persuasive conservative immigration reform rhetoric when we get a more generally persuasive conservative rhetoric and policy agenda aimed at the working and lower middle-classes. It means you can’t make the case for shifting immigration in a high-skill direction while mocking those earning just below the median as parasites who won’t take responsibility for their own lives. It means you don’t (like Michelle Bachmann) demand tax increases (if only nominal) on the working-poor. It means you can’t be for tax programs that cut taxes on high earners while increasing the tax liability of lower middle and working-class families (that’s my read of the tax proposal.) Like with so many other things, we will have a better chance at better immigration policy when we get a more working and middle-class-focused conservative agenda and rhetoric.
H/T Reihan Salam on the “New Fair Deal” tax proposal.
We seem to be in a moment when the national mainstream media either has, or is about to prominently cover the Gosnell horrors. The week-long prolife campaign to increase coverage seems to have finally broken down resistance to covering the Gosnell trial in the most prominent forums of the most popular outlets. The New York Times hasn’t put the trial on its front page yet, but that might well be coming. CNN led off with the story yesterday. Conor Friedersdorf (in a wonderful essay) is correct to wonder how the Gosnell story hasn’t become a prominent national story earlier given all the story’s many horrible news hooks. Megan McArdle admits that her own pro-choice sympathies might have inclined her to shy away from the story. I would like to think that most journalists at mainstream outlets are similarly rethinking their coverage of abortion, but I doubt it. Friedersdorf and McArdle are pro-choice on abortion, but they are also libertarians rather than liberals. While most mainstream media outlets will surrender to the pressure and cover this story more, I think that most of their liberal staff members will consider this a defeat at the hands of their enemies rather than a lesson on how to do their jobs better.
First let’s be clear what I mean by “mainstream” media. It isn’t MSNBC. Like many (but not all) programs on Fox News, MSNBC exists to make money by making its viewers feel better about being on either the conservative or liberal ideological team. MSNBC has a mutually beneficial relationship with Fox News and conservative talk radio in which each side trolls the other. Most people don’t get their news from either MSNBC, or Fox News or talk radio. The mainstream media like ABC, NBC, CBS, and the New York Times might be called culturally biased news. The vast majority of the journalistic and editorial staff for these outlets have left-of-center staffs, but they don’t think of themselves as partisans. They think of themselves as journalists first and think of advancing their policy preferences second or third or almost never.
The personal and collective biases that come from working in an overwhelmingly left-of-center environment blends into the work, but their self-understanding as journalists places some limits on the impact of those biases. They will write stories about the promised benefits of Obamacare, but if some unflattering information comes out, they will report that too. Bias still shapes the coverage. Positive stories will have a coherence that make the case for Obamacare in a the negative stories won’t make the case for Republican opposition. You can see the reverse on Fox News’s excellent Special Report With Bret Baier (which is an example of conservative culturally biased news.) On Special Report, the benefits of Obamacare are mentioned but not emphasized while the drawbacks of the law are spotlighted. The “mainstream” media won’t connect the anti-Obamacare dots for the reader or viewer, but they will eventually get around to reporting those dots – if only in a scattered and confusing way.
The mainstream media’s coverage of Obamacare is based on the norm that the journalists need to satisfy themselves that they made a good faith effort to present both sides of a public controversy. Their shared left-of-center culture influences what “good faith” means, but just the existence of the norm shapes reporting in a healthy way.
On abortion, this norm goes out the window. We are going to hear excuses for why mainstream outlets were so slow and so spare with their coverage of Gosnell. We have seen this before. As Los Angeles Times reporter David Shaw wrote a generation ago “Events and issues favorable to abortion opponents are sometimes ignored or given minimal attention by the media.” Reading Shaw’s epic four-part story on the mainstream media’s abortion bias is chilling because of how little has changed.
Let’s just take one example. In 1990 David Shaw wrote:
The Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York is probably the single-most widely quoted source for studies and statistics on abortion, for example, but except for the Washington Post, the media rarely point out that the institute is special affiliate of Planned Parenthood of America, a major leader in the battle for abortion rights.
From today’s NBC report on state-level abortion restrictions:
The Guttmacher Institute, a research group that studies reproductive health, reported this week that 694 state provisions on reproduction have been introduced this year, about half of them to restrict abortion.
Is our media learning? Guttmacher no longer has a formal affiliation with Planned Parenthood, but how likely is it that the reporter did not know the Guttmacher Institute’s connection as a former affiliate of Planned Parenthood? The information is on Wikipedia. It is on the Guttmacher Institute’s website. Leaving out the context was bad faith reporting. Can you imagine a similar oversight about a research organization (however good or bad the quality of its work) that had spun off from the National Right to Life Committee?
We ought to consider that the liberal bias of mainstream journalists on abortion is of a different kind than their liberal bias on other issues. Maybe it isn’t a “blind spot.” Maybe most liberal journalists think of their abortion bias as somewhere between a lovable foible and a civic duty. That might be why we see a journalist tweeting of the spectacular horror of the Gosnell murders even as his own network’s evening news programs ignored the story. They have “ignored or given minimal attention” to the Gosnell story because they thought they were doing the right thing.
This has some implications for how pro-lifers should deal with the mainstream media. We should try to convince journalists and correct the distortions of the other side, but we should also have few illusions with how well such a strategy will do in the short or medium-term – and from reading David Shaw maybe the long-term too. Many mainstream journalists will not be convinced by appeals to their professional consciences. When journalists ignore or give minimal attention to the Gosnell story after they hyped Planned Parenthood’s public relations attack on the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, they aren’t operating on flawed information and the flawed reporting would not be corrected by a a detailed email. They know they are distorting their reporting. They are, to the extent that they can get away with it, choosing their ideological principles over the journalistic self-understanding that informs their work on other issues.
They don’t always get away with it. Pro-lifers and some dissident pro-choice journalists managed to shame more and more of the mainstream media into producing more and more coverage of the Gosnell murders. But there are lessons for how that shaming worked. It didn’t work because it enflamed the consciences of mainstream media journalists. The shaming worked because, after great effort on the part of pro-lifers, the attempt to contain the Gosnell murders as a local crime story failed. The tweeting campaign was effective partly because, by making the Gosnell story a trend, it got the story (if only vaguely) in front of people who were not consumers of right-leaning media. So what are we to do?
We ought to assume that mainstream media journalists will acknowledge inconvenient facts only after they are convinced that a critical mass of the mainstream media’s nonconservative audience has already heard about the inconvenient facts. Rush Limbaugh listeners don’t count. They already distrust the mainstream media. It only hurts the mainstream media when nonconservatives start knowing more about the story than they have heard from the evening news. When it comes to shifting coverage, this nonconservative audience is the key. If you can move them, you can get the mainstream media to react.
The pro-lifer shaming campaign over the Gosnell murders is something to be proud of, but it is not sufficient. In some ways, it only highlights the information power asymmetry between pro-choicers and pro-lifers. If Gosnell had been a serial killer associated with the pro-life cause, then every American would have heard about it a thousand times without pro-choice organizations having to send a press release. Now, after days of work by pro-lifers, the Gosnell murders will still only get a fraction of the mainstream media coverage that the story would have gotten if the two sides were reversed. Pro-lifers won the day, but, to the audience that primarily consumes mainstream media, we lose most days, and we are still on track to lose more days because, when the pressure is off, mainstream media journalists will go back to what they were doing last week and hype ideologically convenient stories while ignoring the inconvenient ones. We just had an election where the incumbent had voted to allow newborn survivors of botched abortions to die without medical treatment and somehow Romney was the abortion extremist.
Pro-lifers should do what they can to get better media coverage. We should have articulate spokesmen and such, but this will only go so far by itself, because mainstream media journalists will always be able to pick their fights by focusing on stories they like and ignoring or minimizing the rest. Pro-lifers need a method for communicating directly with the mass of the public that does not consume conservative media. Paid media seems the most obvious route to me, but we should be open to any alternative. The key is to get people who do not consume conservative media to hear and see a well constructed pro-life argument. Maybe this paid media will even prove nimble enough to move the debate based on events. Such a pro-life institution or set of institutions would expose people to ideas, facts and controversies that they were not aware of. Such institutions would eventually force the mainstream media to respond, not because the mainstream media would have awoken to their professional obligations, but because they would have lost the power to determine what their audience knows and does not know.
It seems like this is the day when a critical mass of journalists at “mainstream” (liberal-leaning but not explicitly partisan liberal outlets) have decided that their credibility is now on the line and they have to more aggressively cover the Gosnell murders. They were finally shamed out of their rationalizations and their determination to avoid this story. The mostly conservative journalists who used what platforms they had to advance this story (most prominently Kirsten Powers – who is not a conservative – but also lots of the First Things crew) deserve credit for this. So what are the lessons of the mainstream media’s treatment of the Gosnell murders that can be used constructively by pro-lifers? What is the potential, and what are the limits of a shaming strategy? I’m putting my thoughts together, but I’m interested in reader comments. Just one thought. The elite mainstream media like ABC, NBC, CBS, the New York Times and the Washington Post shamefully underplayed this story, but several shows on Fox News (Fox and Friends and The Five) led their shows with segments about that MSNBC host’s commercial about how children don’t belong to their parents rather than about the doctor who was actually killing children. That tells you something about the media environment.
There is something to be said for Peter Lawler’s suggestion that Rick Santorum can be seen, in part, as a right-wing version of a left-wing reactionary. I read Claire Berlinski’s excellent book on Thatcher and I was struck by some of the wrinkles in the coal miners’ strike. Of course Thatcher was right. Scargill was (and to all appearances remains) a Stalinist monster who was trying to bring down an elected government through the destruction of the economy on the pretext of avoiding the closures uncompetitive coal mines. But there was more to it than Scargill. Berlinski movingly describes the miners whose sense of social utility was devastated by the closure of the mines. The Thatcher government offered benefits for the laid off miners, but government benefits without work could not give them dignity. In a reversal of what American conservatives might have expected, it was the British right that was offering welfare and the British left that was demanding government-paid workfare.
I was reminded of this when I saw Santorum talking about how the declining industries of Pennsylvania had reduced the opportunities of working-class men and how his program to end the corporate income tax on manufacturing firms would bring back high paying jobs so that today’s version of men like Santorum’s grandfather would be able to raise families. Santorum’s concerns were quite similar to those of the working-class socialists (again, not the Scargills of the world) who opposed Thatcher.
That doesn’t mean that Santorum’s tax idea was a good one. The economy of the mid-1900s isn’t coming back and, even if it does, it won’t be because the tax code favors manufacturers. We can probably do things to increase the take home pay of families in the second quartile by moving closer to a HSA/catastrophic coverage model of health insurance coverage and increasing the child tax credit and making it fully apply to payroll tax liability (and I think Santorum supports policies like these.)
On one hand, you might be surprised that the horrible news about Kermit Gosnell’s abortion clinic hasn’t gotten more attention. We are talking about a serial killer and his crew cutting the spinal cords of infants. That seems like a much more obvious news hook than the opaque and interminable immigration reform negotiations. But we shouldn’t be shocked at the relatively light media treatment of the Gosnell murder story. We should learn some lessons about how pro-lifers can advance their arguments.
I can understand why news outlets that have predominately liberal-leaning staffs would want to minimize this story – even if it means choosing against the incentives for sensationalism. They don’t want to embarrass Democrats like Barbara Boxer who was unclear about whether parents had the right to destroy newborns prior to taking them home. It would raise uncomfortable questions about President Obama, who voted against a law that would have forced doctors to medically treat infants that survived abortions and then lied about the reasons for his vote. It would get people thinking about late-term abortion more broadly. One of Gosnell’s employees reports that one of the infants screamed while being killed. That horror is enough, but that killing would have been legal on that same day if Gosnell had been more competent and killed that child in utero before they had the chance to breathe air and scream.
And it isn’t just the liberal-leaning media. I don’t remember Fox and Friends opening the show this week with the Gosnell murders. Maybe they did and I just don’t remember (I am only able to listen to the first ten minutes or so in the morning.) You can see why they wouldn’t want to push the issue too prominently. It doesn’t go well with breakfast. It is much easier, and you will get much less grief if you lead with a story about the MSNBC personality who said children don’t belong to their parents.
The most surprising and damning failure here is not the media’s. It is the vast coordination failure of those millions and millions of Americans who identify as pro-life. The Gosnell case is a ready -made moment for teaching not only about those children who were killed in the office of an incompetent, but also for how it is legal to destroy those children at-will. The problem is reaching people. The liberal-leaning media which reaches most people has strong ideological incentives to ignore or minimize this issue. The populist conservative media can get a charge out of its audience by pushing other issues and the conservative media has limited reach in any case.
The Gosnell scandal was good place for a well constructed and well funded paid media campaign. The Gosnell case and what it tells us about the state of American abortion law is not something most people want to think about, but political change doesn’t just come from offering people attractive policies that they already agree with or might come to agree with. It also means presenting the truth of evils that people would rather keep out of mind.
A media campaign built around late-term abortion on-demand would not get the immediate thanks of many. It would educate people about the legality and horror of the process, that the screaming baby could have legally been destroyed with a needle through the heart in utero and no law would have been broken. It would educate people about the politicians who want to maintain the legality of the horror. It would make it easier for pro-life politicians to advance incremental reforms. And some nontrivial fraction of the population would never look at Obama the same again. We just have to solve the coordination problem.
Or we could just give Karl Rove a bunch more money to run even more futile election year ads.
Interesting article by Megan McArdle on Thatcher. This part stuck out:
But while what Thatcher did may have been necessary, there is another necessary task that has been left undone: building sustainable opportunities for the displaced. The mistake that Thatcher and Reagan made was to assume that the unleashed market would simply take care of the problem. It didn’t.
As in America, post-1970s Britain has been a very good place for educated elites, and not very good for the post-industrial working class. I say this not to find fault: the reason that a sustainable alternative has not yet been created is that no one knows how to do it. Nonetheless, it is not enough to destroy the things that weren’t working; it’s also imperative to find things that do.
If there was one 2012 Republican candidate who most closely (though it wasn’t that closely) approximated Thatcher’s virtues, it was Rick Santorum. He was a conviction politician who cared about the details of policy. Santorum was also the only Republican candidate who made a real effort to deal with how the economic changes of the last thirty years have created challenges for lower-skilled Americans. It was Santorum who said that, while he was for lower taxes, cutting taxes on high earners would not, in itself, solve many or even most of the economic problems of the working-class. Santorum’s answer was changing the tax code to favor manufacturing. I think that kind of industrial policy is a bad idea, but at least he was earnestly bringing ideas to the table. Good for him. More please.
Reihan Salam today:
One of my fixations is that while it is certainly possible for one society to learn from another, it’s really important for policymakers to think hard about the historical context and institutional environment of the particular societies in which they operate.
In the present US, marriage tends to correlate with center-right voting. A
mush much larger of children in Greece are raised in households with two married parents. Greek politics is substantially to the left American politics. I don’t have the polling data handy, but I strongly suspect the Canadian Conservative Party has recently done pretty well among upper middle-class South Asian immigrants. The 2012 Republicans were a disaster with this group. There is probably something for Republicans to learn from Canada’s Conservatives, but borrowing tactics from Canada won’t help if Republicans don’t have a plausible set of policies for America. Republicans desperately need a better media strategy, but it cannot substitute for a policy agenda that can offer higher living standards. The reverse is also true. A better agenda won’t help them politically if the people Republicans need to win over never hear a sympathetic account of Republican policies.
Rand Paul has an impressive combination of ideology, determination and pragmatism. He has, as Allahpundit has written, the ability to “sell libertarian wine in conservative bottles.” He matters, and so it matters if aspects of Rand Paul’s particular style of libertarianism would actually weaken limited government politics.
In the 2012 exit poll, Romney won married voters by fourteen percent, but lost unmarried voters by twenty-seven percent. According to the recent Third Way report, in the American context “male children raised in single-parent households tend to fare particularly poorly, with effects apparent in almost all academic and economic outcomes.” The report also links the decline of marriage among lower-earning sectors of the population to declining wages among lower-earning and lower-skilled men over the last thirty years. It also notes that the decline of marriage among lower-earning men does not mean they are any less likely to father children. They are just far less likely to get married and live with the mother of their children. Reihan Salam has written about how the collapse of marriage, with more and more children raised in female-headed households, with fathers more loosely connected to their children and with the resulting academic and economic disadvantages to the children (especially male children), would increase the constituency for a more intrusive and expensive government.
A conclusion one could draw from the above is that conservatives and libertarians have social, economic, and political reasons to strengthen the institution of marriage – especially among the working and lower middle-classes. How should we look at Rand Paul’s proposals through this lens?
Rand Paul has suggested taking marriage out of tax and health insurance law. It is a measure of the insanity of our current system that having the federal government ignore marriage would make policy less hostile toward married couples. There is a marriage penalty in tax law but it primarily impacts higher earners. On the other hand, Obamacare actively encourages people to be unmarried. An unmarried couple would receive larger Obamacare subsidies than a married couple. This is crazy and socially counterproductive. I don’t think it would be wise for the federal government to avoid recognition of marriage, but it would be helpful if federal policy stopped affirmatively discouraging marriage.
Other Rand Paul proposals are more damaging. Paul’s tax plan would raise taxes on working families who are at or just under the median. Rand Paul’s immigration proposals add up to what amounts to an unlimited guest worker program that would make enforcement against those who overstayed their visas virtually impossible. The result of the first proposal would be a pay cut to those men whose wages and ability to support their families has already been declining. The result of the second proposal would be to increase competition in those sectors of the economy where wages are already in decline.
The policy tools that conservatives could use to strengthen marriage are not obvious. Robert Stein’s family-friendly tax reform would improve the economic returns to work and family formation – especially among the lower middle-class. Moving to an immigration system that is more skills and education-based would tend to alleviate some competition at the low end of the economic distribution while increasing the productivity of the work force. We should, at the very least, refrain from policies that would further weaken marriage among those at the lower end of the income distribution. Maybe the least important reason to do so is because, in the American context, the decline of marriage tends to increase the constituency for social democratic politics.