YOU, TOO, CAN WRITE A CONSERVATIVE OPINION COLUMN
by Robert Gelfand
American Reporter Correspondent
San Pedro, Calif
SAN PEDRO, cALIF. -- Anyone can write a conservative newspaper column. To borrow from the Wizard of Oz, lots of people with no more talent or brains than you or me do it. Just think of Jack Kemp, Mona Charen, Larry Elder, and Thomas Sowell, whose syndicated columns appear in our nation's daily newspapers. The tricks they use are remarkably similar.
The first principle is simple: Liberal is bad, and conservative is good. Never give the other side credit, even if they did cure the Great Depression, undo segregation, build universities and save many of our remaining scenic wonders. Those things are not to be mentioned.
But intellectual honesty ought to be the one thing, above all others, by which we judge those who would try to lead us. It is closely associated with having the integrity to question and the courage to publicly communicate what honest consideration reveals. What we see by and large in reading these columnists is a simple universe, one in which the righteous and valiant conservative side defends American values against the hated liberals.
Second, never mention any inconvenient fact that undermines your own ideology. Global warming? That would imply the need for a multinational approach, and we can't have that; after all, it would be inconvenient to a lot of influential multinational corporations, not to mention owners of eight-cylinder SUVs. So, we'll just have to pretend that global warming doesn't exist. Only when the evidence on some topic is overwhelming do you have to give in a little. For instance, it is no longer practical to pretend that the ozone problem doesn't exist. Just don't mention it, because that would give aid and comfort to environmentalists.
Ignore every topic where conservatism fails, like economic depressions or the health insurance crisis. You do get to write about gun control (you oppose it), abortion (you oppose it) and welfare fraud (you oppose it). Remember, by controlling the agenda, you control the debate. You are not going to see one of these writers mention how Bill Clinton reversed our slide into an ever-increasing national debt. That would require a modicum of fairness.
The next principle is even simpler. You don't have to do the hard work of crafting cogent arguments; just call the opposition nasty names. One way to do this is to come up with an insulting catchphrase and repeat it again and again. If you are Larry Elder, you say, "A fact to a liberal is like Kryptonite to Superman." If you are Thomas Sowell, never refer to environmental activists. Always call them "environmental extremists."
Let's look at how former Congressman Jack Kemp, a onetime Buffalo Bills quarterback who also served as Secretary of Housing & Urban Development in the first Bush administration, handled the current Bush tax cut. In a syndicated column on June 4, 2003, Kemp begins with that oldest of column cliches, the quote whose author will turn out to be a big surprise. The column begins, "Next year's tax bill must reduce personal as well as corporate income taxes - for those in the lower brackets, who are certain to spend their additional take-home pay, and for those in the middle and upper brackets, who can thereby be encouraged to undertake additional efforts and enabled to invest more capital. Third, the new tax bill should improve both the equity and the simplicity of our tax system." Kemp explains that these words did not come from the mouth of President Bush but were spoken by President John F. Kennedy in a speech delivered at the Economic Club of New York on December 14, 1962.
Kemp then quotes former President Bill Clinton in order to attack him personally (always a good conservative ploy) and goes on to compare George W. Bush with John F. Kennedy, treating them as two brave leaders who had to deal with difficult opposition parties. Kemp concludes by suggesting that any Democratic opposition is simply class warfare and that Democrats should support a program which will "get back on the road to economic growth and full employment, instead of fixating on deficits."
What is missing from this argument is any hint of economic analysis or understanding. For example, when comparing 1962 to 2003, the conditions couldn't be more different. Kennedy was calling for tax cuts because the income tax rates at the time topped out at 90% and were clearly a drag on the economy. Bush has demanded cuts in spite of the fact that tax rates are now less than half what they were in John Kennedy's day, and in spite of the fact that the federal deficit has returned with a vengeance.
Kemp deftly ignores the economic counterarguments in order to craft what is little more than a propaganda piece extolling Bush. Curiously, the copy editor who wrote the headline for this column in my local newspaper missed the point entirely, captioning it as follows: "Sound economics, not ideology, is behind tax cut." So much for the liberal media.
By contrast, we might consider what a professional economist (and liberal) has to say. Paul Krugman is a graduate of the Yale economics department with a doctorate from MIT. He has worked for the Council of Economic Advisors, served as professor at MIT and is now at Princeton. He has published numerous books on economic theory, has won prestigious awards, writes a column for the New York Times, and is busy completing an economics textbook. In other words, this is an accomplished pro.
Krugman, writing in a column published May 28, 2003 points out that the Bush tax cut will actually cost more like $800 billion rather than the $320 billion that its proponents claim. He goes on to point out that federal taxes are "already historically low as a share of GDP." He points out that in the face of the fiscal stresses these cuts will engender, we will be forced to cut into programs like Medicare and Social Security. (In other words, the deficits do matter.) "The pain of these benefit cuts will fall on the middle class and the poor, while the tax cuts overwhelmingly favor the rich," he concluded.
Krugman gets in his own digs, suggesting that the people now in power in Washington actually want to create this fiscal train wreck. The difference is that Krugman's argument is based on his own well-deserved credibility as an economist. Kemp was a fine professional quarterback who parlayed his athletic talent into a seat in Congress, but has shown little evidence that he understands what he writes about so glibly.
We have a galaxy of conservative columnists and talk radio hosts who speak with authority on economics, politics, global environmental issues, and every other issue that can rile people up if presented in the right way. For the most part, their remarkable ignorance of economics, biology, and legal principles is striking. The way they get around this is to crank out formulaic columns as described above.
Anyone can do it, as the Wizard said.