Reality always asserts itself in the end, but it is the nature of people to prefer an appealing fiction in the meantime. Exploiting this well known human failing is called “framing the issues” or “messaging” in political parlance, and lately the left has been doing even more than the usual amount of framing and messaging.
Consider the curious case of the debt ceiling. Any discussion of the debt ceiling should begin with an understanding that term refers to the amount of money the government has limited itself to borrowing, and that raising it therefore allows the government to add to its $16 trillion debt. There should also be a general agreement that if the government continues to borrow another trillion or every nine months or so the debt will eventually reach a point where reality asserts itself with a ruthless vengeance, but apparently the fiction that such profligacy can go on forever is too appealing to resist. The president can therefore tell the nation’s press that raising the debt ceiling is simply a matter of “paying America’s bills,” which he implies were racked up by spendthrift Republicans over his penny-pinching objections, and the assembled reporters do not break into howls of derisive laughter. He can even go on to assert that failing to go an undisclosed number of trillions further into debt would be the height of fiscal irresponsibility, and do so not only with a straight face but a rather stern and indignant one.
There is no basis in legal or economic reality for the assertion that failing to raise the debt ceiling will inevitably result in America defaulting on its obligations, but it is unavoidably true that getting by without further borrowing will require deep and painful budget cuts, massive tax hikes reaching far into the pockets of the middle class, or a politically toxic combination of the two. Something untrue is obviously preferable to that sobering conclusion, so the president can safely assume that much of public will be easily persuaded that it would be imprudent not to rack up at least another couple trillion of debt.
Similarly nonsensical messages have been sent on the much-discussed matter of guns. Some of the assertions can be charitably described as debatable, but others have been flatly false. The current president’s claims about the number of unregulated gun sales is provably false, and former president Bill Clinton’s whopper about the incidence of mass killings is so conspicuously at odds with reality that even the Washington Post’s fact-checkers were compelled to say so. Such falsehoods are easily forgiven, though, because they serve a soothing argument that the government can protect all of its people from the tragedies that have always afflicted humankind. Anyone who publicly doubts this tale, and insists that the government allow individuals the means to defend themselves, is just as easily portrayed as a child-hating gun nut.
Conservatives are constantly in search of messages that will frame these sorts of issues in ways that will win the support of the average American, but they are at a natural disadvantage. Numerous pundits have offered suggestions about how the Republicans should talk about the debt ceiling, but anything other than blunt truth abut the hard choices facing the country would betray conservative principles. A friend of ours has shrewdly suggested that the Republicans speak of guns as a feminist issue, standing foursquare for a woman’s right to shoot a would-be rapist not only as a pro-gun rationale but also an effective rebuttal of the party’s sexist image, but even that compelling argument is unlikely to be effective against the less troublesome option of letting the government take care of things.
The fantastical nature of the left’s well-framed messages will sooner or later be revealed, of course, but that will only lead to more framing and more messaging. It will be explained that the country went broke because those parsimonious Republicans didn’t allow the president to borrow even more, that the next murderous outburst by an undetected lunatic occurred only because only because law-abiding gun owners hadn’t been denied of their rights, and that government still isn’t sufficiently empowered. Some people will feel obliged to state things more frankly, but they shouldn’t expect it to do much good.
– Bud Norman