July 24, 2014
House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) today unveiled a plan designed to “expand (economic) opportunity in America—to deliver real change, real solutions, and real results” (http://paulryan.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=389081#.U9FlzkCuo7k).
It is likely there are proposals and assumptions in Ryan’s plan with which I agree, and others with which I do not. What has caught my attention is the way some of the media are covering his remarks. Here are some examples:
- New York Times: “Paul Ryan’s Proposal Hints at Change in Tone on Poverty” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/25/upshot/paul-ryans-proposal-hints-at-change-in-tone-on-poverty.html
- NBC News: “Ryan …tried to strike a compassionate tone in his remarks,” http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/paul-ryan-makes-anti-poverty-pitch-n163881
- Wall Street Journal: Ryan’s plan is “an attempt to reignite the idea of compassionate conservatism” (http://online.wsj.com/articles/paul-ryan-to-propose-sweeping-consolidation-in-anti-poverty-pitch-1406164077).
Ryan’s plan is substantive, far-reaching, and clear. It has much to commend it. Let’s also grant for the sake of argument that in addition to wanting to offer proposals that offer real hope, Ryan wants to dispel some of the stereotypes about Republicans not caring for the poor. That’s perfectly understandable and politically valid.
Yet with that said, why should he or anyone have to dispel a notion that is, itself, patently false?
Conservatives have long offered myriad proposals to help address issues of economic opportunity, educational failure, family collapse, and the struggles of millions of Americans wrestling with at-best modest incomes and dwindling hopes.
Yet the standard media narrative – heartless conservatives who pine for “orgiastic tax-cutting, the slashing of government programs, the championing of Wall Street” (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/06/magazine/can-the-gop-be-a-party-of-ideas.html) – clings to the conservative movement like plastic wrap.
Why? Simply because so many in the “mainstream” media repeat it so often and, concurrently, so seldom report on the many ideas conservatives have generated that are designed to address intransigent social and economic problems. This is maddening, even if predictable, and also one of the principal reasons conservatives now operate their own print and electronic media outlets and networks.
Of course, sometimes a conservative spokesman will say something untoward or excessive. Pick a politician, Left or Right, who sometimes says things not almost immediately regretted. Do such offensive but incidental comments characterize entire movements, whole patterns of philosophy and ideas? No. Yet much too often, conservatives are portrayed as the purveyors of greed and callousness because of the few stupid statements of a few people.
“Economic indicators cannot measure the values held by our children, or the suffering felt by broken families,” according to my old boss, U.S. Senator Dan Coats (R-IN). “We have discovered that our growing GNP also includes massive prison construction to house a lost generation, drug counseling in elementary schools, suicide hotlines, teen pregnancy centers, and clinics for battered children” (https://wikis.engrade.com/morality1/morality4).
The Senator said this in a speech in 1991. Since then, at least two things haven’t changed: The media’s general stereotyping of conservatives as heartless materialists, and their failure to report conservative ideas about how best to help our fellow citizens in need.
To death and taxes, perhaps media disinterest in conservative proposals should be added as an inevitability. This is not excuse for conservatives not to “stay in there pitching,” but a reminder that the next time you’re tempted to ask, “Why don’t conservatives say something about (pick your issue)?,” in all likelihood they already have.