Matt Bai: Even Liberals Know Liberalism Failed

New York Times reporter Matt Bai apparently really, really cares about the budget deficit– so much so that he’s done reporting suggesting that the rest of us care about it as much as he does. He’s also demonstrated his concern by writing an outrageously misleading article about Social Security and the deficit (the Times had to correct one of the article’s more misleading assertions; Bai falsely claimed that a Democratic congressmember called the Social Security trust fund “make-believe money”).

Today (11/24/10) Bai is tackling the furor over TSA airport screening, which is apparently proof that Americans in the age of Obama distrust Big Government. You see, liberals interpreted the elections of 2006 and 2008 as proof that Americans are “ready to embrace a more expansive government.” I don’t recall that beinganyone’srallying cry, but never mind. Bai’s point is that even in liberal circles there is an understanding that Americans prefer small government, deficit-cutting:

Consider a survey last month conducted by the Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg for the liberal Campaign for Americaâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s Future, which the group has cited to buttress its case that voters are prone to accept liberal arguments. Even in this poll, 76 percent of voters agreed that the top priority in Washington should be to “reduce the size of government and the deficit.” And a plurality of voters (50 percent) said they were more worried about government spending and taxes than they were about government failing to invest in job creation.

Baicould be referring to this poll from October,but it’s more likely thathe isreferring to this one, which was released this month. Neither one really delivers the message as clearly as Bai is claiming.

Didan overwhelming majority ofAmericansreally think that cutting spending and attacking the deficit should be the top priority? Not really.In the poll, respondents were asked to react to three very leading statements. 76 percent agreed with this:

Politicians have spent the country into bankruptcy, with federal deficits going through the ceiling. This debt held by China weakens the country and the economy. Priority number one is to reduce the size of government and the deficit. We have to balance the budget by making major cuts in big spending programs now, not later. That will free up our citizens and bring America back.

But when the same people were asked whether we need to “put the middle class first,” 84 percent agreed. And 80 percent agreedwith this: “To get America back, we need a government that works for middle class Americans — fostering good jobs and education.” It’s hard to draw many conclusions from those results, especially since the deficit does not emerge as voters’ top priority when they’re asked to rank their priorities in other polls.

And ifpanic over the deficit was a top priority, then why isthere thisheadline in the poll report : “Mandate: fighting for middle class/jobs wins over spending/deficits.” That was how the pollsters labeled their finding that52 percent of voters wanted politicians in Washington fighting special interests and corporations and working to create jobs. 42 percent wanted someoneto rein in spending.Aquestion about whether the government should “do more” or is “doing too much” was basically a wash. And more voters favored rebuilding infrastructure over cutting the deficit (52-42).

Of course, Matt Baican use the TSA controversy to make any argument he wants. But you shouldn’t citea poll to make your point when that polloffers ample evidence that undermines your argument.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.