Boos For Richardson Demonstrate Division Between Bloggers and Others on Economic Policy

From accounts at The Fix and various other blogs, it sounds like Barack Obama and John Edwards have been received the best at YearlyKos. Hillary Clinton had problems with defending lobbyists and, in the event I find most interesting, Bill Richardson was booed for backing a constitutional amendment to balance the budget.

Scanning the liberal blogosphere the bloggers who comment seem pretty much unanimous in considering the balanced budget amendment a bad idea, while many people commenting supported the idea. This is consistent with a trend I’ve noticed that a large percentage of bloggers on the major liberal blogs have similar ideas on economic matters, while a significant number of individuals who read liberal blogs agree on areas such as the war and social issues but are more fiscally conservative. There are also many independent voters who hold this view, explaining why Richardson is improving in the polls primarily among independents who intend to vote in Democratic caucuses or primaries where this is allowed.

I am sympathetic to Richardson on this as, while I have qualms about the idea, a balanced budget amendment is not so awful an idea as to deserve the boos it generated. A balanced budget is generally desirable, but there are times, such as during a war, when deficit spending is necessary.  Proposals for a balanced budget typically allow deficit spending with a super majority, but those simply hearing a call for a balanced budget amendment on the stump generally are unaware of this. Even when they do discover this, it often makes the proposal sound more like a gimmick.

I would prefer to see Richardson speak of the benefits of a pay as you go policy, as he also does now and John Kerry did in 2004. Ideally voters will vote for candidates who show restraint in spending, seeing the benefits of Bill Clinton over a fiscally irresponsible president such as George Bush.

Richardson might be right that further restrictions are necessary against fiscally irresponsible presidents, which would apply to both George Bush who fought a war off the books, as well as to future presidents who adopt the irresponsible attitude of John Edwards of promising everything to everybody with no qualms about paying for it on credit. I wonder if the idea would at least receive less boos from a liberal audience if it was a call for a requirement for a super majority for deficit spending rather than using the politically charged terminology of a balanced budget amendment.

The boos are also consistent with the shifting views at Daily Kos. There is a diversity of viewpoints there, but there is also an element of group think at both Daily Kos and in the liberal blogosphere. Many of them respond the most to criticizing George Bush and the war, and the policies to replace Republican policies is a secondary concern. Back when Howard Dean was best identified with opposition to Bush, many at Daily Kos adopted Dean’s fiscally conservative views. John Edwards has been doing the most to attract support in the blogosphere this year, and now many have abandoned Dean’s views for Edwards’ populism. Kos has written about liberal/libertarian fusionism, which would imply some degree of fiscal conservativism, but he is much better at community organization than promoting a consistent political philosophy and this has had little impact at this site.

I hope that at very least the boos were for the balance budget amendment itself and not for the concept of fiscal responsibility and a balance budget whenever possible. Many liberal bloggers mistakingly see the 2006 elections as a mandate to back big government progressive economic policies. In reality, many voters backed the Democrats in opposing the war and some other Republican policies, and will support greater government involvement in health care out of necessity, but will return to voting Republican if they see a government which they perceive as dominated by “tax and spend liberals.”

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4 Comments

  1. 1
    Joe Scordato says:

    Ron

    Having been at Yearly Kos this year, my sense of the crowd is that they’re a mix on fiscal conservatism. I think most would agree on responsible fiscal policy – it’s a question of getting the priorities straight when you’re spending the money. While I like Richardson for his energy policy, he has a tendency to use the Dem-bashing Republican frame too much, and I suspect that’s what was driving the boos.

    Best

    Joe

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Joe,

    The blogs covering YearlyKos described it as booing over the call for the balanced budget amendment, but I could certainly see the manner in which he approached this as having a factor.

  3. 3
    Joe Scordato says:

    You’re right. I didn’t mean to suggest the framing was why they booed him – it was his balanced budget amendment comment. It just seemed so designed to say I’m not like the rest of those fiscally irresponsible Democrats up here. It also misses completely the economic differences between a state budget and the federal budget.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    It’s a fine line for Richardson here. Nationally his chances might be better if he differentiates himself from the other Democrats, but Yearly Kos was not the place to do this very blatantly. I fear that Richardson might make a better president than campaigner, and it will take a strong campaigner to get past Clinton and Obama.

    Richardson only has a chance if people see him as different, and if there are enough fiscally conservative Democrats voting for this to matter. If he’s seen as a Western Hillary Clinton, or a Barack Obama with more experience but less charisma, he’s not going to pass these candidates.

    “It also misses completely the economic differences between a state budget and the federal budget.”

    It depends upon the context by which this is brought up. I’ve never thought much of Governors who have run bragging about how many times they have balanced the budgtet while their opponents haven’t balanced a budget. While that is useful experience, every other Governor has similar experience. It is a different matter if a candidate stresses that he wants to balance the budget, notes his experience, and goes beyond this to discuss how he will balance the federal budget.

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