NYT Alleges "Widespread Public Anger at Deficits"
I wasn't going to blog during the holiday weekend, but then this morning the New York Times nearly outdid the Post in cooking up a supposed public outrage about the deficit (h/t Dad). In a page-three White House Memo by Jackie Calmes ("Spend or Scrimp? Economic and Political Teams Debate") the paper asserts:
While President Bill Clinton’s political advisers favored more spending and tax cuts coming out of the recession of the early 1990s and his economic team pushed to start reducing deficits, in President Obama’s circle the opposite is true. Political advisers are channeling the widespread public anger at deficits while the economic team argues that the government should further spur the economy to avert another recession.Widespread public anger! Yikes! Where exactly are these angry people?
There's another article inside today's Times, with the online headline "Budget Deficit and Wars’ Cost Draw Fire on the Home Front" -- and I thought maybe that would have some evidence of public concern about the deficit. Nope.
What about the polling? The polls haven't directly asked the question "How angry are you about the deficit?" Fifty-three percent of the public doesn't approve of the way Obama is handling the deficit, according to the Times' poll from April. What portion of the public is particularly concerned -- let alone angry -- about the deficit, though, wasn't measured.
A question many of the polls have asked is basically "what's your top concern?" And on that front, not many people go for deficit. I examined those polls in my post the other week; the portion of people who thought deficit was most important goes anywhere from 5% to 23%, depending on which poll you go with. Jobs and the economy in general are much higher priorities for the public.
True, these polls alone don't prove that there isn't widespread public anger about the deficit; it's possible that the public is extremely outraged about jobs, and also pretty outraged about the deficit, and deficit just usually isn't quite the #1 concern for most people. It's possible, yes, but until there's evidence of that, I'm rather skeptical.
I tend to think the reality is rather different: that despite months of deficit hyping by Peter Peterson, many Republicans, some Democrats, and some of the commentariat, there's little evidence that much of the public buys it.
Anyhow, the other worrying thing about the Times article is that the premise -- that there's a debate in the administration over jobs and deficit matters, and that some in the White House are very concerned about the public's supposed worries on the deficit -- may well be completely true. Calmes gets this quote:
Mr. Axelrod, in an interview, said he often argues for emphasizing deficit reduction in part because “it’s my job to report what the public mood is.” He added, “I’ve made the point that as a matter of policy and a matter of politics that we need to focus on this, and the president certainly agrees with that.”The good advisor may be busy watching cable news, or reading the Washington Post, or talking to certain villagers. Or maybe he doesn't really believe what he said, but thought it was good politics to say it. Either way, not good. Leave advancing the "public freaked about the deficit" storyline to the pundits, please.
Previously: Post Softens Language on Deficit; Meanwhile, AP Serves up a Whopper of its Own (6/27), Washington Post Alternate Reality: Public More Concerned About Deficit Than Jobs or Economy Overall (6/19).
Updates: Thanks for links from Digby, Peter Hart at FAIR Blog and Holly Yeager at CJR, who argues that it's good that the Times explored Orszag's position and why he may have left his job. See also commentary on Peter Peterson's recent "American Speaks" events by Andrew Gelman and CEPR.