Paul Ryan and the GOP Think Voters Are Dumb

Does the notion of balance really confuse voters?

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House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. arrives on the West Front of the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, for the Presidential Barack Obama's ceremonial swearing-in ceremony during the 57th Presidential Inauguration.

Do House Republicans think voters are stupid? Why yes, yes they do, judging by the latest messaging the GOP is preparing to roll out in its big budget push. In the Republican view, simple voters find notions like "balance" confusing when it comes to issues of taxes, spending cuts, and the budget.

Politico has an article up raising the curtain on the Republican PR effort around the budget plan Rep. Paul Ryan will unveil next week. About halfway through, it contains this nugget on the Republican messaging strategy

"Democrats' calls for a 'balanced approach' are clearly poll-tested, but it's because people associate the word 'balanced' with a balanced budget — exactly the opposite of what Democrats' budgets actually do," the aide said. "Look for Republicans to go on offense on Democrats' 'balanced' rhetoric by pointing out that there is nothing 'balanced' about Senate Democrats or the president's budgets — in fact, they never balance at all."

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

In short "balanced," in the view emanating from Paul Ryan world, is some sort of magical word which simple voters are easily confused by. They hear "balanced" and—apparently incapable of absorbing the words around it in a given thought—just assume it means "balanced budget." Now I get the concept of the low information voter—people who pay only passing attention to politics and so have details and often entire facts wrong—but this is an assumption of a low intelligence voter. You voters are too stupid to realize it, the messaging goes, but you really agree with us. You just need to understand that you're easily confused by concepts like "balance."

While we're here let's quickly reality-test the assertion, just for kicks. What do polls say about a balanced approach? Do voters really prefer Obama's balanced way of dealing with deficits, and if so is it because they're ensorcelled by the b-word, or do they get the substance? Conveniently, PolitiFact.com recently checked out the assertion that most voters agree with Obama's approach. Their conclusion: "Obama said of a balanced approach to deficit reduction that 'the majority of the American people agree with me and this approach, including, by the way, a majority of Republicans.' ... The majority of the polls we found support the president. We rate the president's statement Mostly True."

[ Read the U.S. News debate: Is the Ryan Medicare Overhaul Proposal a Good Idea?]

They didn't check whether simpleton voters were just entranced by the "b-word," but they did cite poll after poll after poll where the word wasn't used but rather the concept—dealing with the budget deficit with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases—was explained, and majorities of voters favored it over a spending-cut-only approach. This is in line with the preponderance of polls which also show that most voters favor notions like compromise generally.

In short, "balance" polls well on the substance so Republicans are trying to neutralize the concept as a talking point by—in a Orwellian bit of redefinition—muddying the meaning of the word.

The rest of the Politico article does provide some insight into Ryan World. The budget won't cut much more than last year's, it says, even though it balances the federal books twice as fast as the last version ( Ezra Klein explained why yesterday). And, reporters Jake Sherman and David Nather write, Ryan aides are unafraid of a backlash against the plan:

Politically, House Republicans think it carries next to no risk: Conservative truth-telling, they say, is in vogue. Two years after Ryan's decision to transform Medicare into a voucher-like system, the party's presidential ticket won seniors by 17 percentage points and House Republicans are still comfortably in the majority, even if Mitt Romney did lose the presidency with Ryan as his running mate.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on Paul Ryan.]

What's a presidential level thumping between friends? Especially when voters are such nimwits. What's striking is what a hoary talking point this is. Has there been any point in the last, say, four years when House Republicans would have said that "conservative truth-telling" wasn't in vogue? (And the notion of "conservative truth-telling" is especially funny when it comes to Paul Ryan and his budgets.)

A line much later in the Politico piece nicely sums things up: "All of this doesn't mask a larger problem for Republicans: Their budget messaging stinks."