Friedman and the Pundit’s Fallacy

Thomas Friedman wants a grand bargain (again): “If I were President Obama, I’d focus my entire campaign now on an effort to reforge a “grand bargain” with Republicans based on a near-term infrastructure stimulus tied with a Simpson-Bowles long-term fiscal rebalancing,” he writes.

Maybe Friedman doesn’t remember, but Bowles-Simpson includes revenue increases and defense cuts. Those aren’t ideas Republicans are very fond of. The House already vehemently rejected it and the Senate isn’t going to vote on it.

The plan has no chance of passing. That’s not surprising; not much has a chance of passing this year. So what’s Friedman’s rationale for Obama bringing up the plan?

At a minimum, it would show that Obama has a sensible plan to fix the economy — which is what people want most from the president — and many in business would surely support it.

This is a classic example of the pundit’s fallacy. Most people, so much as can be discerned, would like the government to actually improve the economy, and low-information swing voters in particular don’t pay much attention to “sensible plans.”

Moreover, this badly misreads the politics. Obama has tried to be the adult in the room. Remember the debt ceiling fiasco last summer? The President attempted to forge a grand bargain then and John Boehner walked away. Subsequently, Obama’s approval ratings dipped below 40 percent. As the standoff continued, the markets dropped and in the end, the Republicans got a lot of what they wanted: $900 billion in immediate spending cuts and $1.2 trillion in triggered cuts. Sure, they hate the triggered defense cuts (the House has already voted to replace them), but the debt ceiling debacle hurt Obama, and therefore helped Romney. If Romney assumes the White House next year, don’t expect those cuts to stand.

Oh, and Republicans just love near-term infrastructure stimulus.

This post is by Danny Vinik, an intern at the Monthly. Follow him on Twitter @dannyvinik.

Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper, a contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, is currently the Washington correspondent for The Week.