Be specific

BE SPECIFIC…. The NYT‘s Thomas Friedman was part of the roundtable on “Meet the Press” yesterday, and raised a point that doesn’t come up nearly often enough.

The columnist noted that Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) was on the program earlier in the hour talking about cutting government, which, of course, is boilerplate rhetoric.

“Just tell me, ‘Which service do you want to take away?'” Friedman asked. “Is it police, fire, Army, you know? I think we — that’s a serious discussion to have, smaller government. But to say we want smaller government, less government intrusion, tell me what you want to take away.”

That seems like a reasonable expectation. Indeed, it seems more than fair to think one of the key missing elements of conservative discourse — specificity — should be addressed as part of the debate in advance of the midterms.

Speaking in broad strokes, the Republican vision couldn’t be any more transparent: cut spending, reduce the size of government, cut taxes. It’s only when one gets close that it becomes obvious that these broad strokes have no details. Cut spending where? By how much? Affecting whom? Cut which taxes? At what cost? GOP officials and candidates never quite get around to filling in these gaps, and seem to hope desperately that voters just don’t ask.

It’s politics by platitude, executed by those who can’t be bothered to take public policy seriously. We’re still recovering from the last time our elected leaders tried governing this way.

In some ways, it’s almost amusing that, less than six months before the elections, no one seems to have the foggiest idea exactly how Republican officials intend to pursue their most sought after goals. The most detailed look we’ve seen on this front comes by way of House Minority Whip Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) “YouCut” gimmick, which told us a) GOP officials haven’t identified much of anything in the way of waste in the budget; and b) when Republicans eye spending cuts, they have worthwhile programs that work in mind.

“Tell me what you want to take away.” I’ll look forward to the Republicans’ response.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.