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Here Comes "Daschlenomics":
The GOP Readies Its Rhetorical Playbook

By Brendan Nyhan (brendan@spinsanity.org)
January 22, 2002

Senator Tom Daschle's recent challenge to President Bush's fiscal and tax policies set off a storm of criticism - some justified and some not. Of course, robust debate over such issues should be welcomed, and Daschle deserves criticism for his misleading contention that the Bush tax cut is primarily responsible for short-term budget deficits, among other things. However, Daschle's speech has also been subject to repeated deceptive attacks from right-leaning pundits that are blending into a series of straw man arguments and catchphrases. Republicans have adopted some of the most effective labels and deceptive arguments - in particular, the term "Daschlenomics" - in a classic example of how the political parties now often follow the rhetorical lead of aggressive like-minded pundits.

Stephen Moore and pundit-led criticism of Daschle

Pundits led the way in inflammatory attacks on Daschle after he became Senate Majority Leader in May. As Spinsanity first pointed out, Rush Limbaugh pioneered an attack on the legitimacy of Daschle's ascension that was adopted by Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard and finally employed by Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott in a widely-publicized memo.

In the wake of Daschle's January 4 speech, pundits have initiated new attacks that personalize the issue of taxes and economic policy around Daschle and his opposition to the President, often in the form of catchphrases. This strategy - endorsed by pollster Frank Luntz in a December memo to Republicans - capitalizes on the increasing antipathy of the Republican base to Daschle. As with the phrase "Clintonization", the resulting jargon attempts to embed vague associations into a term to trigger hostile reactions.

The clearest illustration of this process comes from Stephen Moore, a pundit and the president of The Club for Growth, a conservative economic lobbying group. In a January 4 National Review Online column, Moore said that Daschle's "pro-spending and anti-tax-cut crusade over the past year has contributed mightily to the twin deficits that now befuddle Washington: the budget deficit and the economic-growth deficit." He then denounced "Daschle-nomics" as "a version of the European welfare state creed of economic growth through government growth" and blamed Daschle for "the most gigantic inflation-adjusted increase in government spending since the days when Jimmy Carter was president."

While Moore has every right to criticize Daschle's economic policies, his case that Daschle is responsible for budget deficits is more a strategic attempt to associate Daschle with the deficits than a rational argument. According to a Senate Budget Committee analysis, increased government spending (a significant part of which stemmed from the terrorist attacks) was the cause of only 18% of the decline in the projected surplus for fiscal year 2002, and 19% of the decline in the projected 2002-2011 surplus. Not all of this spending can be fairly attributed to Daschle, moreover, since much of it was supported by President Bush and Congressional Republicans in the wake of September 11. Moore ignores these details, never offering a quantitative argument for why deficits should be blamed on Daschle (or, indeed, which deficits he is referring to) - he simply asserts that "tax cuts are not the explanation for budget deterioration" and faults Daschle for not supporting Republican stimulus packages that consist largely of additional tax cuts.

"Daschlenomics" takes off

Following Moore's article, the Republican National Committee (RNC) apparently saw the potential rhetorical value in Moore's creations and quickly registered the domains daschle-nomics.com and daschlenomics.com on January 8 (as well as daschledeficits.com, based on the title of the article). The next day, Front Page Magazine Chris Weiskopf attacked Daschle's speech in detail, broadly referring to it as "Daschlenomics" in the title of the piece.

Then, in a January 11 press release, RNC Deputy Chairman Jack Oliver began the process of transforming the term into a catchphrase, hailing a poll showing opposition to repealing or delaying the Bush tax cut by saying: "Americans are rejecting Daschlenomics because they know it's exactly the wrong prescription for our nation's economic ills." On January 13, Washington Post columnist George Will let loose with a column that defined "Daschlenomics" as "[holding] that even during economic slowdowns, surpluses -- government taxing more than existing programs require -- are virtuous." Will also uses the related term "Daschleized" nine separate times, as Chris Mooney points out in The American Prospect Online.

Dick Armey adopts "Daschlenomics"

On January 16, House Majority Leader Dick Armey issued a press release saying Senator Ted Kennedy's call for repeal (120K PDF file) of unimplemented tax cuts for more affluent Americans "endorses Daschlenomics". The term became the object of further derision in a January 17 and 18 series of articles on "Daschlenomics" on Armey's website.

In these articles, we can see the latest steps in the process of turning "Daschlenomics" into a broad and illogical set of associations used to attack Democrats on economic policy. First, Armey's claim that Kennedy "endorses Daschlenomics" blurs some important lines. Even assuming that Daschle shares Kennedy's desire to repeal some unimplemented tax cut, Daschle's speech advocates running surpluses to keep long-term interest rates low and thereby stimulate the economy, while Kennedy calls for spending funds from repealed tax cuts on government programs such as prescription drug coverage under Medicare. After attacking the "Top Ten Problems With Daschlenomics" (using quotes from the January 4 speech), Armey then extends the jargon even farther by setting up "Daschlenomics" as the haziest possible term of derision: "Fuzzy math has given way to 'Daschlenomics' as the tax-and-spenders scramble to explain why the repeal of a tax cut isn't a tax hike."

Finally, Armey sets up an absurd strawman (again labeled as "Daschlenomics") first developed by Joseph Perkins in a January 11 column. "Daschlenomics," Armey says, includes the belief that "the tax rebates-a proposal widely hailed by Democrats at the time-caused 'the most dramatic fiscal deterioration in our nation's history.'" Armey's fallacious reasoning (echoing Perkins) is that because the tax rebate is the only tax cut provision that took effect last year, Daschle - who supported the rebate provision - is contradicting himself by criticizing the tax cut's overall effect on the economy. In fact, however, when Daschle said the tax cut "probably made the recession worse", he was discussing the effect of the decline in the surplus on long-term interest rates and the resulting effect on the economy. It is obvious that Daschle is not being contradictory - the approximately $40 billion cost of the rebates would have virtually no effect on long term interest rates.

Next up - "Enronomics"?

The evolution of manipulative rhetoric and associative catchphrases like "Daschlenomics" has accelerated, with pundits supplying and refining a vast rhetorical arsenal that is often quickly adopted by the parties. In fact, Democrats have already announced plans to use "Enronomics" (coined by amateur pundits) to non-rationally associate Bush's fiscal and tax policies with the corporate pariah. These developments should be cause for serious concern. When public relations crowd out rational debate, our democracy suffers.

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Related links:
-The "Enronomics" offensive (Brendan Nyhan, 1/15/02)
-Blurring lines in the surplus debate (Brendan Nyhan, 1/11/02)
-Daschle and Bush spin debate on stimulus (Ben Fritz, 1/8/02)
-Painting the Democrats as the isolationists (Brendan Nyhan, 8/6/01)
-The Evolving Jargon of Clintonization (Brendan Nyhan, 9/4/01)
-The illegitimacy attack / Daschle-bashing (Brendan Nyhan, 5/25/01)

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