fresh voices from the front lines of change







No, I’m not jumping ship or anything like that. I’m just at CPAC looking for something, anything about how conservatives plan to create jobs. Let’s just say I’m still looking.

Today, I’m attending (and covering) the Conservative Political Action Conference (a.k.a CPAC) for the first time, and so far it’s been interesting. I have to admit, I don’t spend an awful lot of time hanging out with conservatives. I’ve spend a lot of time reading what they’ve written, but not so much listening to what they have to say.

So, I figured this would be a great opportunity to listen. I’ve been most interested in hearing what conservatives have to say about job creation. Since arriving this morning, I’ve listened to several speeches, and I’ve sat through two panels.

One concerned itself with “How Political Correctness is Harming America’s Military” and the other with “Traditional Marriage and Society.” During the latter, I didn’t hear exactly how my marriage impacts the economy, but I did hear one of the speakers say that we have “reached a point in America where our liberties are destroying us.” (As I write this, the marriage panel has ended, and now the NRA’s Wayne Pierre has taken the stage.) But, alas, if I “go there,” I’ll never make it back to my point.

Speaking of which, here’s what I’ve heard about jobs.






OK. That’s not entirely true. I’ve heard jobs mentioned, but either in esoteric terms, or only in passing. And a during a quick walk through most of the exhibit hall, took me past several booths staffed by people all sorts of ideas with potential for economic impact — from repealing the estate tax, to replacing the EPA (from Newt Gingrich’s speech this morning), opening up various areas to oil drilling (c/o the American Petroleum Institute), and repealing the “light bulb ban” (which was, ironically enough, signed into law by George W. Bush).

I picked up the literature, perused it, read the claims about “job killing regulations.” I did get into an conversation with a man explaining to me how replacing our current tax system with a consumption tax, will solve all of our economic ills. (This one is an actual bill.) I didn’t get specifics on how this would create jobs, though, let alone how many and how soon.

I heard Rep. Raul Labrador speak just before Mitch McConnell took the stage, and he had some interesting things to say about jobs. What struck me most was not so much his rote repetition of the conservative notion that “Government doesn’t create jobs,” but the assertion government can only “create an atmosphere for business to create jobs.” (I’m just sorry I was standing in the onsite media registration line during Michelle Bachmann’s speech. I caught Mitch McConnell’s, however, but heard more about repealing health care reform than creating jobs.)

So far, I’ve been reminded that I shouldn’t have come hear expecting to hear such plans. After all, I read Mike Hall’s preview of CPAC’s agenda.

For three days starting tomorrow, they will rant against their favorite targets from President Obama to health care reform, from the “liberal media” to “big unions,” immigration reform and other issues that just about make their heads explode.

But going over the 18-page CPAC agenda for the meeting, there is one word you won’t find—jobs. Not one workshop, breakout session or featured speaker is dedicated to the nation’s most pressing agenda need—jobs and job creation.

With all that conservative brain power in one place, you’d think they’d want to use at least some of it to ponder fixing an economy that now is in the 21st month with unemployment at 9 percent or higher and that has nearly 27 million U.S. workers either jobless or in need of full-time work.

Guess these folks think there are more important issues, like these pressing topics: “Pop Culture: An Influence or a Mirror?”, “Are We Superman? Using School Choice and Home Schools to Grow the Conservative Movement” and my favorite, “Lawlessness, Racialism and Terror at Obama’s Department of Justice.”

Or maybe it’s just that progressives and conservatives aren’t talking about the same thing, when we talk about jobs.

In some ways, it’s at least mildly reassuring that Republicans haven’t given up on reducing unemployment altogether, at least from their limited ideological perspective. There is an argument lurking behind their rhetoric — large deficits will raise interest rates, lead to higher inflation, and cause economic pain at some point. Drastic austerity now will prevent even-more-drastic austerity later.

At least, that’s the pitch. There are some fairly dramatic flaws in the argument. First, when the unemployment rate is as high as it is, and interest rates are already extremely low, Republicans are ignoring one problem that does exist, focusing on a separate problem that doesn’t exist. Besides, the “uncertainty” canard has been debunked repeatedly — businesses will hire more when they have more customers.

Second, I’d be far more inclined to take Republican fears about the deficit seriously if they weren’t constantly taking steps to make the deficit worse. It was the GOP that demanded massive tax breaks late last year, and didn’t even try to pay for them. It was also the GOP that made health care repeal its top priority, despite the fact that repeal would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit.

Third, if Republicans seriously considered the deficit/debt a scourge that would destroy civilization as we know it, they’d (a) actually work in good faith with Democrats on ideas that could pass; and (b) stop working so hard on tangential, culture-war issues like abortion, school vouchers, and D.C. marriage rights.

Finally — and this is the kicker — the best way to reduce the deficit in a hurry is to create jobs and grow the economy.

I’ll have more to say later about what does and does not count as a “real” job, but so far half way into day one of CPAC, that’s the closest I’ve heard about a plan for job creation. Near as I can tell it adds up to “cut-taxes-and-hope-for-the-best” or “deregulate-and-do-nothing.” Granted the day’s only half over, and I’m just talking about what I’ve heard from the speakers. Maybe I’ll hear more if I can talk to some attendees.

And if, by some miracle, we end up talking about the same thing when we talk about jobs.

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