How to Sell a Bunk Bill: Marginalize the Opposition

Jesse Walker at Reason gives us a how-to guide on stifling the other side of any debate and finding success in Washington.  Of course, Reason Magazine has long been a proponent of open debate.  The real goal of Walker’s article is to show us what tactics the “political mainstream” is using.

Walker outlines the basic strategy:

If you argue with those outsiders, you’ve made them a part of the debate. But you can’t shut them up either. The goal then is to persuade everyone else that the dissidents simply don’t deserve attention: that they’re extremists, partisan flacks, or just not “serious.”

This sort of tactic is used all the time.  Mr. Obama seems to have adopted the version of this strategy made famous by Al Gore—declaring consensus on an issue and then declaring anyone outisde of that consensus as a fringe lunatic.  We’re seeing this now as the Cato Institute’s list of 200 economists opposed to the stimulus is being dismissed as outside the mainstream.

Walker goes on in his piece to point out that even positions that would have once been considered mainstays of a solid liberal politically philosophy are being dismissed as foolish.  Proposals to aid those effected by the recession more directly, rather than sending billions to the institutions that failed those people, have been regarded as foolish and outside the know.

But these aren’t new tactics, as Walker points out through use of a quote, which I will now quote:

In other words, the Dems have learned a lot from the administration they deposed. As the St. Lawrence University economist Steve Horwitz wrote this week, “Accusing your opponents of being ‘ethics-free Republican hacks’…means you don’t have to argue for the merits of the individual pieces, just scare the public and demonize the opposition. Of course, that’s exactly what these same folks complained about after 9/11. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss indeed.”

Again, I ask, where’s the change we were promised?