Ideological Inconsistency

Hat-tip to Jill: Jeffrey Jones at the Hoover Institute writes a weak, ideologically inconsistent screed against food stamps that rests on the idea that obesity rates are higher among low-income Americans than among high-income Americans. Jill does a pretty good job at dismantling Jones’ main point (as opposed to another, even weaker screed, where Jill completely butchers the critique), so I’ll touch on only one point.

Jones’ article’s main point is that the government shouldn’t distribute food stamps because they increase the rate of obesity. Instead, Jones says, “Every effort should be made to support nutrition education and determine the most effective ways to positively influence the diets of program participants.”

It’s possible that Jones believes that bans on advertising junk food to children, Jamie Oliver-style schemes in school cafeterias, and lawsuits against corporations that knowingly addict people to junk food are good. If he does, he’s an exceptional conservative, and his personal opinion isn’t representative of the American right.

Jill links to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle that says the same thing I said a few days ago about corn subsidies, only the article has precise numbers and I don’t. It’s understandable that no politician in the US dares introduce a bill in Congress that abolishes farm subsidies; farmers are so overrepresented in government that it could never pass. Paul Krugman, the de facto leader of the opposition to Bush from 2001 to 2004, complained once about farm aid; on the right, Greg Mankiw quoted Jonah Goldberg against farm aid, but neither is even close in influence to Krugman.

Political organizations that have inconsistent views tend to have a pool of consistent writers who they let advocate their views when they are properly orthodox. Conservatives let the libertarians speak out against government regulations of the economy and then muzzle them on social policy, and then let the paleocons speak out on race and then muzzle them on economic policy and foreign policy.

Fashionable as theories of ideological consistency like Lakoff’s are, politics is much simpler to understand when you assume inconsistency. In the US it’s especially true on the Republican side, not because it’s inherently worse but because the Democrats have no ideas to begin with.

The most annoying thing about the Hoover Institute piece is that Jones lacks even the creativity to write anything useful about obesity. He can’t put forth any solution that someone else has already thought of, because any such solution has likely been thought of by a liberal. Usually paid political hacks are intelligent enough to come up with plausible-sounding plans that don’t require them to admit that the opposition might be right sometimes, but apparently Jones isn’t.

One Response to Ideological Inconsistency

  1. I don’t think there is much of a difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party in this regard. It’s just that the Republicans have developed more efficient political strategies for dealing with ideological impurities. It really all centers around the “I’m gonna hold my nose and vote for the lesser of two evils” mode of thinking.

    I know many generally anti-war libertarians who voted for Bush because Kerry never took a strong stance against the war and was perceived to be worse on everything else as well (his subtle hints of supporting a draft didn’t help either). The Republicans harness this political version of “the prisoner’s dilemma” by systematically demonizing anyone who is left of center and lumping them into a giant ball of wax. It failed in the last election only because the Republicans screwed up to the point where shrewd advertising techniques couldn’t compensate for their utter lack of performance or competence.

    The Democrats haven’t learned to play that game. When they are inept or complacent, it’s obvious, and they have no effective cover game that keeps the ideological fellow travelers coming back.

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