Easterbrook on political bogeymen

Gregg Easterbrook has an interesting article on The Washington Monthly's website about "The First Bogeyman of the 2012 Campaign." As usual, it's a very readable article, but it seems to me that Easterbrook is guilty of the bad journalistic habit of false balance. Yes, both sides get the facts wrong, but not with exact equality.

He writes, "Elections often are dominated by bogeymen -- Republicans claim Democrats don’t care about national defense, Democrats claim Republicans want to eliminate Social Security, that sort of nonsense."

OK, that's surely at least partly true in general terms. But his examples aren't really parallel. Many prominent Republicans do favor scaling back or outright eliminating Social Security. Texas Governor Rick Perry, the current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, is on record claiming that Social Security is href="http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2011/08/12/294753/rick-perry-says-social-security-and-medicare-are-unconstitutional/">unconstitutional, and he has a lot of company. More still advocate full or partial privatization.

In contrast, while some Democrats call for limiting defense spending -- currently over half of the discretionary part of the federal budget and nearly as much as the combined military spending of all other countries in the world -- does it really need to be pointed out that there are no Democratic leaders (and hardly any followers, for that matter) who actually want to phase out or privatize national defense?

Easterbook goes on to write, "What’s maddening about the politics of the environment is that both sides consistently assert things that aren’t even close to true. The right claims that environmental regulations hurt the economy -- data show the reverse. The left claims the environment is dying -- data show the reverse."

Again, I think Easterbrook overstates his case. He makes the valid point that in decades past stronger environmental regulations were accompanied by healthy economic growth, and reduced pollution was a factor in the rebirth of a number of U.S. cities. He might even have added that when George W. Bush reduced enforcement of environmental rules (not to mention cutting income tax rates and regulation of the financial sector), the economy showed poor growth, then fell into the worst recession since the 1930s. But to be fair, some environmental regulations do hinder some businesses. On balance that's probably a good thing, at least in my opinion, provided the regulation makes sense, but it is worth acknowledging the economic impact both ways.

As for the environment itself, Easterbrook is surely right that by a lot of measures the economy has improved, there are still quite a lot of signs that the environment is less than perfectly healthy, not least the extraordinary rate of species extinction.

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