Articles

Odd Times Call for Unconventional Wisdom

April 13, 2023
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In his 1958 book, “The Affluent Society,” economist John Kenneth Galbraith assailed what he called “conventional wisdom,” his caustic term for “beliefs that are at any time assiduously, solemnly and mindlessly traded between the conventionally wise.” Today, we’re constantly bombarded by news of the latest high jinks of candidates and officeholders, and for each new political drama there’s new conventional wisdom on what it means. But what if much of it is wrong?

Conventional wisdom on the debt-ceiling fight says that Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans are on the defensive, while Democrats belittle their attempt to get President Joe Biden to negotiate with the GOP. Maybe.

But would voters really prefer that Mr. McCarthy bow to Democratic demands and simply raise the debt ceiling? Or would they rather take the speaker’s proposal to pair that with cuts in nondefense discretionary spending, the recovery of unspent Covid relief money, and a requirement that able-bodied people receiving welfare either work or look for work? Still suffering from the inflation caused by excessive spending, voters might conclude some deficit reduction is better than none.

Conventional wisdom also says that Donald Trump’s legal problems have strengthened him politically. In the short run, that appears right. The charges brought against Mr. Trump by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg were criticized by legal experts on the right and left as convoluted, shaky, unsupported and likely to fail. But what if special counsel Jack Smith obtains an indictment of Mr. Trump for either or both of the federal cases he’s investigating, and they are far stronger than Mr. Bragg’s? A significant number of Trump supporters may conclude that they’ve had it.

It’s conventional wisdom among many Democrats and journalists that Mr. Biden should declare for re-election now. But what if getting him on the campaign trail makes it clear how much age has taken its toll? Being seen as president rather than a candidate for three or four more months allows him to duck scrutiny. Now in his ninth decade, Mr. Biden needs that.

Longstanding conventional wisdom holds that as the incumbent, Mr. Biden would be weakened if he had serious primary opposition, à la President Jimmy Carter with Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1980 or President George H.W. Bush with Pat Buchanan in 1992. That’s probably true. But what if Mr. Biden overcame a real challenge—not Marianne “Crystals and Woo-Woo” Williamson but a formidable governor or senator? If he rose to the moment, Mr. Biden wouldn’t only secure the Democratic nomination but also ease doubts about his fitness among swing voters who might leave him in the general election if there’s a decent Republican candidate. 

Conventional wisdom points to Mr. Biden seeking re-election despite a lack of enthusiasm among Democrats. (Only 25% of them in a March 20 Monmouth Poll preferred he run again.) But what happens if he doesn’t? Democrats have a deep bench. And resetting the board on their side might cause the GOP to do the same, jolting Republicans into realizing just how weak Mr. Trump might be in the general against a fresh Democratic face.

 

In his 1958 book, “The Affluent Society,” economist John Kenneth Galbraith assailed what he called “conventional wisdom,” his caustic term for “beliefs that are at any time assiduously, solemnly and mindlessly traded between the conventionally wise.” Today, we’re constantly bombarded by news of the latest high jinks of candidates and officeholders, and for each new political drama there’s new conventional wisdom on what it means. But what if much of it is wrong?

Conventional wisdom on the debt-ceiling fight says that Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans are on the defensive, while Democrats belittle their attempt to get President Joe Biden to negotiate with the GOP. Maybe.

But would voters really prefer that Mr. McCarthy bow to Democratic demands and simply raise the debt ceiling? Or would they rather take the speaker’s proposal to pair that with cuts in nondefense discretionary spending, the recovery of unspent Covid relief money, and a requirement that able-bodied people receiving welfare either work or look for work? Still suffering from the inflation caused by excessive spending, voters might conclude some deficit reduction is better than none.

Read More at the WSJ

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