When Conservatives Ignore Conservative Talking Points

Sen. Tom Coburn on CBSNews.com's "Washington Unplugged," March 6, 2009.
Tom Coburn
Sen. Tom Coburn on CBSNews.com's "Washington Unplugged," March 6, 2009.

Maybe the planets are out of alignment, or someone spiked the water supply. But how to explain a very strange sequence of events over the last two days? First, a conservative economist publicly scolded his ideological comrades for trashing the Obama economy. Then a right-wing United States Senator defended Republican bete noir Nancy Pelosi at a meeting with his (decidedly right wing) constituents. And, of course, the proverbial cherry on the sundae came when Butler defeated Duke for the NCAA crown. (OK, that one was wishful thinking, but dreams die hard.)

In normal times, this wouldn't merit more than casual comment. But these are decidedly not normal times. After a bruising fight over health care reform legislation, left and right in this country are so polarized that they are more likely to eye each other as the detested enemy than as members of a loyal political opposition.

So when Larry Kudlow, Mr. Free Market Capitalism himself, warns that the right's drumbeat of dismissal of positive economic data has put "conservative credibility" on the line, it's worthy of attention.

I'm watching many of my friends on certain cable stations attempt to trash the March employment numbers released last Friday. Don't do it, folks. The numbers were solid. In fact, while everyone keeps saying that small businesses are getting killed from taxes and regulations out of Washington, the reality is that the Labor Department's household survey has produced 1.1 million new jobs in the first quarter of 2010, or 371,000 per month. If that continues, the unemployment rate will be dropping significantly.

For comparison's sake, read this blog post the Republican National Committee put up on its Web site following Friday's employment numbers. Under the heading "Unacceptable," the blog paints the White House's jobs policy as feckless and generally paints a picture of an economy in crisis. That may have resonated more loudly in April 2009 but a year later, the data suggest a different outlook - and that's where Kudlow believes his ideological comrades are getting it wrong. Kudlow has hardly morphed into a Keynesian. For instance, he still frets about the potential impact of tax and regulatory policy pursued by the Obama administration. But those are future worries. More immediately, he says, there's an upbeat story to tell:

The current reality is that a strong rebound in corporate profits (the greatest and truest stimulus of all), ultra-easy money from the Fed, and some very small stimuli from government spending are all working to generate a cyclical recovery in a basically free-market economy that is a lot more resilient than capitalist critics would have us believe. So conservatives should not lose their cool and blow their credibility over a cyclical rebound that is backed by the statistics.

That was just the warm-up act for this stunner from Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, who defended Pelosi as "a nice person" and went on to lecture the crowd not to drink the kool-aid served up by cable television - in particular, Fox News.

"Come on now. [Pelosi] is a nice. How many of y'all have met her? She is a nice person. She's a nice person. You know, let me give you a little lesson here. I hope you will listen to me. Just because somebody disagrees with you doesn't mean that they're not a good person. And I want to tell ya, I've been in the Senate for five years and I've taken a lot of that because I've been on the small side, both in the Republican Party and the Democrat Party. Just because I don't agree with them, it doesn't mean I'm bad. It means I have a legitimate point of view that's different than theirs. And what we have to have is make sure we have a debate in this country so that you can see what's going on and make the determination yourself. So, don't catch yourself being biased by Fox News that somebody's no good. The people in Washington are good. They just don't know what they don't know."

So far, no response from Fox. The network doesn't have a history of turning the other cheek so I assume that one of their talking heads is going to have something to say about the affair before too long. (In the meantime, you can find conservative reaction from Riehl World View, National Review and Weekly Standard as well as the full gamut of opinion to Coburn's call for civility.

None of this suggests that Coburn is about to turn into the liberals' favorite conservative (the position has remained open since former title holder John McCain abdicated in time for his 2008 presidential run.) But if a step back from the brink is a harbinger of a different tone to the D.C. conversation, then more power to him.

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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.