Entitlement Reform?

J.P. Freire, responding to my post on limited government, wonders why conservatives aren’t spending more time talking up entitlement reform:

In other words, conservatives haven’t done a very good job of explaining how they want to deal with entitlements. Rep. Paul Ryan is one of the few people talking about this — my only question is why aren’t there more? Even within the conservative caucus?

I think the answer to this is pretty simple. For one thing, a lot of politicians don’t really know how to talk about entitlement reform. They can talk broadly about making changes, but the details are tougher in large part because conservatives haven’t put much effort into effectively branding reform. Entitlement programs are complicated beasts, and it’s not an easy thing to talk about them in a way that’s efficient and accessible. Rather than get bogged down in the details, lots of politicians just avoid the subject, or speak in platitudes.

The other problem, I think, is one that a lot of conservatives don’t like to admit, and that’s that, in the current political environment, entitlement reform just isn’t all that popular. There’s some support in the abstract, but the reality is that much of the voting public genuinely likes not just entitlements but the the idea of a state that provides entitlements. What the right needs on this front is smart messaging that makes the underlying ideas accessible, but that’s going to require some experimenting. And right now, experimenting with various messaging approaches isn’t exactly an enticing prospect for conservative legislators because those attempts inevitably get them tarred as stingy Beltway insiders who want to take away your Medicare and Social Security.