Sunday, October 16, 2011

Our Bad Habit of Blaming Everyone

This series of short pieces by James Fallows of the Atlantic (one of our most astute and fairest political analysts) graphically details the absurd gymnastics the press employs to keep up the make-believe, to avoid telling Americans that one side (the Republican side) is chiefly responsible for the dysfunction in Washington right now.

Article One.

Article Two.

Article Three. They are brief, readable, and more to the point than my commentary here.

Bad habits have bad consequences. When it's a bad habit of a large institution like our news media, the consequences are enormous. To avoid showing "preference," American journalism behaves like a bad parent, blaming both children for what they know full well has one culprit. A decent family therapist could tell you what the result is. It gives permission to the Republicans to do what they like and spit in the Democrats' face, which is what they've done. Why be moderate when extremism causes no negative comment and gives greater leverage?

Why be law abiding when crime isn't punished? Why be a public-minded corporation when a predatory business model pays better and has no negative consequence? Imagine a court system that avoided a verdict on anything, blaming victim and assailant alike. Americans have come to despise political correctness that protects minorities and vulnerable people from abuse, but there is another form of political correctness being exercised today: it protects the powerful and the rich and their political handymen in the Republican Party. It's corrupting our public conversation.

Here's a quiet little article in the Washington Post, which got no traction in the big echo chamber of 24 hour cable news. It isn't the Democrats who can't get things done. It's the Republicans, resorting to the filibuster at levels never seen before in Congress, not even in the bad old days when partisans had fistfights on the floor of the House.

The go to guy for guaranteed political deadlock is Republican leader Mitch McConnell. It's strangely apt that the one true master of making our government as slow as a turtle actually looks and sounds like one. Here's another very sharp analysis of McConnellism by James Fallows.

America is being told the opposite, though. Watch the news or read a newspaper and you get the idea that the failure is being set up by both parties equally or by the Democrats who really sincerely want Obama to fail. But the opposite is true.

The Republican Party has been engaged in a 30 year effort to make government fail. To make it less efficient (government is actually far more cost effective than private contractors the Republicans are constantly touting, especially in defense operations where the private contractors have enormously ballooned the cost of waging war.) The Republican goal is to make government NOT work. To make government smaller, weaker and dysfunctional. To privatize it, which means to hand it over to corporate ownership, just as elected Republicans are owned by corporations. Do we want government by corporation? Corporations are not run as democracies. They are run from the top down. What the Republican Party wants is the end of democratic government.

Norman Ornstein, a conservative Washington observer from the American Enterprise Institute, examines the dysfunction of government and lays it directly at the feet of Republicans in this article published in Foreign Policy magazine. Obama and his slim Democratic majorities achieved a lot in two years. But getting the system to work was agony.

Ornstein: "So what went wrong? Republicans, having been thrashed at all levels in 2008, did not respond to the voters' rebuke by cooperating with the majority or trying to find common ground. Instead, repeating a tactic employed with great political success by Republicans in 1993 and 1994 against a newly elected President Bill Clinton, they immediately united fiercely and unremittingly against all the Obama and Democratic congressional initiatives. In the Senate they used delay tactics -- the filibuster and the hold -- in an unprecedented fashion, to block a large number of Obama administration nominees for executive branch positions and draw out debate to clog the legislative process and make an already messy business even messier. The session's legislative accomplishments occurred because Democrats maintained enough discipline -- and had large enough margins -- to enact their bills with the support of Democrats alone."

But look at the photo. The mug shot of the problem has both Democrat and Republican leaders in it. Reid who did everything he could to reach compromises and pass bills and McConnell who vowed that his one priority over four years was to make Obama's presidency a failure. The headline, too, blames both for the stubborn obstructionism of one party, muting the criticism, smudging the report, hiding the conclusions, misleading the reader. The Republicans get off easy thanks to the editor and the picture editor. Is that their job––to give Republicans covering fire?

At some point anyone who tries to work in a system so rigged toward one side becomes a sap, a pigeon, a fool. The Republicans are delighted at how angry Democratic voters are at their elected representatives. The public doesn't know what is happening. By not reporting the bad faith of the Republican Party the press becomes an enabler, an accessory to the theft of our functioning democracy. Here's a very good New Republic piece by Jonathan Cohn discussing the smoothest practitioner of false equivalency around, David Brooks.

This is not a new issue. It's been happening ever since the news media was charmed into bed with Ronald Reagan. It's distorted America's understanding of key issues, leading us to alarming levels of stupidity on science and events and economics. Most Americans now think there were WMD in Iraq; there weren't. Most Americans believe scientists are split on climate change; they are almost unanimous that it is happening and human activity is the cause. Mostly this is because news editors remove any stress or conclusion from topics covered. "Is the earth round? No one really knows, and opinions differ." We complain about bad government policy, but this foolish policy of our news media is a major cause of that. Being lied to is worse than being uninformed.

From the Washington Post, on how the news media have blamed both parties, wrongly, for the debt impasse.

Good coverage on this topic from the Washington Monthly, at the time of the Arizona shooting, when the Republican gun-rights and violent-language crowd were very aggressive and dominated the news cycle. There was a tradition among rival mobs in Chicago in the 1920s to send enormous floral tributes to the families of mobsters they'd rubbed out. I am reminded of this wonderful tradition when I hear Republicans commenting on deplorable events like oil spills and mass shootings.

Here's a round up of very good commentary at the time of the Arizona shooting spree, with astute comments by a Gulf Coast blogger.

This column by Bob Cesca discusses how the news media carefully hides Republican hypocrisy, spreading it around, damning all politicians. Apparently to avoid embarrassing Republican officeholders. What other reason could there be?

Discover magazine attacks the Republican war on science––and the media's refusal to report it. Most Americans have the wrong understanding of key scientific issues of our day, mostly because the news media have avoided informing them in clear terms. And this avoidance isn't accidental. It happens because of intense pressure from powerful industrial and religious groups and their party of choice. Galileo would have a very hard time with today's Republicans.

This excellent piece by Neil Buchanan, law professor at George Washington University, dissects a pernicious outgrowth of the False Equivalency problem: the tendency of columnists (like Thomas Friedman of the New York Times) to declare a pox on both parties and call for a third party. A stupid idea in a non-parliamentary system that already is having a hard time compromising. Friedman wrongly suggests that the middle is vacant. Any Democrat could tell you their representatives have tried so hard to find middle ground, there's some real concern they've lost track of their original principles. Until the Republicans devoted themselves to destroying our system it used to work pretty well, through compromise, and most Americans ask for and expect compromise. But because of how politics is reported, compromise is punished and extremism is given a free pass. These days it is almost entirely extremism with a Republican face.

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