Saturday, July 30, 2011

Debt Threats and the Imaginary Middle

I rattled off a tweet earlier in the week, whilst watching the debt ceiling debate continue to unravel, that wondered whether the business community had any regrets now that the Tea Party folks they helped get into Congress are very close to torpedoing the global economy. And that question becomes even more relevant with today's news that Sen. Jim DeMint, king of the Tea Party crazy over in the Senate, is willing to hold up the whole thing unless he gets an impossible-to-pass balanced budget constitutional amendment through the congress ("Give me what I want, or the economy gets it!").

There are a whole lot of things wrong in this debate, starting with the Tea Party getting drunk on its own ideological Kool-Aid and the Obama Administration's many tactical missteps -- including the failure to decouple spending cuts in the budget with debt limit increases, the decision to take the 14th Amendment off the table as a possible way out of this, and most egregiously, for buying into the GOP's erroneous "austerity or nothing" framing. But as Paul Krugman explains, perhaps the most wrong of all comes from the media's unwillingness/inability to tackle this debate honestly without having to couch it in terms of a mythical "balance" that, at least in the case of this particular issue, doesn't really exist.

Says Krugman:
Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. As you may know, President Obama initially tried to strike a “Grand Bargain” with Republicans over taxes and spending. To do so, he not only chose not to make an issue of G.O.P. extortion, he offered extraordinary concessions on Democratic priorities: an increase in the age of Medicare eligibility, sharp spending cuts and only small revenue increases. As The Times’s Nate Silver pointed out, Mr. Obama effectively staked out a position that was not only far to the right of the average voter’s preferences, it was if anything a bit to the right of the average Republican voter’s preferences.

But Republicans rejected the deal. So what was the headline on an Associated Press analysis of that breakdown in negotiations? “Obama, Republicans Trapped by Inflexible Rhetoric.” A Democratic president who bends over backward to accommodate the other side — or, if you prefer, who leans so far to the right that he’s in danger of falling over — is treated as being just the same as his utterly intransigent opponents. Balance!
The irony, of course, is that in several areas (national security, foreign policy), Obama has maintained virtual parity with his immediate predecessor, and those areas where there are differences (such as tax policy) are just trying to take things back to the sensible (!!) Reagan model. But you'd never know that from the fire and brimstone emanating from the far right (much of which goes unanswered thanks, again, to that need for so-called balance). So while there's plenty of blame to parcel out as the debt talks click down to zero, at least some of the blame for how bad things have gotten can be laid at the media's feet for their failure to call things as they are.

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