“I don’t see the liberal bias,” Aaron Sorkin told USA Today ahead of the premiere of the HBO drama The Newsroom. “What I do see is a bias toward fairness, a bias toward neutrality, a bias toward false equivalency. That if a Republican has lied, it’s important that we find a Democrat who’s lied and make them equal, whether they are or not.”
Most of us have been raised to believe that there are two sides to every story, and the truth lies somewhere in the middle. And that’s simply not always the case. Sometimes there are five sides to a story, but sometimes there’s just one. Sometimes the truth doesn’t lie in the middle, it lies squarely on one side or the other.
Thus, a call to action was conceived. A sanctified and revered canon put to words. It rang so true to partisan journalists who had grown tired of having to take the arguments of those they disagreed with seriously that it was immediately adopted as an operating principle. There is no better example of the desire among progressive opinion writers to safeguard this creed, and shame those who deviate from it, than the political debate over the sequester as the latest in a seemingly endless cascade of budgetary crises the nation has confronted over the last two years.
But as blasphemous apostates emerge to challenge this concept from within progressive circles, the true believers are confronted with a crisis: do they embrace a diversity of viewpoints or mock them? The impulse, thus far, appears to be mockery.
Ezra Klein, a Washington Post economics blogger known to have the ear of the president’s advisors (and vice versa), wrote last Friday that the idea that both sides are equally to blame for the controversial sequester is simply untrue. He notes that, on page 34 of the president’s most recent budget proposal, President Barack Obama’s administration proposes new changes to Medicare that would extend the program’s longevity. “Privately, administration officials say they’d be willing to go quite a bit further,” Klein says.
Woe, the Republicans – set in their ways and impervious to logic – refuse to compromise with the president on tax revenue increases. In Klein’s estimation, this is the singular impediment to progress and national comity.
In fact, from the 30,000 foot perspective denied the political operatives and partisan opinion makers in Washington, the Congressional GOP’s willingness to compromise is self-evident. In spite of the regular howls of Democrats that the Republicans simply cannot accept the 2012 presidential election results, their actions have proven otherwise.
As Real Clear Politics’ Sean Trende notes, 217 House Republicans, a majority of the lower chamber, were sent to Washington from districts where a majority of voters backed Mitt Romney. They feel no political pressure to compromise on their principled objection to taking more capital out of the private economy through taxation.
And still these Republicans acquiesced to the president’s demand for new tax increases in the beginning of the year; including marginal income tax rates, the reduction or elimination of personal deductions, a hike in the investment tax rate, and a tax on business investment. The GOP even agreed to a 5 percent increase in the estate tax for estates valued at $5 million or more. That conservatives view this tax as virtually unconstitutional due to its taxation of the same dollar twice (taxed already once as income or investment gains) was a painful concession. They are due credit for their willingness to bend in the face of the president’s electoral mandate. They were given none.
The gate keepers tasked with preserving the political narrative favored in the White House – wherein an intransigent GOP views compromise with Obama as an abomination — are now faced with insurrection.
In fact, the conceptual paternity of sequester was bipartisan. Both sides agreed that Congress should set in motion an automatic deficit-cutting scheme so draconian that it would force a divided Washington to come together around some sane compromise. The scandal is that Washington is so incapable of adult behavior that it can do the right thing only if it is staring down the barrel of a shotgun — and, it turns out, not even then.
“[I]f you care about the long-term health of the country, the president has more to answer for than just inventing a particular type of fiscal time bomb,” Keller wrote. “The large mess we are in is in no small part the result of missed opportunities and political miscalculation at 1600 Pennsylvania.”
On Monday, storied NBC newsman Tom Brokaw broke from orthodoxy and dinged Obama and Republicans for the failures that led to the sequester. When confronted by MSNBC host Touré preaching the ecclesiastical belief that the Republicans alone refuse to work with the president, Brokaw dismissed that notion outright. “I think the president, by my lights at least, spent entirely too much time in the last two weeks campaigning, in effect, out around the country,” Brokaw said.
Being that Keller and Brokaw enjoy a nearly unassailable stature, they could not be taken on directly by the hagiographers in the nation’s progressive opinion journals. Then Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson showed his willingness to preach the heretical concept that both Republicans and the president are to blame for lack of compromise.
“Republicans are correct when they say: Come on, get real, we’re talking about an across-the-board cut of $85 billion, just 2 percent of the budget. While they’re wrong to claim that a cut of this magnitude will be painless, they’re right to point out that the republic will not crumble into dust,” Robinson wrote.
Robinson, a once reliable guardian of the gospel but nevertheless impeachable in a way Keller and Brokaw are not, was mocked. Senior Washington correspondent for The Huffington Post, Dan Froomkin, chided Robinson for joining “blame-both-sides coalition.” Assistant to the President of the United States and the White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer got in the game as well, mocking Robinson’s column as a “joke.”
Progressives should be careful not to fall for meretricious arguments that theirs is the only virtuous position in the arguments for and against targeted federal spending cuts. It has already blinded many in their ranks to the idea that their opponents’ arguments may be valid and their motives pure. While public opinion is on their side, this is a consequence-free position to hold. However, with the winds shifting – as told in public opinion polling showing voters perfectly willing to cast doubt on the competence of both parties in Washington – progressives risk becoming lost in the echo chamber. Their arguments will increasingly strain credulity. Their willingness to think critically will become ever more impaired.
But those are concerns for a later day. Today, it is the heretic Robinson who must be severely admonished for straying from the tenets of the church of false equivalency. After all, if his heterodoxy is allowed to stand, who knows where it may lead?
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