Post’s False Equivalence on Obama Budget

Not EqualThe Washington Post published an editorial this morning, It’s the GOP’s Turn to be Serious with the Budget. With a title like that, you would think it would be a great read and a strong statement. Instead, it is almost entirely false equivalence, because, I guess, the Post doesn’t want to lose its status as a Very Serious Newspaper. But they couldn’t just pretend that the president hadn’t offered the Republicans what they wanted in entitlement cuts.

Let me go through the editorial, because it really is pretty much all bad. It starts with a statement about why we don’t get “compromise”—that great end in itself that all the professional centrists hold as the highest good. They follow this by attacking the National Rifle Association and the Sierra Club for valuing purity over governing. Note the false equivalence here? The NRA has manage to make even the tiniest of gun law reforms impossible. All the environmental groups combined couldn’t even get a permanent ban on deep water oil drilling after 13 million gallons of oil were spilled in the Gulf of Mexico. But that isn’t even my main problem with the Post’s attack. Interest groups are not in the business of “the art of the possible.” The NRA should be just as pure as it is. The problem is how the politicians treat these groups. In the case of the Sierra Club, it is about right. In the case of the NRA, it is out of all proportion to its actual power. But that’s not the NRA’s fault.

Next, the Post discusses how difficult the politics of the retiring baby boomers is. This is not true. There is no problem with Social Security. There is a problem with Medicare, but that’s just our broken healthcare system that is going to bring down our entire nation if it doesn’t get fixed. It is not a retirement problem. Any of the minor problems we may have could be fixed with a little more in taxes: raise the payroll tax cap! But the Post won’t even acknowledge that solution.

Here’s a great sentence that shows entirely where the Post is coming from: “Republicans want entitlement reform; Democrats want higher taxes.” Do you see that? Republicans want “reform” not “cuts” while the Democrats want “higher taxes” not “revenue reform.” Euphemisms for the unpopular conservative ideas and blunt reporting of the unpopular liberal ideas. Balance!

Finally, in the fourth paragraph, we get a sentence where the Post editors compliment the president: “President Obama’s proposed budget has taken a big step toward acknowledging reality.” Note that it doesn’t acknowledge reality, just takes a step toward it. This sentence is followed immediately with, “No, it’s not big enough.” And they spend the rest of the paragraph complaining about how unrealistic Obama’s plan is.

The next paragraph is probably the best in terms of looking at the situation objectively. The editorial states, “But Mr. Obama has injected a courageous note of realism where the Republicans so far have shown none.” And then, like the Serious Centrists they are, they celebrate the fact that the president’s base has greeted these cuts with horror. Nothing makes a professional centrist happier than a policy that makes liberals unhappy.

Now we get to the hypocrisy section of the editorial. The Post goes after Republican leaders for responding dismissively. For example, they note that Mitch McConnell said that the cuts were too modest. What is the Post’s problem with that statement? What all Republican leaders are saying (with the notable exception of Greg Walden) is exactly what the Post is saying: a good start but not enough—not nearly enough.

The rest of the editorial is just a call to all the “reasonable” Republicans (who the Post somehow “knows” exist) to step up to the plate. Strangely, they applaud John Boehner because he used the word “encouraging” even though he also explicitly said it was “the least we could do.” But you know the false equivalence brigade: if they say something nice about Obama, they’ve got to say something nice about Boehner. It’s the law!

What the Washington Post is trying to do in this editorial is push back against liberals like me who wrote that Obama’s gambit would not win the praise of the Serious Centrists. But they’ve only managed to prove us right. We never said that they would just dismiss Obama out of hand. In their minds Obama has taken the first step on a long journey, but he is still miles away from the promised land of Compromisia. So the calculus is: Obama dumping all over the wishes of his base equals Boehner saying it is “encouraging.”

That Obama budget really turned things around, didn’t it?!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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