Newsweek Blames the People

A headline over an Evan Thomas story in this week’s Newsweek (3/8/10) tells us: “We the Problem: Washington Is Working Just Fine. It’s Us That’s Broken.”

Thomas blames, among other things, “our ‘got mine’ culture of entitlement,” adding:

Politicians, never known for their bravery, precisely represent the people. Our leaders are paralyzed by the very thought of asking their constituents to make short-term sacrifices for long-term rewards. They cannot bring themselves to raise taxes on the middle class or cut Social Security and medical benefits for the elderly. They’d get clobbered at the polls. So any day of reckoning gets put off, and put off again, and the debts pile up.

Now that’s the problem–the middle class needs to pay more taxes, and everyone should get less from Social Security. These are very familar “hard truths” you hearfrom corporate pundits. Thomas goes on to finger “the college hookup culture,” and suggests that Obama should give in to Republican demands on “tort reform” in order to make progress on healthcare–an offer Obama has actually already made, with no discernible response from Republicans.

Theblame-the-people narrativewas echoed in Jon Meacham‘s editor’s note, wherehe advised that we should “own up to the reality that Washington is not an abstraction but a mirror. Our political life is a reflection of who we are, no matter how unattractive we may find the image looking back at us. Washington is an expression, not a thwarting, of the will of the people.”

It’s odd for journalists to conclude that Washington politics is a perfect expression of Americans’ political views. If it were, one would have to think that Congressional approval ratings would be somewhat higher, and that political outcomes would be very different. The public consistently favors higher taxes for the wealthy, for example–but don’t hold your breath waiting for pundits to take up that cause.

Meacham goes on to illustrate this misguided notionby comparing Obama’s healthcare reform drive with George W. Bush’s push to privatize Social Security. The two are apparently similar in that they were both about reforming the system, and Americans prefer the status quo. It’s hard to know what to say about that, though one could point out that the threat to the country’s fiscal well-being posed bythe rising costs of healthcare are significantly greater than anything having to do with Social Security.

Meacham also warns readersnot to idealize the past, though, sinceurgent political problems weren’t solved back then either:

The first report predicting a crisis in Social Security was released 35 years ago, but the fabled bipartisanship of ages past produced only incremental fixes. If more had been accomplished, it would not be an issue today.

That crisis was handled with tax increases that created a multi-trillion dollar surplus for Social Security. The only reasonSocial Security remains “an issue today” is due to journalists like Meacham making it one, usually by misleading people about the program’s imminent collapse.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.