NewsHour viewers last night (9/9/10) might have been surprised to see a long one-on-one conversation with far-right activist/lobbyist Dick Armey, promoting his new book, Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto.
The interview gave Armey ample room to explain the Tea Party movement's beliefs, with host Judy Woodruff offering no real challenge to any of Armey's rhetoric–like when he claimed that Tea Party activists are "probably the kindest, gentlest, most gentle souls we ever saw. We had a million of them in town last September, and they left the town cleaner than they found it."
Armey is wildly exaggerating the size of that Tea Party protest. (It's not the first time his group has done so.) That makes some sense, though, considering that FreedomWorks has been intimately involved with organizing, training and in some cases directing these activists.
A more helpful assessment of Armey's work appeared on many PBS stations last year, courtesy of the Bill Moyers Journal (9/18/09), which pointedout that Armey's stirring calls for getting the government out of our lives and away from our healthcare are difficult to square with Armey's reliance on government healthcare benefits throughout his career–first as a professor at a state university, and then as a Congressman:
And when he retired from Congress 18 years later, he was insured by that plan until he turned 66 and Medicare, another government program, kicked in…. You can't blame him for keeping his government health plan. It's great. It gave him a lot of options, dozens of private insurers to choose from, and with 8 million members in it, the federal government's got the muscle to negotiate some of the best premiums and drug prices in the country.
And there's more:
Now get this: Dick Armey thought so much of that federal health plan–the Cadillac of coverage–that he tried to keep it as his primary carrier, instead of that other federal program, Medicare.
Mr. Armey wanted an option. A government option. How about that?
But he couldn't get out of Medicare without losing his Social Security (they're hitched together–you give up one, you give up both), so he's suing to divorce the two…. And now he says he's happy to buy his health insurance on his own.
That bit of history would have been helpful for NewsHour viewers who had to listen to Armey denounce Social Security and Medicare for being mandatory: "Let all subscription to government support and assistance programs be voluntary." Huh.
PBS anchor Judy Woodruff had a message for viewers at the close of the interview–they'll be interviewing "liberal Democrat" Arianna Huffington to get a "very different perspective." But "balance" isn't really the problem here. There are countless authors who've written interesting political books who deserve airtime; why grant a soft interview to someone like Dick Armey, who has no problem airing his views on commercial media? Huffington has plenty of opportunities to share her views as well. (She runs a rather popular website, for starters.) Remember the point of public broadcasting is to strive to "provide a voice for groups in the community that may otherwise be unheard." A politician-turned-corporate lobbyist wouldn't seem to qualify.