In elite media, the way to make people know you’re mad about something is to express your disgust at the failure of both parties to “get something done.” What the “something” is doesn’t matter as much as your own conviction that the political parties have become hopelessly polarized, and that serious leaders are needed to find the Sensible Center.
Another way of looking at things is that the Republican party is fundamentally intransigent, on issues large and small. And the Democratic
party–led by the current White House–is prone to moving to the right in order to appeal to Republican sensibilities, to no avail.
If you take the former view, and ignore the the political reality expressed in the latter view, what that means is that the “center” that you seek to locate between the two major parties is constantly shifting to the right.
Enter New York Times columnist David Brooks, who today (2/22/13) wrote one more exhausting column about the partisan dysfunction in Washington. Both parties, instead of coming to a Brooks-approved compromise, are doing dances. Literally: Republicans do the Suicidal Stage Dive, Democrats do the P.C. Shimmy and the Permanent Campaign Shimmy. (Take my word on this, please).
But the column is about fiscal crises, not dance moves:
Under the Permanent Campaign Shimmy, the president identifies a problem. Then he declines to come up with a proposal to address the problem. Then he comes up with a vague-but-politically-convenient concept that doesn’t address the problem (let’s raise taxes on the rich). Then he goes around the country blasting the opposition for not having as politically popular a concept. Then he returns to Washington and congratulates himself for being the only serious and substantive person in town.
Sequestration allows the White House to do this all over again. The president hasn’t actually come up with a proposal to avert sequestration, let alone one that is politically plausible.
He does have a vague and politically convenient concept. (Tax increases on the rich!)
This struck some readers as odd, since Obama does actually have a plan that involves more than tax increases on the rich, one that he talks about all the time. As Jon Chait of New York magazine wrote about Brooks’ column:
This is demonstrably false. Whatever you think about the substantive merits of Obama’s plan, it does exist. Obama has a proposal to replace sequestration with long-term deficit reduction that includes a mix of entitlement spending cuts and higher revenue. He talks about it all the time. Here is the plan. Yesterday the administration reiterated that it continues to stand behind this offer.
So when Brooks writes that Obama “declines to come up with a proposal” other than raising taxes on the rich, and in reality he has proposed a plan, that merits a correction, right?
Maybe. But when you’re a New York Times columnist, apparently you get to play by a different rulebook. So if you go to read Brooks’ column now, you see this at the end:
Postscript: February 22, 2013
The above column was written in a mood of justified frustration over the fiscal idiocy that is about to envelop the nation. But in at least one respect I let my frustration get the better of me. It is true, as the director of the Congressional Budget Office has testified, that the administration has not proposed a specific anti-sequester proposal that can be scored or passed into law. It is not fair to suggest, as I did, that tax hikes for the rich is the sole content of the president’s approach. The White House has proposed various constructive changes to spending levels and entitlement programs. These changes are not nearly adequate in my view, but they do exist, and I should have acknowledged the balanced and tough-minded elements in the president’s approach.
All right, he was angry. And believe me, readers, you wouldn’t like David Brooks when he’s angry.
And that frustration lead him to write that something that exists–that he more or less supports–doesn’t exist at all. What happened during factchecking? Did an editor ask to see his proof, but get scared off by his rage? Or do Times columnists have the freedom to write what they please, no matter what reality says?