Thursday, June 30, 2011

Who's being a dick?

The trivial part of today's story, which of course is the part that is getting all the attention, is the following: In describing President Obama's news conference yesterday, Mark Halperin called the president an inappropriate name on TV; they forgot to bleep it out; he apologized; and now he is suspended.

That is not the really outrageous part of the story however. The outrageous part of the story, as others such as Steve Benen have noted, was the substance of the commentary itself. Even if Halperin had used a more polite term, why on earth would he be singling out the president for criticism merely because the president called out the Republicans for engaging in completely unfair negotiating tactics? 

According to Halperin, if the president criticizes the Republican leadership for refusing to consider tax increases as part of a budget deal, and for playing a dangerous game of brinksmanship with the credit of the United States of America, he's being kind of a dick.

But if John Boehner says that tax increases must be off the table in any budget negotiations, he's not being a dick?

If Eric Cantor walks out of the budget negotiations because somebody dared to use the word "taxes," he's not being a dick?

If Mitch McConnell says we can't throw any additional tax revenue into the mix, he's not being a dick?

If House Republicans threaten to refuse to increase the debt limit, thereby triggering the first US default in history, a spike in interest rates, and possibly global recession, they're not being dicks?

I'm trying to imagine what would have happened if the Democrats in Congress during the last couple years of the Bush administration had refused en masse to vote to raise the debt ceiling (the debt ceiling was raised seven times during the Bush administration), unless the administration agreed to accept the Democratic position on some issue--taxes, spending, Iraq, whatever. And I'm not supposing that the Democrats were advocating for a compromise. What if the Democrats had said it has to be their way or the highway? That there was no way that they would accept even a tiny bit of the other side's ideas. Now suppose that President Bush had responded that he thought the Democrats were being a tad unreasonable by demanding that the Republican-controlled Senate, and the administration, must accept entirely the position of the Democratic-controlled House. Or suppose President Bush had responded that the Democrats should not be playing politics with the credit of the United States of America. Is there any chance in the world that anyone in the mainstream media would have said it was the PRESIDENT who was kind of a dick?


  1. Well Joe, I think the Democrats are pretty screwed on this one. The Republicans can hold out on the debt ceiling thing, or any divisive policy decision, because all they have to do is say "the people spoke by electing us, and now the Democrats are disregarding that."

    Whether or not that's true doesn't really make much of a difference. They will be able to say that they stuck to their principles for as long as possible, but at the last moment they acquiesced a bit in order to keep America safe until we can reach a real solution. It's actually a logical argument, and it's one I'd use to get reelected.

    I think he called Obama a dick for calling them out because Obama is a politician, just as they are, and such tactics are not beneath him. It's like harping on your opponent for putting brass knuckles in his boxing gloves when you're wearing brass knuckles, too.

    The Democrats are just as wiley as the Republicans (Budget Reconciliation on HCR, anyone?), so to call out the political strategy of your oponent as if you've never engaged in such demogoguery is pretty ridiculous, I think.

  2. In my view, Dems and Repubs as groups (and to a great extent the individuals Obama and Bush), are quite similar. They choose to fund endless wars, none will confront China, they supported bank bailouts, they will not seriously confront our wasteful energy practices, they favor state funded house subsidies and they will not confront too big to fail. These are sructural issues that continue to threaten our way of life and both parties are watching; choosing to pont fingers on what they disagree about.

    There are a few elected officials in Washington who challenge both parties to change their approach. One is Dennis Kucinich. Another is Ron Paul. Another would be Bernie Sanders. Another is Tom Coburn. Some on the left, some on the right and some Libertarians are speaking out. But not enough.

  3. I say they raise the debt ceiling $1 for every $1 they cut in spending.

  4. Of course that is exactly what the Republicans are demanding, Harrison. But they are not cutting spending this year. They already passed the budget, and it contains a pretty big deficit, so they need to raise the debt ceiling this year regardless of what they can agree to do in the future.

    Also I wonder why nobody ever demanded that rule when they raised the debt ceiling about 7 or 8 times when Bush was president.

    But why should it be all cuts, Harrison? I know that is what you personally favor, but this is a democracy, and there are a lot of people who think we can and should balance the budget by raising revenue. Why do their preferences count for nothing?

  5. Well I must refer you to this NY Times article:

    Americans Favor Budget Cuts Over Raising Corporate Tax

  6. I think if you ask people in a poll whether they favor a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, a substantial number would say yes. Plus anyone who has studied the issue knows you can't balance the budget by cuts alone unless you are prepared to gut Medicare, and that idea isn't exactly popular.

    Another point I would add about the idea of cutting one dollar of spending for every dollar of increasing the deficit: the math doesn't add up. If you cut a dollar of government spending you do not get a dollar of deficit reduction. There reason is that for every dollar of cuts, you reduce government revenue and you also add to some government expenditures. For example, if the Pentagon cancels a contract for a new weapons system to help cut spending, that will put hundreds of factory workers out of work. When that happens, the government loses about a third of their income that would have gone to pay federal income taxes. And the government has to assume some increased costs such as unemployment insurance, and food stamps. Which means you actually have to cut way more than a dollar of government spending to get a dollar's worth of deficit reduction. Which starts a whole vicious cycle to the point where those cuts start hurting our infrastructure and destroying our economy.

    Conservatives understand that when you cut a dollar of taxes, you do not necessarily get a dollar's worth of revenue loss because you might create some economic benefit. They should also understand that when you cut a dollar of government spending, you do not necessarily get a dollar's worth of deficit reduction. When you throw people out of work, you actually increase the deficit.