Monday, August 15, 2011

Really Now, The Same?

The television spot assures us they’re “the best journalists in the world.... and there’s no debating that.” Not all of them, or at least not all the time, live up to the billing.

Matt Bai, falling into the abyss of ideological equivalence, maintains voters reject “dogmatic doctrine” and yearn for leaders “knowing a good deal when you see one and having the courage to say so.” He thought it unexceptional that when Fox News’ Brett Baier asked the GOP debate participants Thursday night to raise their hands if they would accept “a deal, a real spending cuts deal, 10 to one, as -- as Byron said, spending cuts to tax increases,” everyone raised his or her hand. Believing the two sides are equally at fault, Bai remarks

If this were merely a Republican phenomenon, the party would be alone in suffering the wrath of the average American voter. But it isn’t. You could have put a lot of Washington Democrats up on that stage, and asked them if they would have accepted $10 in new taxes or new stimulus in exchange for $1 in cuts to Social Security, and you probably would have gotten much the same response: hell, no.

To that, Matt Yglesias responds:

Could you have? Which Democrats? How many of them are there? Do they hold leadership positions that make them worth comparing to the unanimous consensus of GOP primary candidates? Has Bai actually asked any of them about this? Given that Bai finds this mentality deplorable, doesn’t he have an obligation to tell us who specifically holds it so that well-meaning Democrats can prevent them from dominating the party? How does it help me to know that “many” Democrats “probably” would have offered “much the same” response if I don’t know which ones and what they actually think?

Moreover, the questions are not analogous. In Bai’s formulation, Democrats are asked whether they’d accept a $1 cut to their signature, and wildly popular, program in return for $10 in tax increases. Even so, many Democrats- including the #1 Democrat, President Obama (who floated the idea of Social Security cuts as part of the debt agreement), would accept the deal. The analogous question to Republicans would be: would you accept $1 in new taxes for every $10 in defense cuts? Even then, a unanimous show of rigidity would be telling, but at least a little rational. Instead, they were offered an agreement with 91% spending cuts- and, demonstrating their commitment to deficit reduction, turned it down.

But there are two reasons Democrats might turn down $10 in new taxes for each dollar in Social Security cuts. It could have occurred to Bai that most Democrats are not enthusiastic about new taxes. But also: Social Security, with its own source of funding, has nothing to do with the deficit. Conflating the two, as Bai so cheerfully does, feeds the myth that Social Security contributes to the national debt. It does not, and one would have expected he among “the best journalists in the world” to know that and not to play this increasingly popular game of deceit.

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