Seeing What they Want to See

Rich Tucker
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Posted: Jul 31, 2010 12:01 AM
Seeing What they Want to See

            Perhaps the greatest trap opinion columnists fall into is when we disconnect from reality and simply pretend the world is the way we see it. We all do this, but some are more susceptible than others.

Take David Brooks, who’s supposed to be the in-house conservative voice of The New York Times op-ed page.

“What would happen if Obama sidestepped the fruitless and short-term stimulus debate and instead focused on the long term?” Brooks mused on July 26. Um, David, where’ve you been these last 18 months? Everything about President Obama’s agenda is “focused on the long term.”

His health care “reform” law creates a massive new entitlement that can only grow as the years go by. Sure, candidate Obama tried to convince voters that he intended to “bend the cost curve.” But the law he ultimately signed is heavy on spending promises and light on spending cuts. Unless conservatives manage to repeal the law, we could be stuck with a single-payer health care system in a decade or so.

The president’s financial reform bill followed a similar path.

Everyone agrees we don’t want to repeat the 2008 meltdown in the markets. The law that passed, though, doesn’t directly address the real problem: that some banks are “too big to fail” and can thus always count on federal bailouts.

Instead, the law creates a bunch of new regulatory agencies. They’ll spend the next couple of years (long term enough for you?) writing rules and regulations that businesses will have to abide by. Thus, corporations can look forward to several quarters of uncertainty and regulators can look forward to several years of heavy lobbying by wealthy interests.

Even the man who wrote the bill isn’t sure it’ll work. “We don't know ultimately how well the ideas we’ve incorporated here will achieve the results we desire,” Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said. “It will take the next economic crisis, as certainly it will come, to determine whether or not the provisions of this bill will actually provide this generation or the next generation of regulators with the tools necessary to minimize the effects of that crisis when it happens.”

Other long-term policies remain on the burner. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., insists he’ll keep pushing for a cap-and-trade bill similar to one the House of Representatives already passed. It would supposedly deal with “global climate change,” and that, of course, is the ultimate long-term concern. The bill would impose massive taxes and regulations immediately, while any benefits would be seen years, if not decades, from now.

Finally, on spending.

Obama’s first action was to ram through an $800 billion-plus “stimulus” plan. It was supposed to create millions of jobs right away. That’s what a stimulating stimulus package would do. Instead, The Wall Street Journal editorialized, “about 12 cents of every $1 [the bill spends] is for something that can plausibly be considered a growth stimulus.” The rest? “This is a political wonder that manages to spend money on just about every pent-up Democratic proposal of the last 40 years,” the paper said.

Another columnist who’s seeing what he wants to is Dana Milbank at The Washington Post. On July 18, he was worked up over a single billboard in Iowa, “depicting three leaders: Adolf Hitler (with swastika), Vladimir Lenin (with hammer and sickle) and Barack Obama (with 2008 campaign logo). Over Hitler were the words ‘National Socialism,’ over Lenin was ‘Marxist Socialism’ and over Obama was ‘Democrat Socialism.’”

This isn’t to defend that sign. It certainly went too far. However, it’s one sign in a nation full of tea partiers. Milbank is eager to pretend that all conservatives are culpable for the actions of a handful.

“At the moment, the anger pendulum has swung far in the conservative direction, and accusations that once were beyond the pale -- not just talk of Nazis and Marxists but intimations of tyranny, revolution and bloodshed -- are now routine,” he wrote.

It’s worth wondering where this righteous anger was during the George W. Bush years. A quick Google image search for “George W. Bush, Hitler,” finds “About 820,000 results (0.58 seconds).” A blogger provides more photographic examples of left-wing protesters comparing the elected president and the mass-murdering dictator.

Of course, the Bush years also featured an award-winning film about the president being assassinated and a novel about killing Bush. All this context makes the silly Iowa sign seem far less consequential. Maybe that’s why Milbank left it out.

Orwell declared that, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” Please bear with us columnizers as we struggle away.