Political prognosticator Charlie Cook appeared on National Public Radio on July 11 and summarized perfectly the media narrative on the debt-limit battle. Speaker John Boehner, Cook said, "is not a burn-the-barn-down, break-the-china kind of guy, (and) he does not necessarily reflect the views of a majority ... of the House Republican Conference, who are of the burn-the-barn-down, break-the-china mold."
Hold on here. Why is it destructive to insist on a limited government? Why is fiscal sanity equated with pyromania? Cook was brought on as a "nonpartisan" analyst, but there's nothing either civil or accurate in casting conservatives as barnburners.
This is the "nonpartisan" Washington narrative of the budget talks: Reasonable Obama vs. Dangerously Unhinged Republicans. The establishment is imbibing deeply of the David Plouffe spin that somehow, a reckless, unsupervised Congress spent all the money and Barack Obama was too busy golfing to notice, as if he didn't sign every spending bill. It's as if he didn't aggressively shovel Obamacare and almost a trillion dollars of "stimulus" on top of the deficit mountain.
Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen got the ball rolling on July 4 by describing the GOP as the "Grand Old Cult" that needs a "mental health professional," and its presidential field was "a virtual political Jonestown."
On July 5, MSNBC star Chris Matthews started "Hardball" by comparing conservative Republicans to foreign Islamic militants: "Well, the GOP has become the Wahhabis of American government, willing to risk bringing down the whole country in the service of their anti-tax ideology." They were "willing to risk economic Armageddon in the name of religion -- that is, the religion of no taxes." By the next morning, Newsweek editor-in-chief Tina Brown upped the ante and called the Republicans "suicide bombers."
So who, exactly, is unhinged in this debate?
On NBC, White House "reporter" Chuck Todd pointed fingers: The problem was that new "tea party caucus" that can't back "anything that remotely looks like a tax hike on anybody." Ever heard of liberal Democrats who can't back "anything that remotely looks like you spent less than last year"?
That so-called "conservative" David Brooks -- please, please (SET ITAL) stop (END ITAL) this "conservative" silliness! -- also wrote a column on July 4 for The New York Times trashing tea party types for wanting to file a "psychological protest" instead of governing. They have "no sense of moral decency" about debt.
How ridiculous and perverse it is for Brooks to insist they don't care about debt -- and Obama does! Did Brooks spend the past two years in a cocoon of hermetically sealed ignorance?
Brooks claimed that Obama is desperate to campaign in 2012 as a "moderate" and would love to make a sweet deal for the Republicans that would provide, we are told, "a roughly 3-to-1 rate of spending cuts to revenue increases, an astonishing concession." The biggest, most reckless spender in the history of the republic, by far, and he's a "moderate." What would it take to label this man a liberal?
For conservatives who remember the budget negotiations of 1990, this whole routine is nauseatingly familiar. The media are playing the exact same role today that they did then. They all encouraged Bush One to be a savvy dealmaker and forget that troublesome "read my lips, no new taxes" pledge. We were all told that deal would be two dollars in spending cuts for every dollar in tax hikes. Ditto with Reagan and Tip O'Neill in 1982.
The media want complete amnesia about what happens next. In both cases, spending (and the deficit) surged upward, which is what happens when the Democrats make big "compromises." Bush lost in 1992, due in part to angry conservative voters who believed his campaign promises.
Here's what our media could be asking, but they won't, since it constitutes a serious question. If Obama really believed in a "balanced" menu of tax hikes and spending cuts, why didn't he pass all these tax hikes he's now touting when Democrats were solidly in control in 2009 and 2010? Obama never made any plans to "pay for" his "stimulus" with new taxes, and he even claimed Obamacare would reduce the deficit, which was a cruel farce. And isn't he now touting tax hikes on taxpayers making less than $250,000 -- another broken promise? Does no reporter care to notice that would violate his "no new taxes except on the super-rich" promises of 2008?
Instead, Obama is allowed to hold press conferences and lecture the Republicans about how they're not serious about deficit reduction. Obama is allowed to paint himself as the troubled centrist who's been cursed with an opposing party stuffed with extremists.
This time, I'm not sure anyone's buying what the left-wing press is selling.