Time magazine's current issue has nice cover art referencing the Republicans' government shutdown and their threat of defaulting on the national debt, but the featured article by Michael Scherer and Alex Altman replicates the same false equivalency to which too many journalists who know better are wedded.
You could be certain that the attitude of Cokie Roberts and other mainstream opinion makers would be arguing the polar opposite of what they've been saying lately if a gang of 40 or so radical Democrats highjacked the House of Representatives, shut down the government, and threatened to ruin the world economy until a Republican president gave into their demands.
These same pundits would be detailing every angle of the anti-democratic precedent such a move would create. If the shoe were on the other foot the squawking among the pundit class about the affront to the Constitution these tactics represented would be deafening.
But according to Time's Scherer and Altman:
Republicans speak to Republicans, Democrats to Democrats, the hard right and the hard left comfortably cushioned from any obligation to reach out to anyone - leaving the rest of the country with no one to speak to them, or for them.
But who is this "hard left" that Scherer and Altman are writing about? And when did this "hard left" ever shut down the federal government and threaten to default on the national debt to win concessions from a Republican president? It has never happened. Yet there it is plucked from the ether to provide a "centrist" balance to their reportage.
And the President -- who is elected by the entire country -- seemed content to be a bystander to the game.
Really? President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate have already agreed to the sequester budget numbers for the Continuing Resolution to re-open the federal government. Obama has been speaking out against the Republican shutdown and default threat in a way that frames the conflict in far more truthful terms than the Republican mouthpieces, which at this point (a week into the manufactured crisis) are clearly flailing.
Was the president "contented" to be "a bystander to the game" when he spoke recently in Rockville, Maryland? I don't think so.
In paragraph 14, Scherer and Altman write that "hard-liners sabotaged a committee to reconcile the two spending plans," but they leave it to Time readers to figure out which "hard-liners," Democrats or Republicans, were responsible. Guess what? Republicans torpedoed the Senate's calls for a budget conference for about six months, but you wouldn't know that from Scherer and Altman's reportage.
More recently, Senate majority leader Harry Reid threatened to blow up Senate rules if Republicans did not allow the confirmation of a gaggle of presidential appointees. The Republicans blinked.
This portrait erases the Senate Republicans' obstructionism that preceded Senator Reid's stance and also ignores the record number of unfilled judicial and other appointments under President Obama the Republicans in the Senate have blocked. Here Scherer and Altman provide no context and impose a false equivalency that paints Reid as the Big Meanie threatening "to blow up Senate rules" as if he did so out of partisanship instead of trying to restore a semblance of dignity to the Senate after the historic Republican abuse of the filibuster.
Later in the piece, Scherer and Altman inform Time readers that Senator Reid "has egged on the GOP infighting and eschewed any negotiations." Yet again they fail to mention that the Senate and President Obama have already agreed to the sequester budget so there's really nothing to "negotiate" as the situation stands right now.
"[E]ach faction," Scherer and Altman write, "busies itself with a daily messaging war, an unending skirmish of e-mail blasts, tweets, viral videos and cable-news sound bites, making the eternal case that someone else is to blame."
Here Scherer and Altman are arguing that since each side is engaged in "messaging" each side is equally to blame for the shutdown and default threat. Please. In our current era of speed-of-light global information sharing what are the political parties supposed to do? Send ravens to talk to each other? The authors are being willfully dumb to maintain their "nonpartisan" bona fides.
The public has given up on waiting for the era of good feelings that he promised in his first campaign, and Obama's approval rating is now mired in the low 40s.
Where have Scherer and Altman been the last four years? Have they seen the overt Republican strategy to obstruct Obama to the point of rendering his presidency meaningless? Have they heard about the Koch brothers and Jim DeMint and Heritage Action planning from the day Obama was reelected this government shutdown and default threat?
And then Scherer and Altman close their obfuscating article by singling out none other than Nancy Pelosi for blame for the current partisan impasse:
She has a safe seat in San Francisco, where she frequently wins 80% of the vote no matter what befalls the rest of the country.
So, in conclusion, Scherer and Altman leave Time readers with the impression that somehow Nancy Pelosi is equally responsible for the Republican Tea Party crazies in the House who are driving the country into the ground to win concessions from the president they despise. The authors don't explain the effects of the gerrymandered districts the Republicans fixed following the 2010 census and elections.
Even in states where Obama won handily in 2012 the congressional delegations, through redistricting, are artificially skewed to cement a Republican majority. Yet somehow Pelosi is to blame. Even by Time magazine's corporate media standards -- and especially in this period of partisan brinkmanship that threatens to take the nation's economy down -- this is pretty shitty political journalism.
There aren't many historians who write fondly about John C. Calhoun's attempts to nullify federal tariff laws in the 1830s, or the Confederacy's succession from the Union in the 1860s, or the attempts in the 1950s and 1960s of southern governors to nullify federal laws that protected the civil rights of African Americans.
Generally, the historical record is clear: These nullification crises were not the product of political squabbles with each side being equally to blame in some bizarre universe (like the one the corporate media inhabit) where all things fall neatly, equidistant, between the Right and the Left. American history doesn't work that way and neither does the current political discourse.
The extortion from the House Republicans is not only an attempt to nullify the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but also, given that Obama ran on promising health care reform, it's an attempt to nullify two presidential elections.
If one "side" can gerrymander districts and suppress enough votes to gain an enduring majority in the House of Representatives, and then use that as "leverage," (in cahoots with right-wing billionaires and their front groups), to shut down the government and threaten to default on the national debt, all in order to extort changes in existing law and public policy from the president and the Senate -- then why bother having presidential elections at all?
The shutdown is already costing the nation money and in the end will add to the national debt. Just talking about trashing the financial system through default is getting markets jittery.
Why can't professional "political journalists" write the simple truth?
The House Republicans' tactics are illegitimate in a democracy.
They lie about their motives and their actions.
They use Orwellian rhetoric blaming others for their own machinations.
They never accept responsibility for the crises they've created.
Their propaganda organs work overtime to deceive the American people, always trying to squeeze partisan advantage out of each 24-hour news cycle.
And they're following the same kind of tactics that have destroyed parliaments all over the world in the 20th century.
If the Republicans emerge from this confrontation believing they "won" something, then what's to stop them from doing it again, and again, and again? And if President Obama and Harry Reid give concessions to these hostage-takers it would mean that every Democratic president who follows from now into the future in a divided government would be faced with similar tactics.