I recently wrote about how, despite a seismic shift that has brought about the mainstreaming of positions and policies formerly considered "left wing," the traditional media continue to insist on promoting the idea that on almost every issue the truth is to be found smack dab in the bipartisan middle.
This weekend, the Wall Street Journal served up a classic example of this wrong-headed conventional wisdom, a lengthy piece entitled "America"s Race to the Middle," by John Harwood and Gerald Seib.
I was handed the Journal on my Saturday flight from New York to San Francisco on United Airlines. And the Harwood/Seib piece was so out of touch with the current zeitgeist that I found myself repeatedly checking the date at the top of the page to make sure the flight attendant hadn't mistakenly given me a paper that someone had left on the plane a decade ago.
The piece starts off by rightly noting the public's "hunger for change" and "major reforms." But the authors then argue that the cause of this hunger is the fact that "the two parties have moved further apart on the ideological spectrum," resulting in "party fatigue."
Excuse me? The reason 82 percent of the public thinks the country is on the wrong track is because of "party fatigue"? This is beyond parody. Might it not have something to do with the Iraq war, the sputtering economy, the price of gas, skyrocketing foreclosures, and the way the Bush administration has systematically shredded the Constitution and abandoned the moral high ground?
Wasn't the Iraq war the crowning example of bipartisanship during the Bush era? And we know how well that bipartisanship worked out. Actually, what is tragic is that in the run-up to the war we didn't have more of the "gridlock" Harwood and Seib decry. A lot of people are dead because of the bipartisanship that Harwood and Seib venerate.
And it's not just Harwood and Seib, but two of the people they turn to to buttress their case -- Karl Rove and former RNC chair Ken Mehlman. "Both parties," Mehlman says, "having accomplished the big things that they set out to do, fight over the small things." Yeah, small things like that little fracas going on over in Iraq. Or the collapsing housing market. Or 45 million people without health insurance.
The solution? According to Harwood and Seib, the answer is quite simple: politicians from different parties need to hang out more. I'm not kidding. The problem is that "fewer lawmakers from opposing sides actually live in Washington, where they and their families might get better acquainted and engage in the natural human inclination to compromise with a friend." The article quotes GOP Rep. Jim McCrery, who says, "When you get to know somebody as a neighbor, or your kids play together on the soccer team, it's harder for you to go on the floor and call them names."
Sure, if only Denny Hastert and Nancy Pelosi had had a few dinners together, we might not be in a disastrous war, or we wouldn't have had No Child Left Behind, or a prescription drug program that doesn't allow the government to negotiate with drug companies to reduce prices. Oh wait, those were all bipartisan bills.
Pie in the sky everybody-has-to-be-in-the-center-as-the-right-defines-it articles get written all the time. But seldom are they as out of touch with what's really going on as "America's Race to the Middle."
Another article I read on the plane, by Carl Hulse in the New York Times -- and definitely from 2008 -- put the WSJ piece in stark relief.
The Times piece was about how Bush and House Republicans are banding together to go out with what appears to be a giant f-you-to-America bang. In short, House Democrats are about to send Bush several bills. Bush is planning to veto them and the lunatic fringe of the House (aka the GOP leadership) is going to back him.
One of those bills is a war and international aid appropriations bill that comes with a $195 billion price tag instead of the $178 billion Bush requested. The extra money? It's for college benefits for veterans and extra unemployment benefits for those suffering because of the recession.
Another bill getting the veto threat would aid those facing foreclosure. Bush has also promised to veto legislation that would take away tax breaks for oil companies. And something tells me that no amount of bipartisan dining or across-the-aisle soccer match cheering would change that.
Thankfully, Democrats seem to be coming to their senses -- finally -- and rejecting the notion that joining hands with Republicans and racing to what the Right wants us all to believe is the middle is sound political strategy. The problem with Washington hasn't been gridlock, it's been Democrats' willingness to buy into the conventional wisdom and cave in on issue after issue in the name of bipartisan comity.
The road to victory in 2008 doesn't run through a mythical middle that has been dragged far to the right over the past 7-plus years; it runs through the actual mainstream -- the place the majority of Americans inhabit. The center that opposes the war, favors economic fairness, knows that climate change is real and a crisis, wants to take care of our veterans, and believes in the right to universal health care.
As for the media, perhaps someone can send those intoxicated with the misguided conventional wisdom on bipartisanship to reporter rehab.
If you are in Chicago tonight, I'll be at Borders on 830 N. Michigan Avenue at 7 pm speaking, answering questions, and signing books.