This weekend, it would appear that one of the big topics of discussion for America’s Sunday morning public affairs programs will be the recently released budget overview from the Trump White House. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney will be making a return to Sunday morning, with slots booked on NBC’s “Meet The Press” and CBS’s “Face The Nation,” and it’s likely that the administration will dispatch someone to speak on competitors to these programs.
It’s a great opportunity to discuss a matter that’s captivated media attention since White House officials disseminated their budget outline. It would be an even better opportunity if one of these Sunday shows chose to break out of the Beltway media-politico feedback loop, and brought in some out-of-the-ordinary guests: the normal human Americans who would be affected by this budget’s directives.
Who knows, it might even be compelling television ― a rarity on Sunday mornings. So let’s consider the possibility.
One thing that’s important to remember about any presidential “budget” is that it is mostly a theoretical document. It’s definitely possible ― even necessary ― to consider who and what might end up on the winning and losing side of the spreadsheet. And it makes sense to be awake to the possibility that spending and cuts delineated by the budget proposal might become a reality, and that this would have consequences.
But while a glancing read of Twitter reactions to the budget might leave you convinced that funding for Meals On Wheels has already been sent to Appropriation Heaven ― and there’s an argument to be made that Mulvaney’s take on that particular program has been wildly overblown, to be honest ― the simple fact is that one should view this budget proposal is the opening act of a larger argument, and that it’s merely elucidating White House thinking about spending priorities.
So ... why not bring in some of the ordinary people who might be affected by the budget, and give them a voice in those negotiations? You could invite a Mainer who receives home-heating subsidies through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to explain what life would be like without that assistance. A senior receiving regular visits from Meals On Wheels could discuss how the program is about more than just ensuring that people without means don’t go hungry. There are any number of scientists that could lay out the consequences of the proposed cuts to research initiatives ― up to and including America losing its innovative edge.
Booking these sorts of guests would break up what will almost certainly be a weekend of pure monotony across the dial. As someone who’s had regular experience watching the full array of Sunday shows on a weekly basis, I can basically predict how the Mulvaney interviews will go ― NBC’s Chuck Todd and CBS’s John Dickerson will almost certainly ask completely duplicative questions ― predictable ones at that ― all of which will simply allow Mulvaney to give two recitations of the talking points he’ll memorize in preparation.
Instead of that, why not make him answer directly to the concerns of the people who’ll be affected by these decisions. It would illuminating to see how Mulvaney would respond if he were to be forced to debate his betters on live television.
By going far afield, and bringing in some ordinary Americans, these shows would give themselves a chance to shake up what is usually a very safe and placid arrangement. It would make for better confrontations and debate, instill an outside-the-Beltway perspective, and bring these shows much closer to being the “public affairs” programs they all purport to be.
And in a landscape where all the Sunday shows essentially look the same ― the same questions asked of similar guests, followed by entirely disposable cookie-cutter panel discussions ― it would be a bold, competitive move. And it’s been forever and a day since any one of the Sunday shows actually behaved as if they know they are competing for viewers. Some of these shows have flirted with making this sort of audacious shift in perspective ― so you can’t say that the instinct to make this sort of move doesn’t exist. It’s all about not losing your nerve.
One of the more persistent criticisms of the Beltway media is that they live inside a very insular bubble, where elite-on-elite conversations dominate, and the lives of others are shunted to the side. By my reckoning, the Sunday shows are far more likely to treat these proposed budget cuts as a matter that solely affects politicians. How will the White House argue its point of view? What could it do to approval ratings? Who might lose their seat over this? You would think that the only lives at stake were political lives.
But Capitol Hill’s celebrities all share one thing in common: None of them are going to be impacted by budget decisions in the way normal people might be. They’re all rich and well-connected, and if and when they lose their precious seats or sinecures, they will inevitably fall upward into some even more exalted realm. You really can’t have an effective discussion about a budget if you limit it to these few lucky-ass schmucks. So let’s not.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.