This is a couple days old, but Paul Kane's Washington Post online discussion last week is a near-perfect example of the tendency of many reporters to behave as though the Left and the Right are equally wrong and dishonest - and in the same ways - and only they, the noble reporters, standing squarely in the middle, tell The Truth. And of how that approach is itself an ideology, and one that often gets things very wrong.
And, in the process, Kane proved the point of my most recent column: the media's approach to budgets is incredibly stupid.
In Kane's very first answer, he addresses the growing national debt, and it doesn't take Madame Marie to predict his "solution":
Kane: The real fiscal answer is entitlement reform -- that's code word, everyone, for slashing Medicare benefits and raising the retirement age/payout time for Social Security recipients. Those steps would save trillions of dollars over the years, but both parties are scared to death of infuriating seniors.
Given the way the Establishment media covers the deficit, I'd be shocked if there was anyone reading who didn't see that one coming. The media believes in few things more strongly than the "need" to slash entitlement benefits in order to balance the budget. Of course, entitlement costs have skyrocketed because health care costs have skyrocketed, and we spend considerably more per person on health care than other nations, without providing better care. But somehow it never seems to occur to these reporters that rather than slashing entitlement benefits, we could reduce health care costs. Perhaps because recognizing that possibility would be agreeing with the liberals, which would eliminate the reporters' ability to portray themselves as the only sensible, non-ideological, fearless truth-tellers.
Then there's this:
Portland, Oregon: I'm a liberal Dem, and think I may be missing something. It seems to me that during the W years, we had massive increases in spending, and in the deficit, but that the message was diluted b/c of the way the war spending was handled (separate from the rest of the budget). The Republican hand-wringing over the Obama budget therefore strikes me as insincere. Isn't this really about spending money on infrastructure vs. spending on the military, not on spending vs. not spending?
Paul Kane: No, sorry, Portland. You're wrong. I'm not putting blame on anyone, but everything's different now. Earlier this decade, the budget deficits were $300b-$400b, at its worst. Now, we're talking $1.8 trillion.
Everything's different, everything.
Well, Portland wasn't "wrong." Portland wasn't talking about the relative sizes of the current deficit and the deficit three years ago; Portland was making the point that the Republicans' complaints about deficits seem insincere given that they ran up deficits of their own. And those Republicans were attacking Obama last year, saying his policies would involve deficits - long before we were talking about $1.8 trillion deficits - so Portland would seem to have a pretty unassailable point.
The Deficit: One of the great tragedies of the $1.8 trillion deficit is that there is nothing to show for it. (Except Iraq, but no one wants to look at that). On the other hand what Obama seems to want do is invest. There is great value in borrowing for investment purposes. Check my (and imagine your) college educations. Obama is saying we are going to increase the deficit, but afterwards we will have a functional health-care system; a grid that can handle 21st century energy needs, an educational system that will help our kids compete on a level playing ground with the Chinese and Indians. Those types of things pay a return on investment!
Paul Kane: The thing about liberals these days that is very striking about their fiscal thinking, is how similar it sounds to Reagan. Liberals believe in supply-side economics like Reagan did. Or something akin to it.
Reagan argued that cutting taxes, thereby reducing revenue, would lead to -- presto -- more revenue, because things would get good again financially, leading to more people making more money and then -- presto -- more taxes flowing in.
Liberals are currently arguing that increasing spending would lead to -- presto -- more revenue because the things they want to invest in would make things sound financially, leading to people making more money and then -- presto -- more tax revenue flowing in to pay for all these programs.
Here, Kane is debating a strawman. His questioner plainly did not claim that "increasing spending would lead to - presto - more revenue." His questioner made the - again, seemingly unassailable - point that not all deficits are created alike; that you can have deficits for which you get nothing in return other than an unnecessary war, and you can have deficits for which you get universal health care in return. For example. The question was really not at all "similar" to Reagan, or to supply-side economics. It was simply a recognition of the fact that borrowing money to pay for college is quite different than borrowing money to buy lottery tickets.
But, again, if Paul Kane agreed with that rather unassailable point, he would be agreeing with the liberals, and wouldn't be able to present himself as the only adult standing between two childish ideologies.
Later, Kane speculates about recent presidents' success in keeping their promises:
Kane: I wonder which one of the last 5 (Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter) was best at keeping promises. I tend to think Reagan, but have no real data point to support that. Again, not placing judgment on his promises and their value, I'll leave it up to the Doris Kearns/McCullough/historian crowd to evaluate whether it was a good or bad thing that Reagan kept his promises. But he's my guess for best promise keeper.
Really? I'll leave the details to Will Bunch, if he wants to weigh in, but it seems to me that Reagan's central promises involved things like smaller government and fiscal responsibility - and that he did a spectacularly poor job of following through on either.