As Greg Sargent pointed out this morning, the new “it” gimmick of the pox-on-both-houses punditry is to borrow National Journal editorial something-or-other Ron Fournier’s tac of pretending that Obama can order the military to invade the House of Representatives and hold its members at assault-weapon-point until they agree to a grand bargain. Or at least to a less-grand one that includes additional tax revenue mainly through the closing of loopholes for the wealthy.
Sargent doesn’t give credit where it’s due, though; he fails to identify Fournier as the etymoligcal source for this. But, best as I can tell, he is; he just forgot to copyright it.
The key to this particular gimmick is a slight variation on the Orwellian redefinition of the word “lead” offered, repeatedly now, by John Boehner. In that original form, lead actually means follow. Or, capitulate. As in: The president needs to show leadership by delegating policymaking to the Republicans. But in the slightly morphed from being employed by the punditry, it means–seriously–using actual force to compel the House to agree to a compromise that includes raising more tax revenue from the wealthy.
And surely this will resonate with the public. After all, doesn’t everyone want a president who leads? And isn’t all that matters simply the use of the word lead–regardless of how closely that use corresponds to the actual common English-language meaning of the word?
Well, obviously, the answer to that question is yes, because today the Washington Post features an editorial called “Sequester offers President Obama a time to lead,” which suggests that Obama offer a grand bargain that includes … additional tax revenues from the wealthy.
Call up the Army, Mr. President. And a Marine unit or two.
Actually, apparently the purpose of the editorial–its purported purpose, anyway–is to try to goad Obama into proposing a grand bargain that would cut Social Security and Medicare benefit and that would include additional tax revenue. So editorial writer casually segues from “leader” as someone who forces an actual agreement to “leader” who proposes a bold, sweeping, grand solution that the other side will reject out-of-hand and that therefore doesn’t resolve the sequester issue that the writer insists Obama is obligated to force a resolution of.
But the actual purpose of the editorial–at least one actual purpose–is to support and subtly reiterate Bob Woodward’s false and baldly silly claim in that paper last weekend that in Aug. 2011 Obama agreed to a deal that forbade him and the Senate Democrats from bargaining to replace the sequester with any agreement except one that was even more abhorrent to the Dems’ position than the sequester. According to Woodward, Obama agreed as part of the sequester itself that the Repubs were free to try to replace the sequester with a deal that removed Defense Department cuts and replaced those cuts with draconian cuts to social safety net programs and to other agencies and programs that the Dems support. (The EPA! The SEC! The Consumer Product Safety Commission!) But, Obama agreed, the Dems would not be entitled to try to replace some of the cuts with additional tax revenue.
Uh-uh. No, sir. This train runs in only one direction: Republican.
Sounds to me like a deal that Obama could have just cut to the chase and taken right then and there, in Aug. 2011 rather than waiting 18 months. But it doesn’t sound that way to Woodward. Or to the editorial’s author, who writes:
Yup. I guess that if you’re a Washington Post editorial writer, you can try to get away with saying that Obama “agreed to a deal that was all spending cuts, no tax hikes,” and not identify which deal you’re talking about–the sequester deal, which indeed was all spending cuts, or instead a deal to replace the sequester, which has yet to be made and therefore includes no deal that is all spending cuts. At least if you don’t give a damn about your paper’s credibility.
And if you don’t care that you’re playing with fire. Words have actual meanings, and these semantics sleights of hand are matches.
But the editorial is dangerous in a substantive, rather than only a semantics, respect as well, because it bases its grand-bargain argument upon a claim that we must agree now to cut Social Security and Medicare in the future in order to pay for things like increases in education funding and guaranteed quality preschool now. At least I think that’s what it’s saying.
Ben Bernake, by the way, made clear today under questioning before the Senate Banking Committee, that he begs to differ with the assessment that this is a grand idea. The Washington Post’s economics and finance reporter who covered the hearing will report accurately on what transpired. The Washington Post’s editorial board won’t even understand it. Or won’t admit that they do.
Meanwhile, never to be outdone in recommending policies to Obama so that Obama can lead, without offering an iota of explanation or support for them, David Brooks weighed in this morning with another leadership-as-a-double-entendre column. This time, fresh from his mea culpa about his last column, and in fact reiterating the walk-back, Brooks acknowledges that inequality has spiraled out of control since the Clinton era, and agrees that Obama should propose policies to address this. Like a consumption tax to offset an elimination of income taxes on incomes up to $100,000 and a reduction of corporate tax rates to 15%.
Brooks doesn’t explain the policy reasons for the two offsets he suggests. But he doesn’t have to. Everyone knows that the less progressive the tax code, the less inequality in wealth we will have, and that record corporate profits and record corporate hoarding of those profits leads to more equality of income. After all, they’ve read past Brooks columns.
As for the Washington Post editorial board, when they consider important people who should lead, but aren’t, they might want to look in the mirror. They emphasize that the Republicans are right that the sequester was Mr. Obama’s idea, in the summer of 2011. But they don’t mention that the alternative was the default by the United States on all of its already-incurred financial obligations, including its Treasury bonds. Nor that that, by absolutely all accounts, would have destabilized the entire world economy.
This is important stuff. And as the editorial board of one this country’s emanant general-news publications, they’re important people. They should take that responsibility seriously. They should lead.
UPDATE: Washington Post columnist David Ignatius writes, in a column posted this afternoon:
Excuse me, Mr. Ignatius, but given that you acknowledge that the Republicans were prepared to shut down the government and damage the national credit rating with their showdown over the debt ceiling, isn’t it a bit–oh, I don’t know–odd for you to imply that that was unconnected to, y’know, Obama’s sequester? Since, without* Obama’s sequester, the government would in fact have shut down, and the damage the national credit rating would have been, um, significant–so, this is what Obama’s sequester avoided?
Or was Obama’s sequest really just proposed in a vacuum, as you suggest? I forget. Or you do.
Or maybe you just pretend to.
*Typo-corrected. Originally, it said “with” rather than “without.” Oops.