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Why Does Washington Post Columnist David Ignatius Say Obama Should Have Allowed Default On The National Debt in Aug. 2011? He Doesn’t Say Why, So Someone Should Ask Him.

To me, one of the big mysteries of the sequester blame game is why some in the punditry keep echoing John Boehner’s proud Obama-proposed-the-sequester line, without pointing out what the only alternative was.  The most baldly ridiculous of articles in that narrow genre is Washington Post columnist–and, I suspect, not coincidentally, Bob Woodward colleague–David Ignatius’s piece, in a column posted yesterday afternoon and published in today’s paper, in which Ignatius says in effect that Obama should have allowed a default of the federal government’s debt obligations in Aug. 2011 because the only alternative–”Obama’s sequester legislation”–is worse than what the result of a default would have been.

Seriously.  He does try, hard, to disguise that that is what he’s saying.  But the sleight of hand he uses is so flagrantly, well, a sleight of hand that he doesn’t succeed.  Here’s what he says:

Much as I would criticize Obama, it’s wrong to say that both sides are equally to blame for what’s about to hit us. This isn’t a one-off case of Republicans using Obama’s sequestration legislation to force reckless budget cuts. It’s a pattern of behavior: First the Republicans were prepared to shut down the government and damage the national credit rating with their showdown over the debt ceiling; then they were careening toward the “fiscal cliff.” This isn’t a legislative tactic anymore; it’s an addiction.

Soooo … he acknowledges that the Republicans were prepared to shut down the government and damage the national credit rating with their showdown over the debt ceiling. He just doesn’t mention that the impending debt default and Obama’s sequestration legislation–Obama presumably having become a member of the House for a few days back then and joined the Republican caucus–are, y’know, related.

So, since apparently Ignatius’s editors–Bob Woodward’s colleagues–didn’t ask him this, I will:  Since, without Obama’s sequester legislation, the government would in fact have shut down, and the damage to the national credit rating (among other things) would have been significant–and so, this is what Obama’s sequester avoided–why do you think Obama’s sequester legislation was worse?  Might it be that Bob Woodward said so?

Of course, I also think the news media should pose that question to Boehner next time he preens that the sequester was Obama’s idea and that he therefore “owns” it.  Since Obama also owns the avoidance of default on the federal government’s debt in aug. 2011, and since Boehner & Friends own the attempt to throw the world’s financial system into chaos in Aug. 2011, it does seem to me that ownership of the sequester might be a good thing, and ownership of the alternative to the sequester a bad thing.  Obama might want to point this out in, say, a 10-minute primetime TV address on these constant trumped up financial crises, and especially right now, the current one.  But, well, that’s just not something he would actually do.

Meanwhile, Post Columnist Matt Miller today does pinpoint where Obama is to blame in this: Agreeing to the mere $600 in increased tax revenue from the wealthy as part of the “fiscal cliff” resolution rather than simply allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire and having the new Congress write new tax legislation in the first two weeks or so of January.  Indeed.

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Oh, Dear. The David Brooksification of the Washington Post Editorial Board. And Brooks Doesn’t Even Write For The Washington Post. (But he does still write for the New York Times.) – UPDATED

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:

The Republicans are right when they say that the sequester was Mr. Obama’s idea, in the summer of 2011, and that he agreed to a deal that was all spending cuts, no tax hikes.

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:

Much as I would criticize Obama, it’s wrong to say that both sides are equally to blame for what’s about to hit us. This isn’t a one-off case of Republicans using Obama’s sequestration legislation to force reckless budget cuts. It’s a pattern of behavior: First the Republicans were prepared to shut down the government and damage the national credit rating with their showdown over the debt ceiling; then they were careening toward the “fiscal cliff.” This isn’t a legislative tactic anymore; it’s an addiction.

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.

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My email correspondence with Glenn Kessler

An email correspondence between Glenn Kessler and me yesterday afternoon and evening, which I’m publishing here in full, speaks adequately for itself, I think.  But first, this, because I think it’s relevant:

NEW YORK – Mitt Romney on Friday denounced an anti-Muslim film that is stirring unrest in the Middle East, even as he stood by his condemnation of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo for its implied denunciation of the film.

Romney denounces film aimed at Muslims, Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times

Here’s the email exchange:

Sure, feel free to post the exchange. If you read my column consistently, you will see that I simply look at things on a case by case basis, and let the chips fall where they may. I also welcome criticism and critique, since it keeps me sharper–and I often learn something too.

Glenn

PS: thanks for the kind words on the photo!
————————–
Glenn Kessler
Columnist, “The Fact Checker”
The Washington Post
cell phone:             (202) 439 0113  
www.washingtonpost.com/factchecker

Sent using BlackBerry, hence the typos 


  From: Beverly Mann

  Sent: 09/14/2012 04:41 PM MST
  To: Glenn Kessler
  Cc: Ombudsman Internet DropBox
  Subject: Re: “Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Should Stick to Checking Facts”

Thanks for responding.  Truth be told, I’m feeling a little guilty about having written what I wrote.  After I posted it, while googling something, I happened upon the recent Breitbart.com article, “Wapo’s Glenn Kessler has Fact Checker Tantrum Over ‘You Didn’t Build That’,” athttp://www.breitbart.com/Big-Journalism/2012/08/29/Wapo-Fact-Checker-You-Didnt-Buuild-That-Tantrum.  I guess you’re used for target practice by both sides.

I’d like to post this email exchange as a follow-up to my blog post  Would that be okay with you?

Btw, in your photo you sorta look like a nice guy.

Beverly Mann


From: Glenn Kessler <kesslerg@washpost.com>
To: Beverly Mann
Sent: Friday, September 14, 2012 6:19 PM
Subject: Re: “Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Should Stick to Checking Facts”

Thanks, I had read your column. I didn’t think it was opinion, but rather explanatory. You seem to have focused on a small part of the overall column too.
————————–
Glenn Kessler
Columnist, “The Fact Checker”
The Washington Post
cell phone:             (202) 439 0113  
www.washingtonpost.com/factchecker

Sent using BlackBerry, hence the typos 


  From: Beverly Mann
  Sent: 09/14/2012 02:53 PM MST
  To: Glenn Kessler
  Subject: Fw: “Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Should Stick to Checking Facts”

Dear Mr. Kessler,

I would have cc’d you on this originally but I couldn’t find your email address.  I just found it on your Twitter feed.

Beverly Mann

—– Forwarded Message —–
From: Beverly Mann
To: “ombudsman@washpost.com
Sent: Friday, September 14, 2012 11:40 AM
Subject: “Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Should Stick to Checking Facts”

Dear Mr. Pexton,

I am a contributing writer for a blog called Angry Bear, and just posted a piece there called “Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, Should Stick to Checking Facts,” athttp://www.angrybearblog.com/2012/09/glenn-kessler-washington-posts-fact.html. The blog is picked up by several aggregators, including Business Insider, so I thought you might be interested in reading the post.

Thanks.

Beverly Mann

I’d just like to add that, for me, the bottom line is that I don’t understand the pejorative characterization of the Cairo embassy’s statements as an apology, much less do I think it is helpful to this country’s interests to have official Washington appear to sympathize with the sentiments of a communication whose sole purpose is to cause the reactions that the homemade film clip at issue did this week.  And apparently Romney’s internal polls are showing that a majority of voters agree; thus Romney’s own apology (borrowing his term) yesterday for the sentiments in that film.

But Glenn Kessler’s obviously no wingnut.  He’s a journalist with a difficult and worthwhile assignment, trying not to fall off a tightrope. 

As for Mitt Romney’s stupefyingly robotic and simpleminded take on even the most serious foreign policy issues, I suggest a comparison of his statements (and those of his loopy foreign policy advisors) with this column by Washington Post foreign policy columnist David Ignatius published late Wednesday.

More and more, Romney comes off as not just craven but ignorant and stupid.  I reiterate my characterization of him in earlier posts as a truly dangerous bull in a china shop.

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