Longer post about the Republican debate coming later.
But I want to discuss the media’s “big take”: that all the candidates refused a 10 to 1, spending cuts / tax cuts ratio on a budget deal. And via this post inaugurate a running series I will term, “Content Free”.
Many bloggers on the left (Ezra Klein is generally a good weathervane of left-leaning conventional wisdom) latched onto the “hands-up” as further proof of the insanity of the GOP. I didn’t blink at it, though this was perhaps my gut instinct to NOT react like the Fox moderators, who were shocked (shocked!) by it. Primaries and relatively populist nominating processes demand a strong tilt towards a party’s extreme. When was the last Republican who, during his campaign, even admitted the possibility of raising taxes? Pre-WWII? Anyway, why would 8 people’s hand-raising rhetoric be needed to convince you of anything, when you’ve just watched the entire congressional delegation staunchly refuse to raise taxes, putting the credit of the government on the line? Isn’t that proof of more commitment than raising one’s hand in August on Fox?
But from that bit of nonsense sprouts even worst nonsense, and Matt Bai, in the house style of the “centrist” New York Times opines that that moment is the reason Americans hate politics:
But that’s just it — what any independent-minded voter saw in that moment were eight people who were not, in fact, serious about governing. They were serious about pandering to the marginal elements of their party. That’s about it.
Yes, he’s back, the “independent-minded voter”. Not that anyone’s ever met this person. Do you, reader, know anyone “on the fence”? Is it even possible? The parties aren’t far enough apart for our independent-minded voter to form a commitment? I would submit that any actual person still “independent-minded” enough to not be sure of which party he supports must not care terribly much at all. Which is fine, of course: you don’t need to care about this stuff every day. But let me suggest that not a single viewer of that debate is non-partisan; it was watched by people seriously interested in politics, and they know who they’re for, party-wise.
But the lazy repetition of the independent voter fallacy is not the main travesty of this little articlette, it comes next:
If this were merely a Republican phenomenon, the party would be alone in suffering the wrath of the average American voter. But it isn’t. You could have put a lot of Washington Democrats up on that stage, and asked them if they would have accepted $10 in new taxes or new stimulus in exchange for $1 in cuts to Social Security, and you probably would have gotten much the same response: hell, no.
Are you kidding me? Last year, the entire Democratic party swallowed Medicare cuts to get health reform. This year, Social Security cuts, via indexing, and even raising the Medicare age to 67 were both offered to get any revenues. Would a Dennis Kucinich have shouted, “hell, no”? Hell, yes. But come on.
I have no idea what journalists think they gain from peddling these absurd equivalences. You quickly realize, in blogging or any other kind of writing, that breathing fire undermines your argument. But that means you take your foot off the gas, make the argument better, tighter, and more supported; not that you should instead change your argument to tedious and unfalsifiable piffle. So Bai opens by using a debate moment to make a point on Republican intransigence – again, I disagree this is proof of anything, but that’s his first point – but only so so he can tie in supposed Democratic intransigence and gaze longingly at the average, independent-minded voter. Bai knew where he was going all along; he woke up this morning intent on explaining why the “average, independent-minded voter” hates politics. To prove a pointless thesis he submits a inaccurate equivalence.
Maybe independent minded voters hate politics because journalists mail it in.