Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 21, 2011

STUCK IN THE WRONG CONVERSATION.... During the hour-long episode of "Meet the Press" yesterday, there was exactly one reference to the U.S. unemployment rate, uttered by former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D). The word "spending" was used 40 times.

The very first sentence of the broadcast was host David Gregory telling viewers, "The battle to rein in government is shaping up to be the major fight not only of this year, but of the 2012 campaign."

There was no discussion of how, exactly, this became "the major fight," only that the political establishment has decreed it to be. If you thought economic growth and job creation was at the center of the policy discussion in Washington, I'm afraid your attitudes are so 2010.

There are very few prominent media voices whose priorities remain sound. E.J. Dionne Jr., thankfully, is one of them.

Take five steps back and consider the nature of the political conversation in our nation's capital. You would never know that it's taking place at a moment when unemployment is still at 9 percent, when wages for so many people are stagnating at best and when the United States faces unprecedented challenges to its economic dominance.

No, Washington is acting as if the only real problem the United States confronts is the budget deficit; the only test of leadership is whether the president is willing to make big cuts in programs that protect the elderly; and the largest threat to our prosperity comes from public employees.

Consider another example. Last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) twice acknowledged publicly that his proposed spending cuts would force more American workers from their jobs, on purpose. The first time he said it, Boehner told reporters, "So be it."

How many times did this rather startling remark come up in any of the five major Sunday morning public affairs shows? Zero. It was simply ignored.*

And the reason it was ignored isn't hard to understand: pesky Americans may think jobs and the economy are the most pressing national issue, but the political world has no use for such parochial concerns. The establishment has moved on.

This reached a farcical level on "Meet the Press" when Republican strategist Ed Gillespie insisted that President Obama is "out of touch." Why? Because the president is committed to creating jobs, promoting innovation, and cultivating economic development through high-speed rail.

To be "in touch," apparently, is to consider such priorities unimportant.

Dionne concluded, "In his State of the Union address, Obama made a good case that budget cutting is too small an agenda and that this is also a time for more government -- yes, more government -- in areas that would expand opportunities and strengthen the economy. That argument has been entirely drowned out. If politics is reduced to a crabbed and crabby accountants' war, Obama loses. The country will, too."

* Corrected: It turns out Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) brought it up on "Face the Nation," a reference that didn't turn up in a Nexis search. My apologies for the error, but the larger point, obviously, stands.

Steve Benen 12:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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"Obama loses." Hello Mr. Dionne....wake up. How many times do leading GOP Congressmen have to state that their priority is keeping Obama to one term - to defeat him. "Obama loses" is their end-all...its always politics, not policy.

Posted by: T2 on February 21, 2011 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Shock Doctrine. Use a crisis they created to achieve their ultimate goal(oligarchy).

Posted by: Holmes on February 21, 2011 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

Is this really so surprising? The political class are not interested in the economically suffering, just as they are not interested in the economically disadvantaged, non-wealthy employed, or those serving in the armed forces.

They may occasionally claim to be interested, in order to be seen so, but their behavior makes it quite clear where their real interests lie.

They have abandoned the disadvantaged and the unemployed -- written them off entirely. And they have outsourced the pain and suffering of wars casually undertaken -- after all "they enlisted voluntarily."

And they listen to each other in their little echo chambers and dinner parties, and they curry favor with the very wealthy, and that's how they run the affairs of government.

They've been able to harness popular anger for various purposes -- Obama in '08, the so-called Tea Party in '10 -- but I don't know whether they realize quite what a powder-keg they're sitting on, or how much they're turning up the heat.

Posted by: bleh on February 21, 2011 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

The general unemployment rate in DC metro is 5.7%, which means among the college educated there it's basically full employment.

Posted by: Henry Oilcan on February 21, 2011 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

Krugman's column today, discussing the Wisconson Governor's attack on public unions "Wisconsin Power Play", puts all this 'deficit spinning' in context. This isn't about 'budget deficit' it's about power:

"So [in Wisconsin] it’s not about the budget; it’s about the power.

In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.

Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.

You don’t have to love unions, you don’t have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years — which it has — that’s to an important extent due to the decline of private-sector unions.

And now Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to get rid of public-sector unions, too.

There’s a bitter irony here. The fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America’s oligarchy. After all, it was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch. And now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis, using it to remove one of the few remaining checks on oligarchic influence.

So will the attack on unions succeed? I don’t know. But anyone who cares about retaining government of the people by the people should hope that it doesn’t."

The 'budget deficits' are just one more shining object to distract the ever gullible (suspiciously gullible) media so the oligarchy that controls the Republican Party can screw the workers and middle class again.

Posted by: robert on February 21, 2011 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

Off topic: Want to know how else, other than destroying unions, Gov Walker is paying back the Koch brothers?

http://rortybomb.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/the-less-discussed-part-of-walkers-wisconsin-plan-no-bid-energy-assets-firesales/

Posted by: nisl on February 21, 2011 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

The constant use of the word "spending," by journalists and Dems as well as Republicans, in itself indicates the triumph of a right-wing framework. "Spending" puts all the emphasis on the outflow of money and suggests the wickednesses of profligate "tax-and-spend" liberals. But "buying" is what ordinary Americans do--and they even go into debt, sometimes very reasonably. "Spending" if used on them would be perceived as the insult it is. Why can't liberals make this point and constantly speak of "spending cuts" as cuts in worthwhile activities?

And why can't journalists be pressed to speak more even-handedly? When Gregory speaks of "the battle to rein in government," how can anyone miss the suggestion that government needs to be reined in?

Posted by: JM on February 21, 2011 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

The housing market also bottomed out there in May 2009 - almost two years ago. Prices are up 9% since then.

They're in a different reality.

Posted by: Henry Oilcan on February 21, 2011 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Lest we forget that there may be an unconscious motivation to being fixated on spending. In the eighteenth century, 'SPENDING' meant having an ORGASM.

So much Republican behavior seems psychopathological in character, tone and rhetoric if you look past the media's cheerleading for it.

Posted by: jjm on February 21, 2011 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

The assigned role of the corporately owned media is to serve as an echo chamber and message amplifier for the repuknican message!

Merging Media

Approximate number of daily newspapers in North America: 1800
Approximate number of magazines in North America: 11,000
Approximate number of radio stations in North America: 11,000
Approximate number of television stations in North America: 2000
Approximate number of book publishers in North America: 3000
Number of companies owning a controlling interest in the media listed above in 1984: 50
Number of companies owning a controlling interest in the media listed above in 1987: 26
Number of companies owning a controlling interest in the media listed above in 1996: 10
Number of companies owning a controlling interest in the media listed above in 2002: 6

6 corporations control about 94% of all broadcast and print outlets

Liberal media anyone?

Posted by: AngryOldVet on February 21, 2011 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

EJ Dionne seems to have been awoken from his Beltway hack slumber, but he really does not go far enough. This has always been about defeating Obama and pursuing the usual paleo-wingnut agenda.

Posted by: Rich on February 21, 2011 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

What's amazing is that Gregory is even more of a useful idiot than Timmeh.
I thought I'd never see the likes of Timmeh again when he died.
Now, Hell, I miss him!

Posted by: c u n d gulag on February 21, 2011 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

What conservatives refuse to admit is that government jobs are, in fact, jobs and that the people who hold those jobs are private sector economic actors. That is, they buy or rent home, buy food, clothes, transportation -- everything that people who hold private sector jobs. Government jobs stimulate the private economy.

Also, in terms of markets, governments are generally the largest economic actors within their respective jurisdictions. That is, local government is usually the largest economic agent within it's borders; state governments are the largest actors within their borders; and the federal government is the largest agent within the US.

The point is that when government spending is cut it has the effect of contracting the economy where the cuts are being made. This was just demonstrated in England where the Conservative government's austerity program resulted in a slow down of economic activity there.

Posted by: Mike Stagg on February 21, 2011 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

@ AngryOldVet Can You cite the spot where you got the statistics...That is one I would like to pass on but I don't want to fall into the trap of ...I read it on the internet so....etc etc.

Thanks , John in Florida , A Certified Teabagger State.

Posted by: John R on February 21, 2011 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

> That argument has been entirely drowned out. If politics is reduced to a crabbed and crabby accountants' war, Obama loses.

Perhaps the president should consider fighting for his "priorities?"

An even scarier thought: he already is, these aren't his priorities, either.

Posted by: Billy Gray on February 21, 2011 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

The reality facing American families is not the same reality that D C politicians live in. They're primarily concerned with keeping their power which means keeping their beloved seats in Congress. If this requres them pandering to the corporate/monied ultra minority, so be it, because that small minority controls the media and the campiagn money. The rest of us can prepare ourselves for the third world existance that the controlling plutocracy think we deserve. Both parties put politics above policy. We have too many willing working class idiots that get their information from Faux News and their Tea Party minions. I'm a thirty plus year union member presently involved in contract negotiations that are more about the future of my union than wages and benefits. During the last election at least half of my union brothers/sisters either didn't vote at all or supported the far right candidates. American workers are on a slippery downward slope and instead of looking for something to hold onto, they're greasing the wheels to hasten the race to the bottom.

Posted by: sparky on February 21, 2011 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, those crabby accountants, making you add up all that spending.

sparky, are there any "right" candidates, or just "far right?

Posted by: Mike K on February 21, 2011 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

"There was no discussion of how, exactly, this became "the major fight," only that the political establishment has decreed it to be. If you thought economic growth and job creation was at the center of the policy discussion in Washington, I'm afraid your attitudes are so 2010."

This isn't a mystery, Steve. When the administration and the President himself give in, and talk only about cutting spending and give only half-hearted "it's getting there" comments about the unemployment numbers, why should the press pick up on that independently? Both major parties are focused on cutting spending, so I'd say Gregory's summary is pretty accurate.

Posted by: Paul W on February 21, 2011 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

Naomi Klein, white courtesy phone, please. Paging Naomi Klein...

Say it with me, boys and girls:
Shock. Doctrine. That's right. Shock Doctrine.

Posted by: biggerbox on February 21, 2011 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

I can't wait until July 2012, when all of the foreclosed houses that have been held off the market by the banks that we bailed out are suddenly up for sale, driving home values lower right before the election.
This is not a fair fight. Maybe we should stop fighting fair.

Posted by: Jim7 on February 21, 2011 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

The interesting part is how deeply on board Obama is for all of this.

Posted by: Punditus Maximus on February 21, 2011 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

It's amazing how the Beltway press always focuses the debate on what the GOP wants. It's as if unemployment has ceased the exist. And the only only discussion is about the dollar amount of the cuts (more is apparently always better), instead of the real world consequences of the cuts.

Posted by: Sam on February 21, 2011 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

What conservatives refuse to admit is that government jobs are, in fact, jobs and that the people who hold those jobs are private sector economic actors. That is, they buy or rent home, buy food, clothes, transportation -- everything that people who hold private sector jobs. Government jobs stimulate the private economy.

In addition, the rightwingers do not acknowledge that public-sector workers ARE taxpayers.

Posted by: G.Kerby on February 21, 2011 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Mike K--
I'm from Texas--the only right we have down here IS the far right.
If those pesky accountants were asked to trace the origin of the current debt/deficit it would be tax cuts and wars that we couldn't afford along with an unpaid for prescription drug program.

Posted by: sparky on February 21, 2011 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, having wrecked the economy and created massive deficits the establishment is now hell bent upon gutting social programs to bring things back into alignment; and the devil take the hindmost. I can't watch the Sunday echo chamber programs anymore. You can find our more in 30 minutes on the Internet then by watching this nonsense. It is especially ridiculous when you consider the establishment just agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts, which cost $400 billion a year, and all of it borrowed money.

Posted by: max on February 21, 2011 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

10% nominal (20% real) DISemployment as far as the eyes can see.

And the reason that the Ds haven't done jack squat is that in the Establishment, as Benen points out, permanently higher DISemployment is a policy goal.

Ya know, there's something refreashingly honest about "Kill the weak," which is the desired policy outcome for Rs. The Ds wring their hands, and talk about process, and fondle their tender consciences, but at the end of the day the policy outcome is the same, so who cares?

Posted by: lambert strether on February 21, 2011 at 9:17 PM | PERMALINK

Unemployment doesn't get ratings, hyping Congressional fights over spending is much sexier. The mainstream media is probably the most morally bankrupt institution on this country, and that's saying a lot!!

Posted by: bruce k on February 21, 2011 at 11:18 PM | PERMALINK

John R: AngryOldVet Can You cite the spot where you got the statistics...That is one I would like to pass on but I don't want to fall into the trap of ...I read it on the internet so....etc etc.

They're from Bill Moyers' show on PBS. And while it was 2002, I doubt the numbers have improved since.

Although if you really are planning to pass them on to surrounding teabaggers, expect disbelief since it's PBS. See also Beck, Glenn Edward Lee, and The Google Conspiracy.

Posted by: Dwight on February 22, 2011 at 12:14 AM | PERMALINK

"in any of the five major Sunday morning public affairs shows"

All the people on those shows probably earn more in one year than your average American does in a lifetime. Talk about people out of touch.

Posted by: Bonnie on February 22, 2011 at 1:38 AM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: Hilaria Bearden on February 22, 2011 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

How many other unions in the country are facing the same problem and their plight are not being talked about. Take the Local 1-669 in Ill. They have been locked out for 241 days. Read about it, http://my.firedoglake.com/kaytillow/2010/08/29/honeywell-locks-out-usw-local-over-health-care/
Again the workers are willing to talk and take some of the cuts asked but the corporation wants all or nothing.
One of the Honeywell plants a few years ago talked about unionizing and the heads said if you do we will out source this factory. The didn't unionize and the factory was out sourced in 2 years anyway along with several other plants. This is how the corporations treat it's workers.
It is another case of the big corporations getting their way.
And if you really dig on this one, you don't have to go so far to find that the CEO of Honeywell was picked to be on Obama's Fiscal Responsibility Committee. Dig a little deeper and you will find everyone who is on that committee is intertwined in some way shape or form, ie financial industry, government, take your pick. It behooves them to be there. Remember ENRON? Lots of similarities.
You make your own conclusions but do the digging and find the links yourself.
This article is right on, everything the politicians are doing is not for the benefit of the people let alone the country, it is for the benefit of their own pockets. Democrat, Republican, independent or who ever, they are all there for two reasons, power & greed.
(off my soap box now!)
So again my question: How many other unions or companies are facing the same dishonesty and not being printed about? Anyone else out there?

Posted by: D. on February 24, 2011 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK
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