Tilting at Windmills

January/February 2011 Cool Hand Barack … Don’t let sleeping lies dog … Capitalism could break your heart …

By Charles Peters

A very good deal

Here’s how David Leonhardt of the New York Times does the math: “roughly $120 billion covers the high-end tax cuts and the estate tax cut, $450 billion covers Mr. Obama’s wish list and $360 billion covers the tax cut extensions both parties favored.” In other words, $810 billion of the total package of about $930 billion is what we liberals wanted, which prompts me to say, hooray for Obama.

He had a weak hand to start with, because he showed his willingness to compromise too soon. But he played that hand with impressive skill. Could he have reached a better deal if he had “stuck by his guns,” as many liberals indignantly urged, and refused to compromise in December? With more Republican votes in the 2011 Senate, coupled with Republican domination of the House and its tax-writing committee, that prospect seems, to put it as gently as possible, less than likely. Of all the commentariat, Chris Matthews and Lawrence O’Donnell deserve praise because they understood this fact. They had the kind of real-life experience working on the Hill that most of their colleagues lack.

We believe government is bad—and now we’ll make sure of it, too

I must say I’m terrified by the Republicans’ control of the House committees overseeing government performance. Given the tendency of Republicans, especially Tea Partiers, to think all government except the military is bad, the probability is that they will not address the real need, which is to make government better. To them, more effective government presents the danger that regulations will be enforced vigorously and fairly, and of course Republicans tend to hate regulation of any kind.

Rally to Restore Complacency

At the Stewart-Colbert rally on the mall in late October, only one person, the venerable Tony Bennett, urged the audience to vote. Here was an amazingly large crowd, at least 200,000, of mostly young people, whose votes were desperately needed if the Democrats were going to stand a chance in the November election. Since I was and remain convinced that the Democrats and their president, whatever their flaws, are much better than the Republicans, I prayed that someone else would join Bennett. But what one observer called “the importance of never being too earnest” ruled the day.

In Stewart’s one stab at earnestness, he seemed to equate MSNBC with Fox News. Count me among those who disagree. There is a major difference between the two. Although MSNBC can be embarrassingly one-sided and predictable, it rarely lies. Fox lies all the time, amplifying or amplified by lies on the Internet, or those told by the right-wingers who dominate talk radio.

Don’t let sweeping lies dog

This lying has created a major problem that responsible journalists are not facing. It is the need for effective correction of the lies.

On Election Day, the New York Times ran an excellent editorial reciting and correcting the misrepresentations of the Republicans and urging readers to vote Democratic. Unfortunately, support for the facts cited by the editorial had not received anything like the prominence needed in the news columns of the Times. I have never seen a story on the top of the front page of the New York Times or the Washington Post or on any of the nightly network national news programs that exposes Republican falsehoods with the boldness that the Charleston Gazette recently showed. A story in that paper about the Republicans’ misrepresentation of what they call “Obamacare” ran at the top of the front page under the four-column headline “That’s Just Flat-out Not True.”

It’s just not done by the “responsible media,” but what we need is a front-page correction box and its television equivalent that would prominently expose the lies frequently repeated by the irresponsible media.

The claims of Baron Munchausen do not quite align with the facts

The New York Times was certainly less direct than the Charleston Gazette in its reporting on the Republican ads against Obama’s health care program. The Times story ran at the bottom of an inside page, under the modest head “Ads Use Medicare Cuts as Rallying Point.” The story surmises that “the way in which those cuts will be felt by the roughly 46 million Americans covered by the program does not quite align with the dark implications of the ads.”

A typical Republican ad read, “Kilroy Voted to Gut Medicare by $500 Billion.” What the legislation really does is cut $500 billion from the projected growth in the Medicare budget over the next ten years. It seems to me that the Gazette got closer to the truth than the Times did.
Flair over fact

There is another problem with the media for which this magazine shares some of the guilt. Our birth in 1969 was part of a movement called “New Journalism,” which was a reaction to the objective journalism that was the only kind deemed responsible in those days. New Journalists tried to give flesh to the bare bones of fact by supplying lively detail observed by the reporter, whose attitude toward his subject—and often his outright opinion of it—was not concealed.

As the influence of New Journalism spread, one began to find stories in which the basic facts were hard to find. I remember my frustration in the late 1970s when I couldn’t find the score of a baseball game in a newspaper article about the World Series until I got to the seventh or eighth paragraph. The beginning had consisted entirely of a description of the feeling in the locker room.

By the early ’90s I had become concerned enough to publish an article by Katherine Boo called “The Dowd Crowd,” which deplored the tendency of talented reporters to try to imitate Maureen, whose style, interspersing the facts with ironic comment, had made her immensely popular. This meant that the facts of stories became subordinate to the writer’s “take” and its literary expression.

The president wore an eye-catching magenta tie (and may have mentioned something about World War III)

Charles Peters is the founding editor of the Washington Monthly and the author of a new book on Lyndon B. Johnson published by Times Books.


  • amarige on May 07, 2011 11:13 PM:

    the mirror of the political démocratie of Obama...
    the republicans are on the corner,like a fox,to take his place .
    it,s imperatif to play safe,in transparency ,to rebuild the power of America.

  • Mike on June 12, 2011 7:32 PM:

    So the tax cuts to the rich will act as a stimulus? It feels like I've heard that theory before. Oh, that's right, from every GOP candidate and talking head in the history of the world ever.

    Basically this post makes a good case that Obama is a sensible, pragmatic, reasonable, moderate Republican.