Tilting at Windmills

September/October 2012 Guilty party

By Charles Peters

“G.O.P. Edge As Dynamics Shift in House Races,” read a frightening headline in the New York Times this summer. How can this be happening after a record of ceaseless obstructionism by congressional Republicans?

Much of the explanation, of course, rests on the media’s far too frequent reliance on blaming Congress rather than Republicans in Congress. On this matter, the new HBO series The Newsroom’s preaching is on the right track when it challenges the media to tell the truth about the Tea Partiers and the
harm they have caused.

As for the Senate, Michael Grunwald, in The New New Deal, confirms a point
I raised in my most recent column about the claim that Obama could have gotten a bigger stimulus bill—maddeningly, the assertion continues to be made, most recently in a front-page story in the Washington Post’s Outlook section.

What really happened was summed up for Grunwald by Joe Biden: “I spoke to seven different Republican Senators, who said, ‘Joe, I’m not going to be able to help you on anything.’ … The way it was characterized to me was: ‘For the next two years, we can’t let you succeed in anything. That’s our ticket to coming back.’ ” And one Obama aide told Grunwald that “he received a similar warning from a Republican Senate staffer he was seeing at the time. He remembers asking her one morning in bed: How do we get a stimulus deal? She replied: Baby, there’s no deal.”

Okay, Biden and the staffer may not strike you as the most objective of sources, but two men who were Republican senators at the time of the stimulus, Bob Bennett and Arlen Specter, have confirmed to Grunwald that Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, “demanded unified resistance” to the stimulus bill.

I also mentioned in the last issue that the political scientists Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann identify the Republicans as the guilty party in congressional failure, but I failed to note that they join in The Newsroom’s challenge to the media to make clear to the public that congressional Republicans and Democrats are “no more necessarily equally responsible than a hit and run driver and a victim.”

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.