Political Animal


February 27, 2013 11:59 AM Open Mic Nite at the False Equivalency Cafe

By Ed Kilgore

These are the days of wine and roses for practitioners of that fine old Beltway MSM tradition of partisan false equivalency. And why wouldn’t they be? After all, we’ve got divided partisan control of government, which makes apportioning the blame equally a natural default drive interpretation of events. We’re drifting towards a series of fiscal calamities—a sequester, then maybe a government shutdown—that both parties claim they do not want to happen.

But most importantly, there is an obvious “solution” to the country’s fiscal problems that is nicely symmetrical in that it would seem to ask for equal “sacrifice” from partisans on both sides: if only Republicans would accept higher taxes on the wealthy, and Democrats would accept “entitlement reform” (defined as benefit cuts), the fiscal “crisis” could be brought to a dignified end.

Because the “adults” in both parties (a very important concept in this sort of Dover Beach Centrism that treats politicians as unruly children in need of direction) haven’t produced this obvious solution, it can be inferred that they are not trying hard enough. Thus, it doesn’t matter that the president has repeatedly offered a formula of “entitlement reform for tax reform;” he’s not offering it clearly enough or emphatically enough, and more importantly, he’s not rubbing his own supporters’ nose in it even nearly enough to make it a genuine “compromise.” And besides: he’s the president! He’s supposed to have magical powers! His desk is where the buck stops!

This both-sides-are-to-blame-equally-but-Obama-is-more-than-equally-to-blame diagnosis for a fiscal crisis deliberately, unilaterally and eternally engineered by the GOP as an expression of everything they believe in has been especially rampant this week. I won’t repeat, but will simply link to, Greg Sargent’s evisceration of David Brooks’ latest cri de couer to Obama to impose the taxes-plus-entitlement-reform fix on Washington, and James Fallows’ exasperated analysis of the factual holes in a Washington Post editorial scoring the president’s lack of “leadership.”

But now we have a fresh provocation from WaPo columnist David Ignatius, who lifts the false equivalency meme to a new and unintentionally hilarious level. The column begin by what appears to be a flat assignment of blame to the GOP for its ideological manias:

We have a political system that is the equivalent of a drunk driver. The primary culprits are the House Republicans. They are so intoxicated with their own ideology that they are ready to drive the nation’s car off the road. I don’t know if the sequestration that’s set to begin Friday will produce a little crisis or a big one; the sad fact is that the Republicans don’t know, either, yet they’re still willing to put the country at risk to make a political point.

Ah, but note it’s the political system, not the GOP, that’s the “drunk driver,” and if Republicans are hooched up on ideology, the President’s a “co-dependent” daring them to keep bellying up to the bar!

[H]e should take the steering wheel firmly in hand and drive the car toward the destination where most maps show we need to be heading: namely, a balanced program of cuts in Social Security and Medicare and modest increases in revenue.
Instead, Obama has chosen to be co-dependent, as psychologists describe those who foster the destructive behavior of others. He double-dared the reckless Republicans by proposing the sequester back in 2011. And rather than stepping up to leadership since being reelected, he has triple-dared the GOP hotheads with a partisan inaugural address and weeks of what the Republicans rightly have called a “road show” of blame-game politics.

Then, perhaps realizing how ridiculous this sounds, Ignatius doubles back and insists he’s not assigning blame equally:

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.

But whence cometh this addiction? Here Ignatius pulls the argument right back to false equivalency even as he’s denying it:

Today’s Republicans seem to suffer from what’s sometimes known as Obama Derangement Syndrome, in which their hatred of the president blinds them to the country’s interests. To be honest, this malady is eerily similar to the Bush Derangement Syndrome that afflicted Democrats during the previous decade. The Democrats were so incensed back then that they stopped caring whether America succeeded or failed in Iraq; Republicans are so angry now that they don’t care whether the economy goes to hell.

Here you have a false equivalency—America’s “success” in the doomed Iraq War is equivalent to the basic ability of the federal government to function, and of the U.S. economy to recover—wrapped within a false equivalency, which is quite the feat. But it brings Ignatius full circle to the idea that both sides are “incapacitated drivers” running the country off the road. If only daddy would take away the keys!

Obama tries everything to gain control — except a clear, firm presidential statement that speaks to everyone onboard, those who voted for him and those who didn’t — that could get the country where it needs to go.

I’m not sure if Ignatius’ routine here can be improved upon in its wildly veering and self-contradicting patterns. But there are probably plenty of others standing in line to offer their own stand-up set at the False Equivalency Cafe.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • schtick on February 27, 2013 12:14 PM:

    There is never "equal sacrifice" when their own salary, perks and benefits are never on the table.

  • gregor on February 27, 2013 12:26 PM:

    All these guys must have been raised by parents who fought a lot.

    Their main argument seems to be mom and dad, please!

    GOP has gone insane, and the journalists and opinion makers have gone bananas that daddy and mommy are not talking anymore.

  • c u n d gulag on February 27, 2013 12:27 PM:

    To be fair, he's actually at least starting to acknowledge that there's a problem.
    And that's at least a step in the right direction!

    Of course, he's still full of the "DC Villager Beltway Bipartisan Both Sides Do It Blame Game" BS, because he's been steeping in it for too much of his adult life.

    Now, as for the accusation of "Obama Derangement Syndrome" being the equal of the Liberal's "Bush Derangement Syndrome," there's simply NO truth that we Liberals wanted out troops to fail in Iraq.

    And, I hoped, knowing full well it wouldn't happen, that Bush handled the aftermath of 9/11 with grace, dignity, and class, and took the opportunity that was presented to us through horror, to help unify the world on a number of causes - chief amongst them, needless religious and sectarian terrorism, that breeds nothing but anarchy and nihilism - and revenge.

    But I knew that hoping for that was a fools errand.

    The DERANEMENT against Bush came, first, from his mis-handling of 9/11 and it's aftermath.

    And then, from getting the US into the needless wars and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq in the FIRST PLACE - and then the complete botch his mis-adminnistraion did once they did go in and decide to stay there!

    And then, there were the tax CUTS (for the rich - natch!)during a period of "war."
    And then torture.
    And then the abrogation of civil and privacy rights here in the US.
    And then the Big Pharma give-away.
    And then the idiotic bankruptcy laws.
    And then virtually eliminating Habeus Corpus.
    And the the deregulation of the finance industries, culminating in the Bush Depression.

    What is THEIR "Obama Derangement Syndrome" based on?
    Michelle's mythical "Whitey Tapes?"
    Constant questioning of the President's place of birth, despite any number of efforts that PROVED his US citizenship?
    And other assorted BS!

    Their derangement over Obama, is not over the mildly left-center African-American President.
    It's of some KenyanSocialistFascistCommunistHeathenMuslimAtheist, who is determined to bring Sharia Law to the US.

    Our "Bush Derangement Syndrome," was over REAL things, with REAL consequences, done by the Bush Administration.

    Their "Obama Derangement Syndrome," is a derangement over an Obama of their fertile, fearful, hate-filled and racist, imaginations.

    DC Villagers:

  • sjw on February 27, 2013 12:27 PM:

    Excellent take and take-down of the Ignatius piece. I had read it last evening and thought, "Here's Exhibit 3,209,211 for False Equivalency." It's fascinating (and frustrating) to me how the Beltway punditocracy just can't wrap its mind around Republican Neo-Anarchism.

  • Josef K on February 27, 2013 12:28 PM:

    Ah, but note it’s the political system, not the GOP, that’s the “drunk driver,” and if Republicans are hooched up on ideology, the President’s a “co-dependent” daring them to keep bellying up to the bar!

    Without psychoanalyzing the unfortunate ignoramous Ignatius, I see this as indicative of a more general unease Washingtonians have with anyone standing on anything that smacks of principle outside of the current orthodoxy (whatever that might be). I don't feel much sympathy for them.

  • Peter C on February 27, 2013 12:42 PM:

    This idiocy is extremely frustrating.

    FIRST, the cleanest, simplest, and quickest solution would be for Congress to repeal the sequester and resolve to determine fiscal policy through the normal appropriations process. The simplest solution is NOT some grand bargain; it is simply Congress doing its job. We pay them to control the purse strings of the government.

    Pure and simple, this is a case of Congress FAILING to do its job. It's not a failure of the Presidency. It's not a failure of the Judiciary. This is a failure of CONGRESS. It hasn't happened since the Gingrich Congress in the late 90s. It ONLY happens when Republicans are in charge.

  • CJT on February 27, 2013 1:19 PM:

    I was offended by the Ignatious column. I was never deranged. My abject hatred of Bush was based on facts and rationality.

  • Th on February 27, 2013 1:19 PM:

    Sure the Republican position is wrong and the Obama proposals are more in line with Ignatius and the rest, but we should not even be talking about deficits. That is as much Obama's fault as anyone's. He screwed his own Presidency with his shift from stimulus and then trying to use the debt ceiling for his Grand and Glorious Bargain. Obama may or may not be the Manchurian Candidate from the University of Chicago Economics Dept. but it matters little if that is the lasting impact of his (mis)calculation. Hubris, stupidity or treachery? It just doesn't matter. Has any liberal congressman proposed a straight repeal bill?

  • boatboy_srq on February 27, 2013 2:21 PM:

    Not meaning anything by this, Mr. Kilgore, but suggesting that an approach to modern politics that "treats politicians as unruly children in need of direction" is unwise, oversimplistic, or otherwise inappropriate hasn't seen McCain, Graham, Sessions, McConnell et al at work recently. The entire GOTea is a four-year-old's temper tantrum, right down to discovering that "No!" is their favorite word. The only difference is that we have Reichwing moneybags rewarding the bad behavior instead of spanking the spoiled brats for acting out.


    Ignatius just earned his "hack" credentials. "Obama’s sequestration legislation" shows that no matter where he points a finger, he's bought into the GOTea talking points. And his BSDI comparison of ODS and BDS misses one key thing: the Shrubbery gave us multiple colossal, expensive boondoggles, rife with fraud and abuse, and steeped in GOTea execution of "Big Gubmint is the problem" policies, and all BHO has done is try to right the ship by allowing that age-old GOP policies might have merit after all. BDS arose from a b#tsh!t-crazy tax cut (hadn't we just fought for ten years about getting the deficit under control?), a fabricated casus belli for Iraq, cash-by-the-pallet incompetence on the ground, multiple manufactured crises (Enron, Katrina recovery, etc) right up to the financial meltdown. The only driver for ODS is TABMITWH.

  • LaFollette Progressive on February 27, 2013 3:42 PM:

    This situation is similar to the one discussed with the Voting Rights Act.

    The older generation of media gasbags, who grew up with a Congress that successfully cut deals across party lines, will simply all have to die before we can have a reasonable national conversation about how to address the dysfunction of our political system.

    You can see hints of dawning awareness at the corners of Ignatius's aging, bloodshot eyes, but he can't reconcile what he sees with the central dogma of his tribe -- both sides are always equally to blame, bipartisanship is always the answer, and firm, manly leadership can cure all ills. He wouldn't have gotten to where he is in life if he hadn't internalized this worldview, and his surviving neurons are not capable of firing any other way.

  • Rick Massimo on February 27, 2013 4:28 PM:

    I just got the most awesome idea!

    You know what Obama oughta do? he oughta spend about a year traveling the country, explaining what he'd like to do as far as running the country over the next four years!

    Wait, wait - it gets better: Some prominent Republican (I dunno; they can pick him themselves) can do the same thing!

    They can even get together on the same stage a few times and talk about their ideas together!

    And then - wait for it - at the end of the year, the American people can, like, VOTE on which way they wanna go! It'll be just like American Idol! And the best part is, after that it'll be settled. 'Cause we'll have a leader, and he'll do the things he said he'd do, and it'll be OK 'cause we VOTED for him!

    The only people who'll complain are the people who wanted the other guy.

    And, um, people who wanted the other guy but are afraid to admit it because they won't sound centrist and reasonable and detached and unbiased and all.

    Too bad Obama's not a strong enough leader to do something like that. I'm sure it's all his fault.

  • Bob on February 27, 2013 5:03 PM:

    It's the Republicans who are to blame but that's Obama's fault.

  • beb on February 27, 2013 7:28 PM:

    I don't actually recall any Bush Derangement Syndrome, but I do recall Clinton Derangement Syndrome where anything the Big Dog did was subject to ominous conspiracy theories.

  • James M on February 27, 2013 9:26 PM:

    Hmm...maybe it is due to being an Okie, but I when I grew up I was endlessly told the old saw about the turtle walking down the road. The right side of the road was OK, and the left side was also fine. It was walking down the middle of the road that would get you smashed.

    When did looking for the midpoint between 2 extremes become the end-all and be-all of U.S. political punditry? Successful politicians almost always have a stance. They may make mistakes, or the long-term effect of their policies may not be what they intended, but they almost never govern from the 'middle'.

    So, BO probably shouldn't try to take the middle route, and there is also no evidence that he could even if he wanted to. What 'middle' position could BO possibly take with people who do not accept his legitimacy and disagree with him on virtually every major issue?

  • mds on February 28, 2013 10:59 AM:

    "a clear firm presidential statement"--
    wonder why Obama has not made any statements on these issues