Political Animal


July 12, 2011 8:00 AM When ‘inflexible’ loses all meaning

By Steve Benen

The headline on the top political Associated Press article this morning reads, “Obama, Republicans trapped by inflexible rhetoric.” Seriously. That’s what it says. In fact, the story tells readers in the first paragraph that President Obama and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are both “seemingly trapped in inflexible bargaining positions.”

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but let’s pause to think about this for a moment. GOP leaders are saying they want a deal that’s 100% in their favor. If they don’t get what they want, Republicans might crash the economy on purpose. As the process unfolds and the deadline draws closer, the GOP line is hardening and becoming more extreme.

In contrast, we have the Obama White House, which is prepared to accept all kinds of concessions to make Republicans happy. But because he’s urging lawmakers on both sides to be flexible and remain open to compromise, President Obama, we’re told, is taking an “inflexible” bargaining position.

It’s not just the AP — NPR had a report yesterday that told listeners that the left and right are both to blame for this mess.

This is, of course, one of the unwritten establishment rules of the American political discourse: it doesn’t matter if one side is actually more responsible for a problem in reality; both sides must share the blame at all times.

Eugene Robinson is right to lament the “reflexive tendency to see equivalence where none exists.”

The truth is that Democrats have made clear they are open to a compromise deal on budget cuts and revenue increases. Republicans have made clear they are not.

Put another way, Democrats reacted to the “grand bargain” proposed by President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner by squawking, complaining and highlighting elements they didn’t like. This is known throughout the world as the way to begin a process of negotiation.

Republicans, by contrast, answered with a definitive “no” and then covered their ears. Given the looming Aug. 2 deadline for default if the debt ceiling is not raised, the proper term for this approach is blackmail. […]

Republicans are taking the position that not a cent of new revenue can be raised, no matter the euphemism. Some Democrats, yes, are being scratchy and cantankerous. But Republicans are refusing to negotiate at all. That’s not the same thing.

The assumption among many has been that Republicans would get the blame in the event of a man-made catastrophe because, you know, they’d deserve it. But the AP and NPR reports are a reminder that the public often believes what the establishment media tells them to believe, and in case there were any doubts, the public would be told that “both sides” were “inflexible.”

That makes shining a bright light of reality all the more important. Dems are not only willing to accept a compromise, reducing the debt through a combination of spending cuts and new revenue, they’re even willing to tilt this deal heavily in the GOP’s favor, with far more cuts than revenue. Republicans, as of this morning, aren’t willing to accept a compromise at all. Period.

There need not always be a pox on both houses. Sometimes, only one deserves it.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Mr. Serf Man on July 12, 2011 8:06 AM:

    Quote of the day- Letter to the NYT

    Eugene, OR

    I keep hearing that Republicans are unwilling to go back on their "pledge" that they will not support any revenue increases (the "Norquist" pledge).

    If Republicans feel that the Norquist pledge takes precedence over their oath of office, then they should resign now. Otherwise, history may brand them as "Norquislings."

  • FRP on July 12, 2011 8:07 AM:

    He he he he , I'll get you my pretty ...

    AND your little dog tooo !

    Oh, what a world ! What a world ! Who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness ? Oooooh , look out ! I'm going ! ...

    Anything is better than the poverty in this situation , thank goodness we have Hollywood to entertain us .

  • j on July 12, 2011 8:07 AM:

    I feel like a broken record - spineless, lazy media!

  • c u n d gulag on July 12, 2011 8:10 AM:

    Check out Lawrence O'Donnell's take on the debt ceiling talks. It's pretty interesting. And he's pretty savvy about political matters:


    And yes, of course this came from MSNBC, but maybe it's a start.

    Of course, for "balance," I'm sure Cup O' Schmoe and gang are busy with the AP take, if not outright saying it's the Democrats who are being stubborn.

    Oh, for a MSM with an average IQ of at least 100, a work ethic, curiousity, and acommittment to the truth.
    But, if we had that, we wouldn't be in this mess in the first place...

  • walt on July 12, 2011 8:13 AM:

    The right spent a couple of decades disputing the very idea of impartial media and this is the result. Everything must be "fair and balanced", "evenhanded", and the truth always lies between the two "extremes". I listen to NPR all the time, and outside blogs like this one and maybe the NYT, it's the only medium keeping me sane. But I bite my tongue while hosts like Diane Rehm validate the central psychosis of American discourse. There is no "middle" between a center-right party and a far-right party. There can't be and it's why the discourse in this nation keeps getting pulled even further to the right.

  • c u n d gulag on July 12, 2011 8:15 AM:

    Thank you Mr. Serf Man for posting ahasting0 of Eugene, OR, and the quote of the day in his letter to the NYT



  • berttheclock on July 12, 2011 8:18 AM:

    Yes, cundy, Mika was trying to get back into Joe's good gracious by playing RepuG, this AM. She questioned the Democratic House member and Eugene Robinson as to "why Obama only came up with this new plan two days ago"? The House member mentioned to her about the walk out of Cantor. Robinson spoke to her as if she were a lost child. He chided her with sarcasm which flew past her.

  • slappy magoo on July 12, 2011 8:19 AM:

    Republicans refuse to negotiate.
    Democrats refuse to NOT negotiate.
    See? Inflexibility on both sides. Right?
    Now if you'll excuse me I have to bang my head repeatedly against the wall so this "logic" makes more sense.

  • JD on July 12, 2011 8:22 AM:

    AP's Republican bias is both demonstrable and scandalous. This is only the latest in their continuing stream of anti-Obama and anti-Democrat stories.

    Given that this is the most prominent of the three main wire services, far better is expected. When can I expect to see a post that shows a sampling of biased stories by the AP? There would be no one better than Steve Benen to put together such a compendium.

  • Mr. Serf Man on July 12, 2011 8:24 AM:

    You're welcome...got me to thinking .
    lets look at the Congressional oath of office:

    “I, AB, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

    No free obligation or mental reservation on their part as far as I can see.

    Both you and the rest of us know: Controlled by the KochSuckers

  • efgoldman on July 12, 2011 8:29 AM:

    I screamed at my TV last nite.
    ABC did the same thing, also too.
    A report predicting, basically, the end of the economic world as we know it, but blaming both sides.

  • berttheclock on July 12, 2011 8:29 AM:

    Even if one does not want to use Quisling as meaning a traitor for Norguist, you can drop the (Q) and the (i) from the word and end up with the Norwegian word Usling, which means "wretch".

    So, traitor to the American dream or wretch for Norquist and his followers - Either one fits.

  • Jjm on July 12, 2011 8:31 AM:

    Obama really stuck it to them yesterday and called their bluff. He said he's willing to put everything on the table, and they are still walking away.

    The GOP's Wall St masters will soon rein them in; perhaps this is the beginning of that.

    But the main thing Obama showed yesterday is that the GOP has NO IDEAS! NOTHING BUT NON-NEGOTIABLE DEMANDS.

    By the way, "Norquislings" is a perfect name for these rats.

  • Grumpy on July 12, 2011 8:31 AM:

    NPR had a report yesterday that told listeners that the left and right are both to blame for this mess.

    NPR also, at one point, described the situation as "the budget crisis." There's a lot of confusion packed up in that shorthand.

  • SteveT on July 12, 2011 8:34 AM:

    Dems are not only willing to accept a compromise, reducing the debt through a combination of spending cuts and new revenue, they're even willing to tilt this deal heavily in the GOP's favor, with far more cuts than revenue.

    Which is the problem.

    Obama and too many Democrats are willing to accept a compromise that includes spending cuts that will drive up unemployment and reduce personal spending -- a compromise that will drive the country back into recession and ultimately increase the deficit more than the spending cuts will decrease it.

  • Kathryn on July 12, 2011 8:38 AM:

    Since the majority (by a long shot) do not watch Presidential news conferences or follow with sufficient concentration the unfolding nightmare of the debt ceiling and since the news media insists on reporting that it's both sides unwillingness to compromise, how does this not end badly? The AP headline came up on my computer when I turned it on. I didn't read article but felt a sense of despair just from the headline. Does the corporate news media want the nation to default on our debt? If so, they will find a way to blame Obama and the Democrats with a minor roll played by the hostage takers and the public will believe them. Minnesota is a walk in the park compared to what a default by the U.S. government will bring. Hope to meet some of these Politico types in the soup line, lying pompous morons! Is anybody else waking up at 5:30 A.M. with a knot in their stomach or it just me?

    captcha: Fuzzy wativa, is it contagious or worse?

  • bdop4 on July 12, 2011 8:38 AM:

    AP and NPR are almost worse than Fox, because they still wear a mantle of credibility of impartiality.

    NPR has never been the same since the Bush years. They are terrified of being labeled partisan and post false equivalencies daily. AP is just rightwing when it comes to politics. They're OK with "kitten trapped in tree" stories.

  • Ron Byers on July 12, 2011 8:41 AM:

    JD is right about the AP. The fail in the AP story is that the author tried to put some of the blame on Republicans. I suspect he or she will be called in to the big office for a lecture on how to right a story. Truth has nothing to do with the AP. Just another grand old institution taken over by the vandals.

  • j on July 12, 2011 8:42 AM:

    Great conversation this morning!
    Just a little (I guess) comedy this morning on another matter - the great hope Bachmann's husband apparently has no license to practice and got his degree online!

  • teeoh on July 12, 2011 8:45 AM:

    Jonathan Chait touched on something yesterday. Corporations... the biz lobby... has the most to lose if the U.S. defaults. When will we see those two start to pressure the GOP to raise the debt ceiling?

  • Churchyard on July 12, 2011 8:49 AM:

    A country half composed of mindless idiots. You waved your flag for a decade, as the greatest plundering of a public treasury in history took place, destroying the middle class in the process. Now you want to default on your obligations and destroy the world economy, while you balance your thievery on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

    Give me a 100% tax on the profits of investment banks, oil companies and military contractors until the entire debt is paid off. Then we can talk.

  • FRP on July 12, 2011 8:51 AM:

    The streets of Motor City now are are quiet and serene
    But the shapes of gutted buildings strike terror to the heart
    And you say how did it happen and you say how did it start
    Why can't we all be brothers why can't we live in peace
    But the hands of the the have-nots keep falling out of reach
    Black Day in July

    Is it naive to think that the hands that reach out are going to be Republican , maybe that is why they cannot be reached ?
    Wait a minute it is the have nots who are creating the difficulties !
    If a equals b , and b equals c , c must equal a
    There would be no difficulties if there were no have nots . Eliminating the have nots equals no difficulties , so haves minus have nots equals peace and plenty .
    But , but , what if there are more have nots ?
    Have nots minus haves might equal have nots ?

    Must watch TV

  • Josef K on July 12, 2011 8:53 AM:

    Given I'm presuming there won't be a compromise by August 2nd (or, indeed, in enough time to keep the markets from panicking), and as many have already pointed out the media tends to blame both sides, how plausible will some balanced resolution be after the bond market has gone off the rails and you have hedge fund managers committing suicide by the dozens?

    Okay, that last bit is perhaps a bit much, but the central question remains: should default/premature panic happen, and the public starts saying "both sides did it", what's the next step to be taken?

    Ideally, the Democrats will go on every channel and loudly declare they offered compromise and the Republicans refused. Ideally, the corporate money will run from the GOP and the Tea Party will be discredited for good.

    Ideally, we'll all be able to lay eggs made of gold and become individually self-supporting.

    We don't live in an ideal world. We live in one where Eric Cantor is the Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, John Boehner is the Speaker of the House, Mitch McConnell is Minority Leader in the Senate, and Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States.

    With such worthies in positions of such power and prestige, how much hope should we surrender in anticipation of the imminent disaster?

  • dcshungu on July 12, 2011 9:02 AM:

    I feel your pain and Gene Robinson's!!

    We saw this same false equivalence in Times' Carl Hulse's piece yesterday titled For Boehner, Lofty Budget Goals Checked by Reality (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/11/us/politics/11boehner.html), which was otherwise solid except that he had to go there:

    But one lesson has emerged: going for the rewards offered by a big deal requires the willingness to take big risks and such political nerve seems to be lacking in Washington at the moment.

    My response to this false equivalence resonated we well with Times' readers, ranking it 4th among more than 300 recommended posts:

    Great article, but wrong conclusion, again reflecting false equivalence in what has clearly been one side's (the Republicans') unwillingness to compromise. They kept requesting that we address the non-existent debt "crisis", so President Obama called their bluff and proposed the $4-trillion "grand bargain" in which he appeared to be willing to put the left's beloved social safety net of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security on the chopping block, to the great apprehension of his base (this writer included). And what happened? The Republicans blinked, Mr. Hulse, that's what happened; the president did not. He showed that he has the "political nerve" that you claim "seems to be lacking in Washington at the moment." So, please take your piece to its logical conclusion: Boehner lacked the "political nerve" to take on the Tea Party that's holding the Congressional Republican leadership hostage. The notion that the Republicans care about taking care of the deficit/debt that they created in the first place has been the biggest canard coming out of Washington since the voters rewarded them with just one of three seats of power that made them think that they were in charge of everything, and could demand anything they wanted with impunity. Boehner's retreat when the president called his bet (bluff) and then raised him a notch is all the proof anyone with an ounce of gray matter between the ears needs to know to understand that all the GOP's emphasis on huge spending cuts during a sputtering economic recovery is simply a misguided and lunatic ploy to hurt the country so that they would achieve their stated goal of making Obama a one-term president. What else does the mainstream media require to see that one side is determined to hurt the country simply to win elections?

  • Brenna on July 12, 2011 9:05 AM:

    Kathyrn - this debate is definitely upsetting me.

    Who knows what's all in the deal, but hearing that Obama offered to raise the medicare eligibility age really got to me. I'm just unsure what's he doing here. Lawrence O'Donnell said last night Obama is pulling a rope-a-dope on the republicans. I want to believe Obama isn't selling out the middle class, seniors and poor.

    Josef K - Don't worry about hedge fund managers. They're just like cockroaches. They'll not only survive but probably prosper through all this.

    Hopefully, the end result will be that congress just raises the damn debt ceiling with a clean vote.

  • Kathryn on July 12, 2011 9:17 AM:

    Still concerned that Joe Q. Public will be confused enough not to blame the GOP but love the certainty of Lawrence O'Donnell. We've been waiting for their Wall Street masters to rein them in for some time Jjm, seems reasonable that they will, but reasonable seems nearly irrational in this climate.

  • Celui on July 12, 2011 9:28 AM:

    What a series of (mostly) well-reasoned commentaries this morning! Thanks, all, for your in-depth thinking. There must be some kind of opening somewhere for those of you who do not fear the scourge of 'media equivalencies.' I re-read the entry by 'dcshungu' above, and marvel at its clarity. Good job. Once again, the worship of ideological idolatry will serve to mislead the populace by way of the media's intentional (mis)framing of an issue. I hope--and long for--today's Democratic replies to this 'inflexibility' nonsense as a certain bold face of straight-forward facts and, yes, some attachment of blame portending the damages in store if the whole process does fail. Look at Minnesota today, once one of the top 'progressive-minded' states: its economy is paralyzed by inflexible inaction pushed to the brink by that state's Republican statehouse. And, remember that Bachmann is from MN! Get out there, Democrats, and show the world that the king has no pants! Oh, and one more thing: I can't decide if Boehner or Cantor would make the more dangerous Speaker of the House. One can't lead, and the other is content to lead others off the cliff while staying behind himself. What a choice!!

  • berttheclock on July 12, 2011 9:33 AM:

    So happy to see Lawrence O'Donnell receive some well deserved praise from the Left. He has brought his intelligence and legislative experience to cable. Far better than an ex-sports caster turned frothy. But, then, that one was largely responsible for the needed elevation of Maddow, so, it didn't turn out to be all bad.

  • Perspecticus on July 12, 2011 10:11 AM:

    That report on No More Mr. Nice Blog was what your article made me think of. As noted, the guest stated that the GOP was sticking to it's spending cuts plan while dem Dems would not be moved off their new taxes plan. It was such a dishonest or incompetent statement and, of course, demonstrably false. Still, neither Diane Rehm, the other guests, nor any caller that got through (there were a couple calls that did not get through) made note of it. I'm just glad somebody noticed.

    On a related note, I wish Ms. Rehm would institute a ban on the phrases "uncertainty" and "both sides do it." While in the latter case, it may not allow for Karen Tumulty to be a guest any longer for lack of anything to say, but I'm willing to take that risk.

  • Eric on July 12, 2011 12:50 PM:

    I often wonder if news organizations would still hold on to the meme that "both sides are to blame" if the situation was reversed. What if the Democrats arbitrarily said that they will not vote to raise the debt ceiling unless the Republicans agreed to an enormous debt-reduction package that only included raising revenue. Any mention of spending cuts would be a non-starter. Even if the Republicans agreed to 80% tax increases and 20% spending cuts, the Democrats would walk away and allow the United States to default on its obligations. Would "both sides" still be to blame?

  • orange on July 12, 2011 1:45 PM:

    I tried to buy a car the other day. I haggled with the dealer for a while, and got him to come way down in price. But he refused to give it to me for free! How inflexible of him!