Political Animal


December 19, 2011 12:35 PM The nature of the ‘stalemate’

By Steve Benen

I generally find Steven Pearlstein’s columns worthwhile, but his piece yesterday left me scratching my head, wondering if he’s watching the same Washington policymakers I am.

There was, for example, this lazy both-sides-are-always-to-blame observation that’s at odds with reality.

These days, Washington is stuck in a nasty Nash equilibrium. The two dominant parties — the anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-government wing of the Republican Party, and the raise-taxes-on-the-rich-but-don’t-touch-my-entitlement wing of the Democratic Party — have fought each other to stalemate. Every few weeks or so, some event or deadline comes along that appears to hold out the prospect that one side or the other might prevail and thereby break the deadlock. But, in the end, nothing really gets resolved, nobody wins and the stalemate continues.

This is a fairly obvious “false equivalencies” problem. Pearlstein is, of course, half right — the Republican Party is dominated by anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-government policymakers at every level of government. Moderates have been run out of the GOP, and compromise has been deemed a dirty word. But Pearlstein’s take on Democrats runs counter to everything we’ve seen all year.

Pearlstein sees Dems as refusing to compromise on entitlements. We know that’s not true because, well, Dems have been to willing compromise on entitlements. Not only was President Obama prepare to accept major changes to entitlements in the so-called “grand bargain” that Republicans rejected, but more recently, super-committee Democrats were willing to strike a deal with the GOP — entitlement reforms for tax revenue. Republicans refused.

Indeed, even now, with the fight over a payroll tax break at center stage, Republicans asked Democrats to make two concessions: no surtax on the very wealthy and an expedited decision on Keystone XL. Dems accepted both demands — only to find Republicans balk at the tax deal anyway.

This is no small error on Pearlstein’s part. It’s true that gridlocked Washington constantly ends up in stalemates in which “nothing really gets resolved,” but it’s imperative that journalists and voters understand why these conditions persist. Those who chalk it up to “both sides” being reluctant to accept concessions are ignoring readily-available facts.

What’s worse, Pearlstein pivots from this mistake to endorse Howard Schultz’s idea for a donor boycott in which well-intentioned people refuse to make any campaign contributions until the parties start working together.

I don’t know what’s gotten into Pearlstein — he’s usually more sensible — but it only takes a minute to think through how misguided this idea is.

Schultz and his cooperating business leaders are demanding that policymakers work on a policy agenda that the Obama White House and many Democrats have already endorsed. But instead of supporting those who agree with them, Schultz & Co. are punishing their own allies by refusing to offer them financial support.

If these wealthy folks said, “We’ll only donate to candidates who agree to pursue our preferred agenda,” that would certainly make sense. It might even create an incentive for policymakers (“I want the contributions, so I should be more open to the kind of compromise the business leaders are demanding”).

But that’s not what they’re up to, preferring instead to withhold support from everyone, no matter how willing they are to compromise, no matter how much they agree with a sensible policy agenda. They only people on Capitol Hill delighted by this donor-boycott effort are those who disagree with Schultz and his partners’ ideas.

For that matter, as Ezra Klein explained yesterday, Schultz’s initiative ironically “gives the more extreme elements of the political system sole responsibility for feeding it, and as such, encourages politicians to rely on them, and govern in a way that keeps them happy.”

I’m at a loss to understand why Pearlstein, or anyone else frustrated by DC’s dysfunction, would find this praiseworthy.

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.


  • T2 on December 19, 2011 12:48 PM:

    anyone still trying to sell the "both sides are to blame" meme at this point has to know better. It's simply impossible not to see where the full blame lies. So for my money, whomever, including Pearlstein, still spreading that is either a fool who does not deserve to be read or paid to write, OR a shill propagandist of the GOP.
    So Pearlstein what is it? Fool or GOPer? I'm guessing the answer is GOPer, since if he's a fool, he's probably a GOPer too.

  • Whaaa? on December 19, 2011 12:49 PM:

    What??? Media are lazy pieces of shit???

    Oh dear -- fetch the smelling salts!

  • Brenna on December 19, 2011 12:51 PM:

    Steve, I read that column yesterday as well and was furious. How he can say the dems won't compromise is beyond insane! I was going to post a comment to his column but decided why bother.

    I read a lot of people's comments saying stuff like I won't give the dems one more dollar to blow. Yet they don't understand or remember the thugs blew our money on a ridiculous war, tax cuts that weren't paid for and Medicare part D. I bet these same people will be pretty upset if their (or someone they care about) social security or medicare is diminished.

    It's useless. It just seems we're heading for a complete meltdown. And then hopefully a complete reworking of this busted gov't. There's just too much anger and hatred out there for it to go any other way.

  • c u n d gulag on December 19, 2011 12:55 PM:

    I don't get this at all.

    I think maybe we as individuals should stop giving money to the parties until they agree to stop taking money from corporations.

    Or, better yet, make election be publicly financed.

    If you take the money out of politics, these assholes would really have to work for the people - or pay for their wrath at election time.

    Right now, no matter how wrathful we are, there's some rich schmuck or corporation willing to salve the politicians hurt feelings with large donations, which are used to run commercials for their pet politico, aimed at no/low/misinformed voters, which gets them reelected, which further encourages the politicians to do their pimp's bidding.

    It's a vicious cycle, and it's all but killed this once great country.

  • @the_dan on December 19, 2011 1:15 PM:

    As establishment Washington's official mouthpiece, the Post can't go around admitting that the core problem with American politics right now is that one of the two major has been taken over by plutocrats, radicals and nihilists.

    I'm more shocked that Robinson and Dionne get away with it once in a while than I am by Pearlstein's false equivalence.

  • Danp on December 19, 2011 1:15 PM:

    Schultz’s initiative ironically “gives the more extreme elements of the political system sole responsibility for feeding it, and as such, encourages politicians to rely on them, and govern in a way that keeps them happy.”

    Only if by "more extreme elements", you mean the wealthiest, who do get their politicians to act as they want. Pearlstein is being disingenuous by suggesting that the 99% can effect change by not contributing. And yet isn't that his audience?

  • FriscoSF on December 19, 2011 1:18 PM:

    Technically, it's NOT a 'stalemate'....

    The Goopers are just waiting for Obama to 'cave' (again and again)

    This won't take long ...
    (now put on this collar and Presidential leash, Mr President...)

  • Ron Byers on December 19, 2011 1:26 PM:

    I don't know any democrats who are unwilling to take cuts in entitlements if the cuts are done properly. I do know Republicans who would rather watch their baby daughter die than raise taxes on the Koch brothers.

  • Another Steve on December 19, 2011 1:36 PM:

    Pish-posh, Steve. Clearly, you're just DFH blogger who's upset because the real journalists aren't being biased partisans.

  • jjm on December 19, 2011 1:53 PM:

    @FriscoSF is at it again. I wish s/he would just go away.

  • navarro on December 19, 2011 2:03 PM:

    tragically, most of the comments on the pearlstein piece sound like they were lifted right off of redstate. after the 4th one i read castigating pearlstein for his obvious democratic bias i gave up.

    debtor iptimme

  • chi res on December 19, 2011 2:25 PM:


    Do you get a lot of treats for being the republican's lapdog?

    FETCH, SF, FETCH! ------------>>>>>>>

  • Joe Friday on December 19, 2011 2:31 PM:

    Pearlstein: "the raise-taxes-on-the-rich-but-don't-touch-my-entitlement wing of the Democratic Party"

    And ?


    (Entitlements are NOT the drivers of the federal deficits & debt, tax cuts for the Rich & Corporate ARE.)

  • George Kaiser on December 19, 2011 2:46 PM:

    "I think maybe we as individuals should stop giving money to the parties until they agree to stop taking money from corporations."

    Good luck.

  • Rich on December 19, 2011 2:59 PM:

    Pearlstein isn't near;y as stupid as Samuelson (the Post/Newsweek econ guy who endorses whatever cw idea is floating and always has---I remember when he was semi-liberal, but that was when the cw was semi-liberal). Still, he's a Postie which means that bipartisanship is bliss and false equivalence is the half-baked version of "objectivity" to which all should aspire. he's an idiot and his obvious stupidity and lack of even the simplest research needs to be put in that context.

  • Lloyd B. on December 19, 2011 3:09 PM:

    chi res on December 19, 2011 2:25 PM:

    You'd be surprised what you get when you hand out a treat.

  • Greg on December 19, 2011 3:11 PM:

    wow. the blame game. this is new. not. liberals are scared to lose their power hold on the weak-minded individuals their party takes advantage of so often. it is sad.

  • Ron on December 19, 2011 3:22 PM:

    The American people look directly at the intractable dimocrats and salivate for the Nov 12 elections and the ability to eliminate more of them, thats the bottom line

  • TheAntiProgressive on December 19, 2011 3:24 PM:

    What we are seeing is the implosion of 70 years of Progressive policies. What are the big problems? Progressive designed problems. These are the Progressive problems and they don't want to solve them as they would have to admit all thier promises were nothing but lies in the first place. Where is that budget Harry? Hmmmmm?

  • Chrome on December 19, 2011 3:26 PM:


    You say Moderates have been driven out of the republican party?

    How many Blue Dogs are there again? 25?

    And Moderate Senators?
    Bill Nelson is going -- so too will McCaskill now that she called out Harry Reid.

    I see no Evan Bayhs -- in fact, I saw Evan Bayh not run again ( handing that seat to the Republicans ) out of sheer disgust at his OWN party.

    I mean after all ...
    Moderates are "Brain Dead" ( Rep. Pete Stark )
    Problematic votes ( Rep. Henry Waxman )

    Ya know?
    When your own party LEADERS call you Brain Dead and Problematic ... you can pretty much tell you are not welcome.

    By the end of this year there will be NO moderates in the Democratic party.
    problematic Brain Deaders need not apply.

  • kenih on December 19, 2011 3:28 PM:

    What entitlement reform was Obama willing to do? Does anyone have a credible news article they can point at? The same goes for Harry Reid and his twin Nancy. Oh yeah I remember now...Obama couldn't show us his proposed entitlement changes because then the evil republican's would use it against him... Oh, and then he actually dared the Republican's to make a proposal of their own! And guess what? Ryan made a proposal. The R's passed it in the house, and it went no where. Meanwhile Obama did yet another victory tour of American talking about how Ryan wanted to toss Grandma off a cliff. All the while saying how he couldn't possibly tell americans what his plan was... Kind of ironic that just today we see in the news how Ryan and Democrat Wyden got together and together and proposed similar legislation...too which the Obama administration had to come out and call them both nuts.

    Obama was willing to do entitlement reform...yeah right. Obama was picked as our nations leader and instead he hides behind the liberal media.

  • MERLIN on December 19, 2011 3:31 PM:

    Yes. Wasn't it great when Democrats controlled both Houses and Obama passed the destructive $800b+ stimulus and the hated Obamacare.

  • jjm on December 19, 2011 3:31 PM:


    The GOP must be starting to run scared on this one, since suddenly 4 or 5 super trolls just hit this post (the last few) ... That always happens when the Dems get the upper hand for a moment.

  • John Corzine on December 19, 2011 3:37 PM:

    Good, they should be scared.

  • jjm on December 19, 2011 3:43 PM:

    One more thing to respond to these trolls:

    Just why SHOULD there be 'entitlement reform'? Entitlement meaning exactly what? That you get to have the guaranteed income that you have spent your working life paying for, unlike 401Ks that Wall Street can snatch away from you whenever they feel a need for your money?

    Like Medicare, which has THE LOWEST OVERHEAD of any medical insurance and that galls insurers because they want to be able to charge through the nose those older folks who would like to stay alive and not die in miserable circumstances?

    Who are you to snoot on entitlements, so-called?

    You are one of those Romneyites who believe that paid labor and guaranteed pensions should be ELIMINATED so that you, still earning big profits from your vampire company from its killing jobs, can be a millionaire many times over?

    That's who you are defending so strongly? People who believe that 'the people' exist only to be preyed upon, their lives and incomes sucked out of them to greatest extent possible?

    Good heavens listen to yourselves, you trolls. You are koch-ers who want to overthrow the working class and sit on the piles of cash you've stolen from them.

  • John Corzine on December 19, 2011 3:59 PM:

    jjm on December 19, 2011 3:43 PM:

    Great post. The Republican theft in this nation is an outrage! But what can we do? Sigh...