in American politics.
I say that after being inspired by a timely, insightful July 26th column by Paul Krugman in the New York Times. (http://Krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/26/the-cult-that-is-destroying-america/) Krugman expressed amazement that the news media has described both the Democratic and Republican sides as being "intransigent" when, obviously, the Tea Party core of Republicans has caused most of the trouble in recent days. Krugman also found it striking that the media continues to portray President Barack Obama as a liberal voice, when, in fact, his position during this crisis has been remarkably conservative. Obama has gone so far out of his way to "compromise" with Republicans that his position could be labled as "moderate" at best and conservative if you consider the voluntary nature of his concessions.
Krugman's column got me thinking about one of my favorite topics: The extent to which large truths are simply not presented in news stories in the media - whether it's television, online or print. We've all grown so used to the incomplete or distorted presentation of the news that we feel resigned, powerless and further removed from our democracy.
What's annoying is that the Republicans seem to take advantage of the deep flaws and omissions of the media far more than Democrats. It's as if they know, in advance, how superficial the coverage will be and, in the case of the debt-ceiling story, I think they knew that even if they drew much criticism, they could damage Obama substantially in the process.
The following are just a few examples of the media's superficial, misleading coverage of the debt-ceiling crisis:
1. Look at the basic frame of this debt-ceiling story. For weeks, we've heard about how "both sides continued to make no progress...." blah, blah, blah. Well, the story could have been presented like this: "The new right-wing Tea Party faction of the Republican Party continued to block any progress in a crisis that it has been most responsible for creating......"
2. The media never places enough weight on the fact that the wealthiest segment of Americans will continue to avoid paying a proportionate share of tax revenue that the US Congress could easily ask to step up and contribute to a solution of the debt crisis. The Bush tax cuts have allowed the nation's richest citizens to avoid paying a proportional share of taxes for years and now, even during this debt ceiling crisis, it appears a final solution will not include any taxes!
3. The media has failed to explain the reasons for the enormous debt. Republicans have spouted the mantra that Obama caused the debt for so long that reporters have neglected to explain not only the huge Bush tax cuts, but, the war in Iraq - with its tremendous costs over years - was a factor, along with the war in Afghanistan under both Bush and Obama. Also, the unusual, costly steps Obama authorized to try to save the economy from spiraling even further downward and the funds spent to save the auto industry, banks, AIG and other entities going broke in 2009. The point is the debt grew a lot under Bush, and some of its growth under Obama was related to Obama's efforts to save the economy from a Depression.
4. The Republicans are responsible for this entire debt ceiling crisis. They calculated to attach their urgent insistence on spending cuts to the deadline for raising the debt ceiling. They refused to give in one inch on including any tax revenue in a proposed solution. Obama, meanwhile, has been extremely willing to compromise to avert the last-minute crisis we face today while Republicans have not been. His offer, more than a week ago, to agree to huge cuts in spending totalling $3-4 trillion as long as tax revenue paid for a relatively small, but substantial share of it was a major compromise. (The Republicans were stupid to not accept it, in my view) It would not have taken much legwork for reporters and their editors/producers to document and "play up" the leading role of Tea Party Republicans in causing this entire mess, but, instead, they've fallen into their usual pathetic role of "presenting both sides" as if they share equal responsibility.
5. The coverage of this story illustrates, in disturbing fashion, how television simply will not make any effort to let opposing parties have a genuine argument on camera. Instead, it's all about sound bites and who's ahead and superficial updating of the "debate." Wouldn't you love to see Obama and Boehner be left alone to have an actual debate on the issues related to the debt for an hour? I think we'd find out how little substance there is behind much of the rhetoric, particularly on Boehner's side. The problem is Obama and other Democrats have failed to find ways to make persuasive, compelling arguments that reach the American people. Perhaps if they singled out how an individual millionaire's tax status has been impacted in recent years vs. a lower-middle class person's tax status, that would help them make their bigger argument.
6. Michele Bachmann, now a Republican presidential candidate, aired a television ad saying she would not vote to increase the debt ceiling, which she said "goes completely contrary to commonsense and how I grew up in Iowa...." I saw this remark displayed on television without anyone challenging Bachmann on how or why she could make such a reckless, thoughtless remark.
7. Some Republicans have been right in pointing out one thing: Prior to this recent crisis, Obama did little or nothing to tackle the huge debt facing the nation. In early 2010, Obama appointed a bipartisan commission led by former US Sen Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles
to develop recommendations for reducing the enormous debt. When the commission released its final report in December, 2010, Obama remained relatively silent. He said nothing about the commission's positions on potential cuts in entitlement programs or other recommendations, and, it appeared obvious he didn't want to alienate anyone in the base of his party. The point is Obama has shown the same lack of leadership as everyone else on making tough decisions to reduce the debt.
8. If Obama has some heart and soul left, now is the time for him to look deeply within himself to find both. He has to stop acting like a leader who cares only about avoiding mistakes for the purpose of getting re-elected. Where is the Obama from the 2008 campaign? That wasn't all an act, was it? If not, Mr. President, it's time for you to stand up to this "small-minded" group of Republicans, tap your oratorical talents and speak up - from your gut - about what's right and wrong as you advocate for the American people. People would love to see that side of you.