When I woke up this morning, I cracked open my paper and came across this simpleminded and asinine opinion piece, courtesy of the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board. Yay for the debt limit deal, they argue, because it proves that Washington still works, despite the best efforts of some imaginary, bipartisan obstruction patrol.
The ideologically-driven progressives on the far left and the rigid tea party crowd on the far right seem equally entrenched against building consensus around workable solutions.
But at some point, the relentless finger-pointing and blaming of "the other side" needs to stop so America's very real and complicated problems can be addressed in meaningful ways.
The first thing that popped into my mind was a quote from Paul Krugman. "The 'both sides are at fault' people have to know better; if they refuse to say it, it's out of some combination of fear and ego, of being unwilling to sacrifice their treasured pose of being above the fray," he wrote recently. "It's a terrible thing to watch, and our nation will pay the price."
But it's worse than just a media making things up to create an illusion of shared responsibility for Washington craziness. It's an illusion that must be maintained. If you just declare it so, there's a danger that people will notice the distinct lack of evidence. The "balance" is hopelessly unbalanced, with the vast bulk of the craziness coming from the right.
Consider, for example, Joe Biden comparing Tea Party Republicans to terrorists in the debt limit negotiations. Immediately after it was reported, Republican victim cards were flying.
But Steve Benen points out that plenty of people -- including Republicans themselves -- have compared the party to terrorists and no one raised an eyebrow. Pete Sessions went so far as to say that the GOP has to become more like the taliban -- nothing. No outrage.
Then Benen makes a good point:
Tell you what, August is often a time for larger, meta-style public debates, so maybe there should be a national discussion about this. Would the RNC welcome the debate? Maybe the media should present the public with "both sides": reasons why the Republicans' hostage strategy and threats to hurt the country on purpose were similar to terrorist tactics, and reasons their efforts were dissimilar?
Of course, he doesn't actually expect this to happen and that's the point. If Sarah Palin pulls "death panels" out of her hyper-patriotic butt, we have to spend weeks taking the whole thing seriously. Are there death panels? Aren't there? Let's talk to a panel of experts and take national polls and get to the bottom of the whole thing. Never mind that it became PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year" for 2009 and was completely insane on its face, it was super-important that everyone take this extremely seriously and have a national debate about whether or not we wanted grandma to stand before a shadowy group of unelected bureaucrats and beg for her life.
But will that happen with Republican terrorism? Of course not. The crazy side of the scale is way over on the right. When a Republican says something that's not all that accurate, we have to drop everything and find out whether it is, in fact, not all that accurate. And, in doing so, we have to be very careful to avoid answering that question. The most important thing is to bend over backwards to pretend that some crazy person's ramblings are a valid point worth discussing. They have to provide cover for the nutjobs with a debate about the validity of their nutjobbery.
But the Tea Party as terrorists? Yeah, don't expect that to go anywhere. That comment is from the left, which has a craziness deficit. In order to preserve the illusion of balance, we'll just say he said it, get Michele Bachmann to express her outrage over it, and leave it at that. The human gaffe machine gaffes again. No big national debate, because that would give Biden's comment added validity and upset the phantom balance.
Whether it's from your hometown paper or from talking heads on cable, the answer is always the same -- both sides are equally at fault. Always. Improbable as that is in even just a statistical sense, it must always be true.
And when it's not, the news must be very carefully manipulated to make it appear as if it's true. If that means that baseless public accusations of a plot for mass murder are serious politics, while a casual, overheard analogy is deeply, deeply troubling, the so be it.
Reality as a liberal bias and it is, apparently, the job of an "unbiased" media to correct that.