There it was again, this time in the Los Angeles Times: The assertion that the gridlock in Washington is caused by the intransigence of the two major political parties.
“Oh those naughty scamps!” was the unspoken undercurrent. “Why can’t they work together?”
The problem with that framework is that it is dead wrong. Factually inaccurate. A field full of Carrizo Plain cow patties.
The truth is that only one side is refusing to compromise during our national financial crisis, and that is the Republican side. That is not a partisan conclusion; it is a demonstrable fact, and the L.A. Times writer who framed it otherwise has only to read his own newspaper over the past year to see it.
If you think President Barack Obama has not bent toward the GOP like a twig in a hurricane, ask some of the Democrats who voted for him three years ago. Many will tell you he is spineless, he has no backbone, he has no principles.
All of this raises several interesting though perturbing questions:
Why is Obama so pliable?
Why is the GOP so immovable?
Why won’t the press tell it like it is?
Obama’s core belief
The first question seems easy enough. I believe Obama genuinely believes in compromise. It’s that old community organizer gene at work — give a little, get a little. That is his core belief.
Unfortunately for him — and us — that conviction has a serious shortcoming: It works only when all parties share it. You cannot find common ground with people who have zero intention of budging from their “principles.”
Yes, I do mean the modern Republican Party.
These people have two goals: achieving power and holding on to it. They are perpetual goals. When the results work against them, they simply work to overturn those results.
Thus, when Americans elected Bill Clinton president, to cite one example, they did not say, “Well, the other side won; the people have spoken. We’ll try to make it work for the citizenry, as is our tradition.”
No, they sought to make sure he could not govern effectively. He gave them plenty of help, and that plan succeeded.
In California, when Gray Davis was elected governor, the right did not say, “The majority has spoken. We’ll work to change their mind in the next election four years from now.” No, they began the recall before the votes were certified.
This phenomenon is not a small thing. It undermines American government and American principles.
In my view this king-of-the-mountain, winner-take-all approach has grown and solidified in the past 15 years.
Why, then has the mainstream press — the watchdogs, the institution specifically protected in our Constitution — failed to call out the GOP and its backers?
The big question
For me, that last question is the big one, not only because we are talking about my profession but because it is so important to ours or any nation.
Answering it is not easy, especially in an age when everything churns constantly, including definitions.
What, for example, does liberal mean? How about conservative?
For that matter, what are the media?
These are subjective terms all. Still, I’m going to take a whack at answering my question.
I think the press portrays what is going on in Washington in a Manichaean way — two sides struggling — because that is how those who own and toil in it view the world: constant conflict between a pair of opponents.
To the mainstream media, the truth is always in the middle.
But what if the truth were to one side or the other?
I know, that is a radical notion, and it starts us down a dangerous road. Who is to make those calls? Would they shut out the “other” side?
I don’t have glib answers to what are vexing and profound questions. But I do know that people who disseminate information, as we do, need to put things in perspective for our readers and listeners. The center of the road is not always the best place from which to do that.
In “Brave New World Revisited,” Aldous Huxley wrote, “children are nowhere taught, in any systematic way, to distinguish true from false, or meaningful from meaningless, statements.”
Huxley was writing about children, but the same observation works with the electorate in a democracy. It is the press that is charged with that teaching task, and we are failing at it.
The dreaded taunt
I think there is another reason the mainstream media don’t tell it like it is in Washington: They are afraid of being called “the liberal media.”
Indeed, I think the taunt has haunted them for decades. How many times have you personally heard that hoary but sticky phrase? Right-wing talk radio and then television began using it 20 years ago, and it has lodged in some subterranean region of the average American brain.
We all know what repetition does. Respected American advertising gurus, insightful authors like George Orwell, monsters like Joseph Goebbels all have said it, and it’s true: say something often enough and it becomes true to the listener.
“Liberal media” worked so well in vilifying the American press that they grew gun shy and backed away from responsible coverage of national politics, for fear of having the dreaded slogan hurled at them.
It’s time for the national political press to move past the terror, brace themselves for the rotten fruit and overheated invective the Limbaughs and Hannitys are going to hurl their way, and tell the truth. Rush and Sean were going to throw that stuff anyway.
So, yes, Republicans are not budging in the national political discussion. President Obama is. That is not a centrist position, perhaps, but neither is it a leftist or, heaven forbid, a liberal one.
It is simply accurate. What’s wrong with saying so?
Reach Bob Cuddy at firstname.lastname@example.org.