Open Mic Nite at the False Equivalency Cafe

These are the days of wine and roses for practitioners of that fine old Beltway MSM tradition of partisan false equivalency. And why wouldn’t they be? After all, we’ve got divided partisan control of government, which makes apportioning the blame equally a natural default drive interpretation of events. We’re drifting towards a series of fiscal calamities–a sequester, then maybe a government shutdown–that both parties claim they do not want to happen.

But most importantly, there is an obvious “solution” to the country’s fiscal problems that is nicely symmetrical in that it would seem to ask for equal “sacrifice” from partisans on both sides: if only Republicans would accept higher taxes on the wealthy, and Democrats would accept “entitlement reform” (defined as benefit cuts), the fiscal “crisis” could be brought to a dignified end.

Because the “adults” in both parties (a very important concept in this sort of Dover Beach Centrism that treats politicians as unruly children in need of direction) haven’t produced this obvious solution, it can be inferred that they are not trying hard enough. Thus, it doesn’t matter that the president has repeatedly offered a formula of “entitlement reform for tax reform;” he’s not offering it clearly enough or emphatically enough, and more importantly, he’s not rubbing his own supporters’ nose in it even nearly enough to make it a genuine “compromise.” And besides: he’s the president! He’s supposed to have magical powers! His desk is where the buck stops!

This both-sides-are-to-blame-equally-but-Obama-is-more-than-equally-to-blame diagnosis for a fiscal crisis deliberately, unilaterally and eternally engineered by the GOP as an expression of everything they believe in has been especially rampant this week. I won’t repeat, but will simply link to, Greg Sargent’s evisceration of David Brooks’ latest cri de couer to Obama to impose the taxes-plus-entitlement-reform fix on Washington, and James Fallows’ exasperated analysis of the factual holes in a Washington Post editorial scoring the president’s lack of “leadership.”

But now we have a fresh provocation from WaPo columnist David Ignatius, who lifts the false equivalency meme to a new and unintentionally hilarious level. The column begin by what appears to be a flat assignment of blame to the GOP for its ideological manias:

We have a political system that is the equivalent of a drunk driver. The primary culprits are the House Republicans. They are so intoxicated with their own ideology that they are ready to drive the nation’s car off the road. I don’t know if the sequestration that’s set to begin Friday will produce a little crisis or a big one; the sad fact is that the Republicans don’t know, either, yet they’re still willing to put the country at risk to make a political point.

Ah, but note it’s the political system, not the GOP, that’s the “drunk driver,” and if Republicans are hooched up on ideology, the President’s a “co-dependent” daring them to keep bellying up to the bar!

[H]e should take the steering wheel firmly in hand and drive the car toward the destination where most maps show we need to be heading: namely, a balanced program of cuts in Social Security and Medicare and modest increases in revenue.

Instead, Obama has chosen to be co-dependent, as psychologists describe those who foster the destructive behavior of others. He double-dared the reckless Republicans by proposing the sequester back in 2011. And rather than stepping up to leadership since being reelected, he has triple-dared the GOP hotheads with a partisan inaugural address and weeks of what the Republicans rightly have called a “road show” of blame-game politics.

Then, perhaps realizing how ridiculous this sounds, Ignatius doubles back and insists he’s not assigning blame equally:

Much as I would criticize Obama, it’s wrong to say that both sides are equally to blame for what’s about to hit us. This isn’t a one-off case of Republicans using Obama’s sequestration legislation to force reckless budget cuts. It’s a pattern of behavior: First the Republicans were prepared to shut down the government and damage the national credit rating with their showdown over the debt ceiling; then they were careening toward the “fiscal cliff.” This isn’t a legislative tactic anymore; it’s an addiction.

But whence cometh this addiction? Here Ignatius pulls the argument right back to false equivalency even as he’s denying it:

Today’s Republicans seem to suffer from what’s sometimes known as Obama Derangement Syndrome, in which their hatred of the president blinds them to the country’s interests. To be honest, this malady is eerily similar to the Bush Derangement Syndrome that afflicted Democrats during the previous decade. The Democrats were so incensed back then that they stopped caring whether America succeeded or failed in Iraq; Republicans are so angry now that they don’t care whether the economy goes to hell.

Here you have a false equivalency–America’s “success” in the doomed Iraq War is equivalent to the basic ability of the federal government to function, and of the U.S. economy to recover–wrapped within a false equivalency, which is quite the feat. But it brings Ignatius full circle to the idea that both sides are “incapacitated drivers” running the country off the road. If only daddy would take away the keys!

Obama tries everything to gain control — except a clear, firm presidential statement that speaks to everyone onboard, those who voted for him and those who didn’t — that could get the country where it needs to go.

I’m not sure if Ignatius’ routine here can be improved upon in its wildly veering and self-contradicting patterns. But there are probably plenty of others standing in line to offer their own stand-up set at the False Equivalency Cafe.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.