Credibility still matters

On Monday, National Journal‘s Ron Fournier had a piece blaming all of the relevant players — Democrats, Republicans, and President Obama — for the failure of super-committee process. Fournier’s article generated quite a bit of criticism from, among others, me.

The problem with his analysis is that Fournier drew false equivalencies, and brushed past key details, in order to push the same, tired line: “both sides” are always to blame for everything, even when the facts show otherwise.

Yesterday, Fournier initially responded by pointing to a Reuters poll that, apparently, he thought bolstered his observation. Putting aside why public opinion matters in a case like this — I’d hoped we were talking about facts, not perceptions of facts — Greg Sargent takes a closer look at the data Fournier recommended.

Fournier’s Tweet links to this Reuters poll finding that 19 percent blame Dem and GOP lawmakers and 22 percent blame both parties and Obama for the supercommittee failure. But here’s the funny part: The same poll also finds that a plurality — 35 percent — favored a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts to close the deficit, which is to say, they favored the Democratic position. Multiple polls have found that majorities prefer this course of action, too.

Yet now that the supercommittee has failed, Fourier points with satisfaction to the fact that Americans seem prepared to throw up their hands and blame everyone involved — even though one party was advocating roughly for what they wanted, and the other refused to entertain it at all costs. You’d think this would lead folks like Fournier to consider at least the possibility that voters are not getting adequately informed by our media as to what is really happening in Washington, rather than see it as a sign of what an unimpeachably perfect job they’re doing. I’m not sure anything could capture what this is all about as perfectly as Fourier’s response has done.

But wait, there’s more. Fournier added another item this morning, and this time, he moved the goal posts.

On issues as important as the fiscal health of the nation, it’s not good enough to be less wrong than the other team. What matters is results, and Washington hasn’t produced them. Not the Congress. Not the president. Nobody.

Hmm. On Monday, Fournier argued that what matters is that everyone is equally to blame. On Wednesday, Fournier argued that who’s actually responsible is no longer that important.

But even here, I’m afraid Fournier is still off-base. Of course results matter, as does the fiscal health of the nation. But the larger point is that it’s worth understanding why results have been elusive. Even if we put aside whether debt reduction is a worthwhile goal right now — I believe prioritizing the debt over the economy is a tragic mistake — there are key questions that matter.

Which side of the political divide is producing credible debt-reduction plans? Who’s shown a willingness to make important concessions? Who wants to compromise? Who has credibility in this debate?

Fournier’s initial response was that everyone is equally to blame. Once that was proven false, Fournier switched gears, and said results, not who’s standing in the way of results, matters most.

It appears both cases are mistaken.