Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Blame the Democrats First!

It’s enough trouble to defend liberals and Democrats against conservative columnists, but on occasion, I find myself having to defend them from columnists who should know better. Doyle McManus writes both news stories and opinion pieces for the Los Angeles Times. Since he gained his pundit credentials from journalism — rather than, say, a think tank — McManus’ columns are consistently well informed and down-to-earth. Plus, they usually propound liberal viewpoints, which I like most of the time.

However, not long ago, MSNBC telepundit Rachel Maddow observed what she called the Washington press corps’s tendency to find fault with the Democrats before they criticize the Republicans. Is Maddow right? I never noticed such a tendency, but then again, I haven’t been following the papers close enough to form an opinion. However, a December 9 Times column by McManus — on President Obama’s then-fresh deal with the Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans — tells me that Maddow may be onto something.

We all (should) know that Obama’s so-called deal with his opposition party came about because all 42 Republican Senators threatened to filibuster any other legislation in the Senate’s lame-duck session, effectively bringing that legislative chamber to a screeching halt. Think about that: legislation with majority — sometimes near-super-majority — support held hostage by the minority. That sounds like something worthy of a newsprint chiding, at the very least. But apparently Doyle McManus disagrees with me. His December 9 column found more fault with the Democrats’ negative reaction to the Obama-GOP deal than he did with the Republicans’ political brinkmanship:

The president cut a deal with the GOP on tax cuts and jobless benefits. Liberals are furious, but as a practical move, it made sense.

by Doyle McManus

For months, anxious Democrats have been asking why Barack Obama couldn’t be more like Bill Clinton, their last successful president. Now Obama has gone and done something Clintonian by striking a compromise with Republicans to extend high-income tax cuts, and his own party’s liberals are furiously accusing him of betraying their ideals. ...

This column prompted my first letter to the editor in ages:

To the Editor:

Doyle McManus places blame for the budget stalemate solely on the shoulders of the Democrats. But why doesn’t he fault — even a little — intransigent Republicans for putting the U.S. economy in such a position in the first place?

McManus says that liberals should “cut [Obama] more slack” for the compromises he made with Republicans. I am a liberal. When Obama couldn’t pull our troops out of Iraq or Afghanistan in a timely way, I cut him some slack. When he couldn’t put a public option in health-care reform, I cut him some slack. When he couldn’t close down [the Guantánamo Bay detention center] by his self-imposed deadline, I cut him some slack. However, the budget battle is different.

Every responsible economist, from the Congressional Budget Office on down, says that we can’t afford to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans, that doing so will blow an even bigger, more dangerous hole in the deficit. More than likely, if Republicans get those tax cuts extended, they will then push to lower the deficit — in other words, pay for the cuts — by privatizing Social Security and Medicare. Liberals like me oppose Obama’s conservative-leaning “deal” with Republicans not because we just “don’t want to compromise,” as McManus would have it, but out of a concern for the future of the American public safety net.

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