Washington Ex-Senators: Stars of the Big-League Media

Washington Ex-Senators: Stars of the Big-League Media

Washington Ex-Senators: Stars of the Big-League Media

Eric Alterman's weekly round-up and Reed Richardson's take on the media's "faux-centrism." 


Here’s my new CAP column: Think Again: The Tea Party’s Forebears Are a Movement of the Rich I think it’s self explanatory.

I felt forced to spend an enormous amount of time responding to each and every one of Max Blumenthal’s complaints about me, even those having nothing to do with my column or blog posts but were mere personal attacks. I discovered in doing so that he is even more dishonest than I gave originally him credit for (which you’ll see if you’re able to reach the end of this ):  Eric Alterman Replies to Max Blumenthal’s Letter

What truly shocks me, however, is how extremist he has now revealed himself to be. When I joked about the “Hamas Book of the Month Club,” I was referring exclusively to his hatred of Israel and his ridiculously one-sided apportionment of blame. (Well, also the Nazi metaphors.)  But read to the end of J.J. Goldberg’s column about the controversy and you will see that his beliefs go even further than I dared imagine. He actually wants to expel the Jews from historic Palestine period–that is unless they become Arabs and embrace the culture of their neighbors. My “Hamas” joke is looking less funny every minute. This view, need I point out, is the mirror image of the most lunatic of West Bank settlers. Seriously. How extremist an anti-Zionist do you have to be to make Phil Wess nervous? (Can you imagine? Cue the “crazy” metaphors.)

Alas, read  Max Blumenthal's 'Goliath' Is Anti-Israel Book That Makes Even Anti-Zionists Blush and see if you think I exaggerate.  Here are his exact words, as reprinted by JJ in response to a question from a member of a University of Pennsylvania audience about the role of Jews in his ideal Middle East.

“There should be a choice placed to the settler-colonial population” (meaning the entire Jewish population of Israel): “Become indigenized,” that is, “you have to be part of the Arab world.” Or else…? “The maintenance and engineering of a non-indigenous demographic population is non-negotiable.”

I had to go over that two or three times just to believe it (as well to make sense of it), but Goldberg put it in context. It is often said that the Palestinians people have been tragically mis-served by their leaders.  I fear the same must be said about their cheerleaders.

Also read this: Eric Alterman on Max Blumenthal's anti-Israel book

Then you can read a nine year old blog post I wrote about my Close Encounters of the Lou Reed Kind It’s sort of sweet and sort of horrible.

My Nation column, ‘Dissent’ and the Center for American Progress: Liberalism’s Bullpen, is surprise, surprise, foolishly behind a paywall.

Now here’s Reed:

Washington Ex-Senators: Stars of the Big-League Media

by Reed Richardson

There’s an old saying in baseball: pitching wins in October. (Ahem.) You might say the same adage applies to winning over the conventional wisdom in Washington; it’s all about which team can consistently pitch the best message. And despite a rocky start to the month, the pro-business, pro-austerity, pro-defense crowd has once again demonstrated why it dominates the discourse in our nation’s capital. If you want to ensure the Beltway media’s complicity in accommodating the needs and wants of the 1%, there may be no one better to turn to in fostering your agenda than a former U.S. Senator.

Or better yet, two. Consider the Spahn and Sain of these insider pitchmen: former Republican Senator Alan Simpson and two-time former Democratic Senate candidate Erskine Bowles. As co-chairs of the deeply flawed 2010 National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which failed initially and was strongly rejected in a subsequent attempt, Simpson and Bowles have nonetheless been transformed into Capitol Hill’s pre-eminent seers on fiscal seriousness. The pair’s ability to reliably redirect the media’s attention whenever it drifts too far afield from implementing a painful, austerity agenda at the expense of seniors and the middle class is a sad truth of modern day Washington.

It was apparent again this past week, when, right on time, Simpson and Bowles popped up on the op-ed pages of the DC insider publication, The Hill, to ladle out more of their tired, pox-on-both-houses shtick. To read their diagnosis of Washington’s problems is to encounter a worldview where unspecified “leaders” must “stop the madness.” That government shutdown? Oh, much like the media, Simpson and Bowles have moved on, no sense wasting any time trying to affix blame or understand the irrational motives of the party that caused it. To them, any crisis, no matter what ignites it, makes now the right time for a grand bargain. They remain convinced that deficits haunt all that we do, though they conveniently omit the fact that the federal deficit is falling fastprobably too fast. Thus, they say the only way to exorcise our fiscal demons is through “pro-growth” policies that cut tax preferences to lower rates while doing things like rolling back Social Security benefits and means-testing Medicare. For all their talk of compromise and shared sacrifice, however,  their preferred outcomes betray a pretty clear bias for one side of the political ledger:

“[S]o far, we have done the easy stuff (raising taxes on the wealthy and calling for unspecified cuts in discretionary spending) and we’ve done the stupid stuff (across-the-board cuts under sequestration). Now it’s time to do the tough stuff and the smart stuff: reforming our entitlements and tax code.

“Policymakers should seek to reach agreement on a framework that at a minimum stabilizes the debt as a share of GDP. Reaching such an agreement will require Democrats to accept some structural reforms of entitlements, and will require Republicans to use a portion of revenues that will result from simplifying the tax code for deficit reduction, instead of using all savings to reduce tax rates. But such an agreement is achievable.”

Notice how Simpson and Bowles completely ignore the tough political fight over the fiscal cliff in January by characterizing raising taxes on the wealthy as “easy?” And then they turn around and label the act of giving the GOP most of what it wants, policy-wise, as “smart.” Indeed, in this lopsided deal, Republicans would realize one of their longest-held goals of substantially undermining the country’s social insurance compact, in exchange for slightly smaller tax cuts than they might have wanted. And yet, thanks to Tea Party intransigence, Republicans won’t even take this sweet of a deal. That, three years later, these two are still given op-ed space to push essentially the same unfair compromise they came up with in 2010—despite countless examples of Republican bad faith in negotiating since then—demonstrates just how badly the media wants their faux-centrist message to get out.

But Simpson and Bowles are by no means the only ones acting as stalking horses for the Beltway media’s agenda. During the past month, several former Democratic senators have been generously allotted opportunities to make similar pro-entitlement reform arguments. None other than former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, for instance, took to the pages of uber-insider Politico this week to call for“seizing the moment” on entitlement reform. Incredibly, he too just glides right past the extreme, obstructionist behavior by House Republicans, which tore hundreds of thousands of jobs and more than $12 billion out of our economy last month, to instead call for the president to “put all options on the table” in modernizing Medicare. Trouble is, many of the commonly suggested bipartisan “fixes” for Medicare, like raising the eligibility age to 67 years old, return little real fiscal savings for the toll exacted in quality of life. Symptomatic of his intellectual disingenuousness, Daschle, in his conclusion, literally can’t bring himself to name who’s really to blame for our nation’s budgetary dysfunction, so he employs a generic euphemism to camouflage the GOP’s culpability [italics mine below]:

“The choice is clear. Lawmakers can continue to vote to repeal or defund the Affordable Care Act, moving us closer to a repeat of the nightmare we have all just experienced. Or they can change course to reach agreement on something far more constructive, overdue and promising.”

Sounding a note of caution on all this wanton embrace of budget cutting this past Tuesday was another bipartisan pair of former Senators. But lest you think this was in protest to the devastating $5-billion cut to SNAP recipients that goes into effect today, I’d note that the Senators were former Arizona Republican Jon Kyl and former Connecticut Democrat Joe Lieberman, both unabashed defense hawks, and that their co-byline appeared in Politico.

As you might imagine, then, their argument against excessive fiscal austerity was all about preserving $52 billion in military spending due to be cut in the next round of sequestration. By “starving defense” this way, they warn, national security will be harmed. Left unsaid is how well national security has fared by spending $1 trillion on an “embarrassment” of a plane known as the F-35 or $40 billion each on Combat Littoral Ships that, despite their name, are not survivable in a “hostile combat environment.” I guess it fell to these two brave former Senators to publicly speak up for all this military spending; it’s not like the defense industry has thousands of highly-paid lobbyists doing the same thing already. Too bad poor people don’t buy ads in Politico.

But neither Kyl and Lieberman’s gratuitous war-hawking nor Daschle’s case for pre-emptive Democratic capitulation, however, can compare to the editorial efforts of former Democratic Senator from North Dakota, Kent Conrad. Twice in the past three weeks (once in the Washington Post, and once The Hill) Conrad clambered aboard the “fair trade” train of trading short-term revenues for long-term entitlement cuts. In doing so, he embraces a “chained CPI” for Social Security and ominously warns that Medicare will be insolvent by 2026. Of course, in touting the savings from switching to a chained CPI, he omits any talk of the very dire consequences to seniors of changing the cost-of-living formula. In addition, Conrad fails to mention that a predicted date of insolvency has been included in 42 of 45 Medicare reports since 1970 (see page 4), or that a 13-year solvency horizon falls right in the average time window. And then there’s this throwaway line from Conrad’s Post op-ed that he should have been ashamed to put his name to: “Repeal the medical device tax of 2.3 percent, about which no one seems enthusiastic.” That would be the same medical device tax that funds the Affordable Care Act to the tune of $30 billion over 10 years and that House Republicans champion as a way to begin defunding the law. Hey, I know at least one other former Senator who would definitely agree with him: Evan Bayh.

The point of all this, of course, isn’t to call for circumscribing former Senators—particularly centrist Democratic ones— from engaging in policy debates after leaving office. They’re obviously entitled to expressing their opinions (or that of their well-paying employers) however they so choose. What is striking, though, is that what we saw this past month happens all the time. So many of the former elected officials showing up the op-ed pages of the Beltway media coalesce around the same sets of solutions to the same sets of problems. Sure there’s some self-selection going on here, but most of the time the media is actually imprinting its (supposedly non-existent) viewpoints onto what constitutes the boundaries of debate.

In the end, it’s not a coincidence that a press corps blindly calling out for bipartisan compromises routinely promotes the viewpoints of former politicians who share that very same outlook. Today’s highly partisan nature of Washington may have left behind the crude, both-sides-must-give mentality of former Senators like Simpson, Lieberman, Daschle, or Conrad, but there’s one constituency that still embraces this artificially balanced mindset. The press may like to pretend that it’s merely an observer and not an inside-the-Beltway player, in other words, but that’s a fallacy. As long as it is selectively enforcing its own agenda when choosing who gets onto the field of debate, our democracy will continue to be little more than a rigged game.

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com.

I’m on Twitter here—(at)reedfrich.


The Mail

Bill Gannon

Aurora, IL

Dear Mr. Richardson;

Thank you for your article [“How the Media’s Cognitive Biases Distort Obamacare Coverage”] about recent media insanity over a website!  Dear god, it's horrifying to witness the same media idiocy repeatedly. [This past Saturday], even MSNBC's "UP" took the bait and spent valuable time discussing the website problems! Who gives a shit!!??!! Government exists to make life better for people. The ACA is good government. Not perfect government.  

I recall a few years ago, somebody said that a liberal gets media criticism even for curing cancer, while a conservative gets praise just for spelling cancer correctly. Or the responsibility every black leader seems to bear for anything and everything said or done by 100% of black people. Compared this with the shrill media response when a conservative is asked to address comments from within their own party; even their own office staff! Witness the absolute hysteria over Congressman Alan Grayson 'comparing' the Tea Party to the KKK. The group that runs around with posters of President Obama in a Hitler mustache, amongst many other depictions, is upset about being compared to the Klan?


Final thought (sorry): The Klan is about bullying and intimidating those that disagree with them. That sounds like the Tea Party to me. Often it's fellow Repubs (RINO bashing), but still they are using fear and intimidation to achieve their goals. While liberals self-police over Grayson and Dick Durbin, Tea Partiers get away with killing the economy.  

Thanks again.  Good luck.

Editor's note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form

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