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Dueling Narratives

You rarely see two news stories so diametrically opposed. The New York Times’s headline: “House G.O.P. Members Face Voter Anger Over Budget.” Slate’s headline: “Wanted: Angry Liberals.” If the Ryan budget is so unpopular, where are the town-hall meltdowns?

A paragraph from the Times’s story:

After 10 days of trying to sell constituents on their plan to overhaul Medicare, House Republicans in multiple districts appear to be increasingly on the defensive, facing worried and angry questions from voters and a barrage of new attacks from Democrats and their allies.

And from Slate:

These are good days to be a member of Congress. Your job is not popular, per se, and neither is the institution you work for. But at least you’re not getting yelled at. A controversial Republican budget just passed the House, you’re home in your district, and the anger that curdled town hall meetings for members of the last Congress is really nowhere to be seen.

The Times:

At roughly the same time in Wisconsin, Representative Paul D. Ryan, the architect of the Republican budget proposal, faced a packed town meeting, occasional boos and a skeptical audience as he tried to lay out his party’s rationale for overhauling the health insurance program for retirees.

Slate:

So Democrats need some hot video of real, live Americans getting angry about Paul Ryan. How are they doing so far? For two days, a ThinkProgress video reporter tailed Paul Ryan in his district. The chairman of the budget committee talked to constituents. The reporter taped it. He talked to more constituents. The reporter taped it. It was at only one event, in the town of Milton, that one of Ryan’s constituents grilled Ryan about taxes and ThinkProgress’ reporter Scott Keyes got the video; according to ThinkProgress’ editor-in-chief, Faiz Shakir, it was the best clip from two days’ reporting.

Since Congress has been in recess for the last week and a half, it’s a good bet that had there been a large number of summer-of-2009-style town hall meetings, with constituents beating up Republican members of Congress over the Ryan budget, drowning them out with boos, the clips would have been all over the airwaves. Do you think that MSNBC and CNN would have spiked video like that? Neither do I.

So, absent more reporting, I’m going with Slate. And, if true, Slate’s reporting is highly significant. As Michael Barone explains in reaction to the Slate story, “My conclusion: there’s not nearly as large or articulate a constituency against the budget cuts the Republicans are proposing as there was and is against the Obama Democrats’ vast expansion of the size and scope of government.”