Commentary Magazine


Conventional Wisdom Frames a Faulty Storyline to Suit Obama on Debt

In his interview with Don Imus, CBS’s Bob Schieffer said that today’s vote on The Cut, Cap, and Balance Act of 2011 is a “total waste of time, the votes aren’t there to get the thing passed. Whether you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing, and so it’s kind of part of this little Kabuki dance that we go through.”

Schieffer represents the Conventional Wisdom about as well as anyone — and in this case, the CW seems to be that the GOP plan is a “total waste of time,” unreasonable, unserious, and inflexible, while anything President Obama demands is fair, balanced, thoughtful and Solomon-like. But exactly why is it that Republicans should be expected to embrace higher taxes when, say, Obamacare is considered untouchable?

Says who?

Obamacare, after all, is highly unpopular, extremely expensive, and deeply damaging to the national interest. But because it’s Obama’s signature domestic piece of legislation, the rest of us are supposed to view it as some kind of legislative masterpiece? Sorry, but I for one don’t accept those ground rules.

And why should the GOP be expected to cede ground on taxes when the White House, beginning a few weeks ago, began to privately pull back from structural reforms to entitlement programs? Why is it that a serious if imperfect plan (see Keith Hennessey’s fine analysis here): is deemed a “total waste of time” instead of the president’s veto threat being characterized as dismissive, intransigent, and irresponsible – especially since the president himself has yet to offer anything more than vague promises, shifting commitments, and banalities?

The answer is obvious: Most of the commentators framing this debate are acting on liberal precepts. They accept, in the main, Obama’s view of the world. And so they believe his negotiating position is fairly reasonable while the Republican approach is utterly irresponsible. What makes this whole thing somewhat amusing is people like Schieffer are so blind to their biases they don’t consider themselves anything other than objective. And so the storyline of this debate is that Obama has offered compromises and Republicans have been obstinate.

Let me offer another storyline for consideration: During an unprecedented two-year spending binge, the Republican Party has offered a concrete plan to raise the debt ceiling without raising taxes. But Barack Obama, a man of the left, has stubbornly insisted that taxes be raised — not because they are economically helpful but because higher taxes are part of the liberal catechism.

The mainstream media won’t accept this narrative, of course – but the public might be more open to it than most people–including some Republicans–might think.