Please, Congress, Do Much Less
You can’t swing a dead cat by the tail these days without hitting a news story about the lack of legislation issuing from the 113th Congress. From CNN to McClatchy to NPR to the L.A. Times, the air is thick with pieces lamenting that the 113th makes “the infamous ‘do-nothing Congress’ of the late 1940s look downright prolific.”
Apparently we’re all supposed to feel really bad about that.
Before the holiday break, Congress sent just 70 bills to the president’s desk. That compares — unfavorably, we are given to understand — with the 395 bills passed by the 80th Congress, whose supposed indolence Harry Truman ran against. It even compares unfavorably to the 112th Congress, which led to only 231 new laws.
The censorious pieces never stop to explain precisely why Congress should be judged according to the number of bills it passes. That’s simply assumed. This is one of those telltale signs of media bias that are always cropping up, if you keep your eyes open. (Here’s another: Run a Google News search for the terms “economic inequality” and “economic liberty.” The former shows up more than 50 times as often. Guess why.)
Unpack the assumption behind the stories about congressional productivity, and you find a bias toward statism: the notion that government action is inherently good, and that more government action is inherently better — and that this is true as an analytic proposition, entirely separate from whatever a particular government action might entail.
Which is pretty funny, when you stop to think.
After all, the press has spent the past couple of years cranking out endless horror stories about the last major piece of legislation Congress passed — the Budget Control Act, which led to the sequester. It also has written a great deal about the many terrible problems caused by the last major law before that: the Affordable Care Act. Yet now we’re supposed to yearn for more omnibus legislation?
Before the Obamacare-disaster stories began piling up, the media cranked out a lot of snark over the House’s repeated votes (47 of them at last count) to repeal Obamacare. None of those bills made it to the president’s desk. But if passing legislation is the measure of congressional success, then all 47 of them should have — right?
Back in June, the House passed what the AP called “a far-reaching anti-abortion bill … that conservatives saw as a milestone in their 40-year campaign against legalized abortion and Democrats condemned as yet another example of the GOP war on women.” If the Senate had gone along with that proposal, would advocates of activist government be more happy now — or less?
When critics of Congress insist it ought to do something, they perhaps do not mean bills like that. What they want, they would tell you, is for Congress to address real problems.
But everybody has a different idea of what the real problems are, which is a problem itself. And even when Congress tackles what most people agree is a real problem, its proposed solution often can prove more problematic than the problem it was designed to confront.
Take online piracy. When counterfeiters sell ersatz versions of software such as the popular Rosetta Stone language-teaching program, they steal money and jobs from legitimate, tax-paying companies — and the people who work for them. Online piracy robs everybody from big-budget Hollywood studios to small indie rock bands. It needs to stop.
Congress’ answer? The Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA — a 2011 measure that, according to critics, could have shut down entire swaths of the Internet on the slightest pretext. Wikipedia, Google, Reddit, Tumblr, and scads of other online portals fired up protest drives, petitions — even “American Censorship Day” — to oppose the measure. A million blogs erupted in self-righteous fury. Hacktivist groups launched denial-of-service attacks against SOPA supporters, effectively committing online criminal acts to protest legislation aimed at stopping online criminality.
The critics won the day. Given the choice between SOPA and Congress doing nothing, they preferred Congress do nothing. No bill got passed. According to today’s conventional wisdom, this was a great loss.
True, the country faces many other pressing issues: Unemployment. Poverty. Health care. Immigration reform. Crime and violence. Educational mediocrity. Crushing federal debt. Soaring college costs. And so on.
But what makes those who demand a more active federal government think it will produce the right solutions — or even stop exacerbating the problems in the first place? Why the apparent assumption that a government which has given us the sequester, Obamacare, SOPA, and so on — a government that thinks subsidizing college will bring the price down; a government that thinks we can change Cuba by imposing sanctions and change Iran by lifting them — will suddenly start doing everything right?
Even a dead cat should know better than that.
How Not to Slant a Story
Here’s the lede to Todd Allen Wilson’s Saturday on the General Assembly (emphasis added):
RICHMOND – After an early morning scare tactic used by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on Medicaid expansion that could have torpedoed any deals the General Assembly sent both the budget amendments to the state’s two-year spending plan and the comprehensive transportation funding plan to Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Rookie mistake! If you’re a reporter and you want to take a swipe at the AG, don’t come right out and say his advisory opinion is a scare tactic. That makes your opinion too obvious!
Rather, seek out a source who shares your point of view — a liberal Democrat in the legislature, say — and ask a leading question such as, “Would you say the Attorney General’s opinion on Medicaid expansion is a scare tactic?” The lawmaker will allow as how yes, some people might look at it that way.
Then you can write, “After an early-morning maneuver by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli that some lawmakers characterized as a scare tactic… “
That way, you get your digs in, and you’re still only reporting what people said!
The ‘Lapdog’ Debate
Media Matters has a long post up arguing that anyone who thinks the media have been lapdogs for Obama must be nuts, because if you really want to know what a lapdog press looks like, take a look at how the Bush administration was treated - especially during the run-up to the Iraq war.
There’s some truth to this. But it’s far from the whole truth.
It’s interesting, for example, that Media Matters has to go back to 2002-2003 to find much media servility toward those in power. That was, as some might recall, not long after 9/11, the most horrific attack on sovereign American territory since Pearl Harbor. That certainly shouldn’t absolve the media for abdicating their role as skeptical interrogators, but it does put the abdication into context. Right or wrong, people tend to rally ‘round the flagpole on occasions like those.
However, it certainly didn’t take long for the kum-bay-ya glow to wear off. Indeed, all it took was a partisan election. The 2004 contest brought us, e.g., the infamous “60 Minutes” allegations about Bush’s war record, which led to the even-more-infamous NY Times headline concluding that the documents upon which those allegations were based were “Fake but Accurate.”
After Bush won re-election, the hostility in the establishment media continued unabated. And much of that hostile scrutiny was certainly well-deserved: The administration pushed the boundaries of executive power to frightening new lengths.
Yet despite promising to roll back those boundaries, President Obama has, if anything, expanded them. And with certain principled exceptions such as The Nation, he has largely been given a pass for it.
Example: The NY Times won a Pulitzer for exposing the Bush administration’s warrantless-wiretapping program. And bravo to The Times for doing so. Yet when the ACLU reported, last September, that “New Justice Department Documents Show Huge Increase in Warrantless Electronic Surveillance,”The Times did not bother to give this explosive news so much as a paragraph on page C-32. The newspaper eventually did get around to mentioning it — but only on its “Bits” technology blog, and not until Nov. 26 — well after Obama had safely won re-election.
And that “negative press” Obama has received? Much of it consisted of reporters reporting what GOP presidential candidates were saying about Obama during the primaries. That is rather different than, oh, Keith Olbermann screaming that George Bush is a fascist.
More broadly, media bias shows up in the use of terminology. Compare, for instance, how often the term “gun lobby” is used (very often indeed) with how often the term “abortion lobby” is used (practically never, and then only when it appears in an quote from an anti-abortion activist). This is telling, because we all know that “lobbies” are bad, whereas “movements” and “rights supporters” are good. We often read reports to the effect that “President Obama took on the gun lobby today.” You will never see a report outside of an avowedly conservative publication to the effect that “President Obama met today with leaders of the abortion lobby…”
I could go on and on — noting, e.g., the not-so-subtle iconography and whatnot — but there’s no need when the Media Research Center has done the legwork already (see here). Did the media give Bush a pass on the Iraq War? Sadly, yes — but that was an exception, not the rule. By contrast, they have given Obama a pass on just about everything.
The NY Times Thinks Virginia Is Being Very Naughty
The Obama administration is unhappy that about half the states, including Virginia, have exercised their option to let the federal government set up an insurance exchange rather than go to the trouble and expense themselves. Washington didn’t plan on that, and is having a hard time putting together the infrastructure to get the exchanges done in time. (It may also be worried about lawsuits challenging subsidies for insurance arranged through federal exchanges.)
So, once again, the administration is extending the deadline for states to set up their own exchanges.
You know who else isn’t happy that states are doing what they are entitled to do? The New York Times. Reporting on the latest deadline extension, the paper says
A political benefit of this strategy is that it allows the administration to keep working with even the most recalcitrant states.
How to Argue Against Ever Cutting Taxes Without Coming Right Out and Saying So
Step Two: Neglect to mention that roughly half of Americans — the lower half — pay no federal income taxes in the first place. Also: Omit any reference to the fact that the top 20 percent of tax filers pay roughly 70 percent of all taxes.
If the vast majority of taxes are paid by those in the upper income brackets, then even a progressive slashing of tax rates — say, cutting taxes in half for the poorest Americans, and cutting taxes by 10 percent for the richest — still will produce a disproportionate benefit for those in the upper brackets, owing to the simple fact that…
Tax cuts are most beneficial to people who actually pay taxes.
If you don’t mention who pays the taxes, then it’s quite easy to make tax cuts look like sops to the rich. Congrats! Mission accomplished.
Aurora, Abortion, Guns, and Bias
Since the horrific shooting in Aurora, we have heard a constant drumbeat of news analysis, and news stories posing as analysis, asking whether the episode will spark a renewed campaign to toughen gun-control laws. The general consensus seems to be: no, it won’t — and isn’t this a horrible shame?
The underlying premise is that even though less than 3/100ths of 1 percent of gun owners use their weapons in a murderous manner, all of them should have their rights circumscribed in order to prevent the abuse of those rights by a tiny minority.
Funny how this analysis never gets applied to abortion.
Anybody remember Kermit Gosnell? Last January, the nation learned that the Philadelphia abortionist ran what was described as a “house of horrors” and had “been charged in the deaths of one woman and seven babies who prosecutors say were born alive then killed with scissors.”
What about Dr. Stephen Brigham? In December, the Maryland doctor who performed late-term abortions was charged with 11 counts of murder.
These are not isolated incidents. You can find examples going back many years.
And yet (a) they receive only brief, cursory coverage, and are soon forgotten. What’s more, (b) they never produce the same sort of hand-wringing, why-doesn’t-America-do-something-about-this? news “analysis” that shooting sprees do.
Note something else as well: A Google News search for the terms “Aurora,” “shooting,” and “gun lobby” turns up 2,900 results. A Google News search for the terms “Kermit,” “Gosnell,” and “abortion lobby” turns up … 0 results.
This isn’t isolated, either. Search the major media outlets for uses of the terms “gun lobby” and “abortion lobby.” You’ll find that “gun lobby” gets used a lot, and “abortion lobby” gets used — well, never.
Just so there’s no misunderstanding: I support abortion rights. I also support gun rights. I don’t think the crimes of isolated individuals, no matter how heinous, justify abrogating either kinds of rights for countless other law-abiding citizens.
But I do find it fascinating — and extremely telling — that the establishment media’s knee-jerk reaction to one kind of offense is so markedly different from the knee-jerk reaction to the other.
Washington Post: Always Helpful With The Context! (Except When It’s Not)
“Though potentially damaging in isolation, the president’s words taken in context refer to the idea that the groundwork for success is laid by others.” So says this Washington Post story about President Obama’s biggest campaign gaffe (you know which one!).
Mighty nice of The Post to put the comments in context so nobody jumps to the wrong conclusion,* isn’t it?
And after all, that’s what The Post did with Mitt Romney’s worst gaffe — the one about how “corporations are people” — right?
“I don’t care how many ways you try to explain it — corporations aren’t people. People are people,” Obama told the crowd about halfway through his 35-minute remarks.
He also tied Romney to congressional Republicans. As he has in previous campaign-trail events…
Wait — what happened to “though potentially damaging in isolation, Romney’s words taken in context…” ??
Guess you’ll just have to try to figure out what Romney was trying to say all by yourself….
* (“wrong conclusion” = “the one Mitt Romney wants you to draw”; “right conclusion” = “the one Barack Obama wants you to draw”)
Rich People Stink (When They’re Republican)
Mitt Romney held a fundraiser in the Hamptons on Sunday, during which wealthy people who drive very nice cars and chomp cigars demonstrated their disconnect from the working classes, according to three reliable news sources.
Let’s first establish the relevant facts. Just how did all of these 1 percenters transport themselves from their expensive city apartments to the “pine tree-lined” estate where the fundraisers was held? The Associated Press discovered that donors arrived driving “Mercedes, Bentleys — and, in one case, a candy red 2013 Ferrari Spider.” The Los Angeles Times, also noting that rich people tend to own expensive cars, reported on the “line of Range Rovers, BMWs, Porsche roadsters and one gleaming cherry red Ferrari” waiting to get into the fundraiser. The New York Times spotted—you guessed it!—“a line of gleaming Bentleys, Porsches and Mercedes-Benzes” queuing outside the venue. This reminded me of a San Francisco Chronicle headline from last year, during the height of the media’s mania for all things Occupy Wall Street-related: “Mercedes hits 2 Occupy Oakland protesters.” Imagine, if you will, a slight twist on that headline: “Ford Focus hits 2 Occupy Oakland protesters. Yeah, didn’t think so.
But just in case you were still unclear on the income level of those who attend fundraisers for Republican presidential candidates, TPM stresses that they are “rich,” “super-rich,” “mega-rich,” “well-heeled,” and “moneyed,” as distinct from the suburban moms and union stiffs present at Obama recent Manhattan fundraisers.
The Associated Press spoke with an investment banker who “chewed a cigar in his black Range Rover”— because that’s what rich people do — while praising candidate Romney. The New York Times interviewed a woman “in a blue chiffon dress [who] poked her head out of a black Range Rover” to declare that she was a “V.I.P.” and wondered if there was “a V.I.P. entrance.” And in one succinct sentence, Romney is established as the candidate of the nouveau riche. Indeed, this was likely the same déclassé women highlighted by the Los Angeles Times: “ ‘I don’t think the common person is getting it,’ she said from the passenger seat of a Range Rover stamped with East Hampton beach permits.” In case you didn’t get the irony, it’s the uber-wealthy who are allowed to roam East Hampton beaches, not the “common person.”
By way of comparison, have a gander at this New York Times story on a fundraiser held by President Obama last month in Manhattan, hosted by actress Sarah Jessica Parker and Vogue editor Anna Wintour, a woman so notoriously unpleasant to the plebs that she inspired the book “The Devil Wears Prada.”
I’m going to be charitable and assume that this type of bias is largely subconscious; a nonsense distinction between “good” (actors, musicians and artists) and “bad” (finance people) wealthy. There is something cool about Aretha Franklin and Meryl Streep shaking the cup for President Obama in the West Village, surrounded by other hopelessly cool, if slightly vapid, Hollywood types. It’s difficult to imagine major newspapers and wire services producing similar scene reports for Obama fundraisers. “Ms. Streep, after climbing from her chauffeur-driven Range Rover in a stunning Marc Jacobs dress, spoke of her concern for the growing economic divide in the United States.” Yeah, I didn’t think so.