Shutdown and Hostage-Taking — It Is NOT Both Sides Doing It

Dave Johnson

One side says, “Never mind the deal we just agreed to, cut this or we’ll shut down the government” and the other side says, “This isn’t fair, and it hurts people. We can’t keep agreeing to pay these ransoms, this has to stop!” Is this “both sides squabbling?” Is this “Congress can’t get its act together?” Or is this a group of hostage-takers using media obfuscation of what is going on as cover for a radical strategy to turn people against government and democracy, while the “other side” tries to stop them?

So here we are, another fight looms over shutting down the government. This time the Republicans have taken disaster relief hostage and are using it as a lever to demand we cut even more of what We, the People do for each other, so that the big corporations and the wealthiest 1% can have even more wealth and power. Many in the media are reporting this as “both sides squabbling,” but this is not what is happening.

Democracy depends on the public being informed so that they can hold their representatives accountable. So the media has a responsibility to correctly identify, in clear terms, just who is doing what. “Both sides do it” tells people not to bother to vote, that government and democracy don’t work, that you should just tune out and leave it to the plutocrats to run things. Stop it!

“Blame Both Sides” Reporting

The Chicago Sun-Times, in “Government on brink of shutdown again,” blames “Congress,” calling it “bickering” and “posturing.”

More “blame both sides” reporting is found in today’s Progressive Breakfast, which highlights this New York Times story, “Flood Victims Getting Fed Up With Congress.” The story says the current hostage-taking is “a dispute between Republicans and Democrats in Congress over money for the Federal Emergency Management Agency,”

“Neither side wants the other side to get credit for doing anything good,” Mr. Golembeski said. “Elections are coming up.”

Neither side wants the other to get credit. Nice.

“Members of Congress are playing with people’s lives, not just their own political careers,” said Martin J. Bonifanti, chief of the Lake Winola volunteer fire company. “While they are rattling on among themselves down there in Washington, people are suffering.”

Dear N.Y. Times, “members of Congress” are not doing this. ONE PARTY is doing this. The story offers nothing to counter the quote.

“Members of Congress are intelligent, but they have no common sense,” Ms. Swithers said. “They fight too much. They should be put in a corner and take a timeout and start working together as a team. I’m so sick of hearing Republicans this and Democrats that.”

Dear N.Y. Times, This fight is not “Republicans this and Democrats that.” It is Republicans taking disaster relief hostage and using the suffering of the people you quote as a lever to gut such programs as green energy development.

Norman Ornstein writes about this problem, in “What ‘The Washington Post’ Doesn’t Understand About the Looming Government Shutdown”:

One of the biggest problems of reporting on our dysfunctional politics has been the reflexive tendency in “mainstream” media to balance, via what is increasingly false equivalence. A glaring example was a front-page, above-the-fold story in Saturday’s Washington Post by Lori Montgomery and Rosalind S. Helderman, titled (in the print edition, though not on the web), “Gloom Grows as Congress Feuds.” The story was about the looming showdown, and possible government shutdown, over disaster relief funding. The piece makes sure to include a comment from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor blaming Democrats, ends with a comment from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blaming Republicans, and includes a comment from an independent analyst blaming both.

If you reflexively “blame both” you are not informing the public and you are not serving democracy. There are people who will want to vote for the ones who are trying to help We, the People watch out for and take care of each other. And there are people who will want to vote for the ones who have a strategy in play to eliminate government so that the biggest corporations and wealthiest few can use their wealth and power to have their way. But our media are not letting the public know who is doing what.

Blaming “Both Sides” Is An Anti-Government Strategy

In Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult, retiring Republican Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren explains why Republicans try to make government dysfunctional while pushing the “both sides do it” narrative. They do it on purpose as a strategy to make people hate government and democracy,

Far from being a rarity, virtually every bill, every nominee for Senate confirmation and every routine procedural motion is now subject to a Republican filibuster. Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that Washington is gridlocked: legislating has now become war minus the shooting, something one could have observed 80 years ago in the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic. As Hannah Arendt observed, a disciplined minority of totalitarians can use the instruments of democratic government to undermine democracy itself.

[. . .] A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters’ confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that “they are all crooks,” and that “government is no good,” further leading them to think, “a plague on both your houses” and “the parties are like two kids in a school yard.” This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s – a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn (“Government is the problem,” declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).

They do this on purpose, to turn people against government, and then when people are disgusted and looking the other way they can just grab the loot—your savings, your retirement, your wages, your common wealth, your rights.

What Can We Do?

There is a session titled Taking Back the Media: Embracing New Media and Using it to Our Advantage at the Take Back The American Dream conference next week. Nicole Sandler, Timothy Karr, Sam Seder and Cliff Schecter will be speaking about how to overcome the corporate-media lock on information.

 

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