Memo To Media: Bullies And The Bullied Are Not The Same

Isaiah J. Poole

This morning, I had had enough.

I usually don’t waste my time anymore wading into the comments sections of columnists to react to their bloviations. (They’ve never waded into the comments section to react to mine.) But one Petula Dvorak finally provoked me.

She’s a local columnist for The Washington Post, and what she wrote this morning actually wasn’t all that unusual. And therein lies the problem.

The past few days, as the Congress careened toward today’s government shutdown, the media has been inundated with pox-on-both-their-houses framing of the issue. Democrats and Republicans can’t get along and they both need to grow up and do their jobs, the refrain goes.

Dvorak’s column is just one of a flood of columns and news stories that promote the narrative that both sides share equal blame. She writes: “So what should be the fate of our 535 voting members of Congress, who are shutting down the government instead of doing the work we pay them a handsome $174,000 a year to do? Unable to craft a last-minute deal to stave off disaster, this Congress must be punished. Now.”

The whole Congress should be punished, without discerning how we got to where we are? This is what I posted in the comments section to her column:

Your column unfortunately feeds the undiscerning, pox-on-both-their-houses mentality that has actually facilitated the extremists who have forced this government shutdown.

I remember the times when I was being bullied in school and a teacher, seeing me in a scuffle with another kid, took the more expedient route of giving both the bully and the bullied the same punishment – which was often little or no punishment at all. That told the bullies there were no real consequences for their actions that were greater than the satisfaction of being a bully, and it taught the bullied that they could not rely on authority figures for justice.

In the case of this government shutdown, there are clear bullies – extremists in the Republican Party who are not committed to the proper functioning of government and who believe, like bullies, that they are the only ones who are entitled to call the shots. If we aren’t willing to apply our sense of justice and fairness to differentiate between those who are playing fair and those who insist on being bullies, then the bullies win and our democracy, and all of us, suffer the consequences.

Fortunately, there is hope that enough people in America will say no to the pox-on-both-their-houses crowd and, for once, tell the bullies to sit down and behave or get off the premises.

There are two forces that we need to stand up to. Obviously, we need to stand up to the conservative extremists in Congress who believe that they have the right to blow up the government to get their way, the fundamentals of democracy be damned. The other force we need to stand up to is those in the media – the columnists, reporters and editors – who are too lazy, too afraid or too bound to the god of false equivalence to make the distinction between the bullies and the bullied.

As Richard Eskow notes in his excellent post on the shutdown, it was the House Republican leadership who refused to even allow a vote on the Senate’s bill to fund the government for a few weeks at the too-low levels demanded by conservatives in the party – out of fear that a majority would agree and the Tea Party extremists would not have their pound of flesh. These are the people who are not even allowing the democratic process to function as it should.

No, it is not “this Congress” that must be punished. It is the conservative obstructionists whose bullying must be brought to an end if we are going to have a functioning democracy.

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