It’s a tried-and-true formula for the liberal punditocracy: Republicans are fighting! Disarray on the right! The so-called reporting and analysis on the debt talks are no different.
We are supposed to believe that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was ready for a mondo tax hike when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and the Tea Partyers swooped in. Are they nuts? Do they spend any time actually talking to Boehner or his staff? This was the guy, you recall, who was excoriated for setting up the rules we are now operating under: a dollar in cuts for every dollar in debt ceiling increase. Are we to believe that throwing aside an election mandate, indifferent to the sentiments of his entire caucus and dizzy under the spell of the president’s mesmerizing rhetoric (who wouldn’t be swayed by “Eat your peas!”), he would have agreed to phony cuts in out years and trillions in tax hikes? It defies all available evidence and logic. That he sat in the room while Obama talked tax hikes and he talked cuts is not, I’m sorry, “proof” that Boehner would have made a deal with giant tax increases. Gamely try to talk Obama out of tax hikes, yes. Capitulate to tax hikes? Even if he thought it was a fine idea (contrary to every utterance he’s made since he was elected speaker) — and he doesn’t think it is — he’s not a political ninny and knows it would never pass the House.
But that doesn’t stop the raft of stories pitting Cantor against Boehner. Part of this is fomented by the White House, which is trying to portray Boehner as a sell-out by offering high-flying praise. Part of this is obsession with “process” stories rather than undertaking the hard work of ferreting out the actual numbers involved in the debt debate. And, yes, part of this is liberal bias. You’d think the headlines would be about the split between congressional Democrats and the White House on Medicare — a real story. But no.
The same is true of coverage of the Republican presidential candidates. The Wall Street Journal has a frothy piece suggesting Mitt Romney is less aggressive in taking on Obama on the debt ceiling than his opponents. Where is the evidence for this? None. The headline — “Romney is silent over the debt talks” — is flat-out false. In fact, the reporter admits: “Mr. Romney signed the ‘Cut, Cap and Balance Pledge,’ sponsored by more than 100 tea-party and other conservative groups. It says the debt ceiling, now at $14.29 trillion, must not be raised unless it is accompanied by substantial and immediate spending cuts, caps on federal spending and a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution that requires a congressional super-majority for tax increases.”
That doesn’t prevent liberal pundits from parroting the unsupported headline. I spoke to the Romney campaign. A source scoffed at the notion that Romney was AWOL on the debt talks. “His position is clear: he signed the cut, cap and balance pledge.” The source reiterated, “In short, as the pledge lays out, Mitt believes that we should not raise the debt ceiling unless we achieve meaningful cuts in spending, enact a spending cap, and pass a balanced budget amendment.” And from the candidate, this statement was provided: “President Obama is responsible for frightening new levels of federal spending and deficits. As a result, the nation has amassed an unheard-of level of debt that imperils our financial standing in the world. I’ve never seen an enterprise in more desperate need of a turnaround than the U.S. government. We cannot lose sight of the need to move the President toward meaningful fiscal responsibility. A vote on raising the debt ceiling has to be accompanied by a major effort to restructure and reduce the size of government.”
Where do the media get these stories about Republicans? They make ’em up. It’s lazy and fundamentally dishonest reporting to suggest that there are squabbles or differences among conservatives where none exist. It might be boring to report “Republicans all on the same page in opposing taxes” or “Little difference between GOP contenders on the debt deal.” But it’s the truth. And the media owe readers and viewers an honest accounting of what is going on, no matter how boring it might be.