Self-styled “centrist” columnists have a perennial problem on their hands. They have built reputations by calling for middle-of-the-road solutions to our problems. Yet they can’t acknowledge that Obama and Democrats are the ones who are offering solutions that are genuinely centrist, because that would constitute “taking sides.” This would imperil their “brand,” which rests heavily on transcending partisanship, and on their ongoing insistence that the future depends on following a middle ground between the parties.
These commentators have found several routes around this problem. One is to continually call for a third party without admitting that the solutions they themselves envision any third party advancing have a good deal in common with what Dems are offering. Another is to simply pretend that Obama and Dems have not offered the solutions they have, in fact, offered.
Case in point: Here’s how Tom Friedman sums up the supercommittee situation today:
Here we are in America again on the eve of a major budgetary decision by yet another bipartisan “supercommittee,” and does anyone know what President Obama’s preferred outcome is? Exactly which taxes does he want raised, and which spending does he want cut? The president’s politics on this issue seems to be a bowl of poll-tested mush.
Huh? Can this hugely influential commentator really be this out of touch with current events? Whether or not you agree with Obama’s preferred deficit prescriptions, there’s no doubt as to what those prescriptions are. The White House recently released a lengthy plan detailing Obama’s deficit-reduction proposals, which included specific cuts to government programs and endorsed the idea of cutting Medicare, as well as tax hikes on the wealthy. Obama has repeated these prescriptions in countless public settings.
The amusing thing is that Friedman himself has said in column after column that the deficit must be balanced through the approach Obama has offered — a blend of spending cuts, including entitlements cuts, and tax increases.
How does Friedman deal with the fact that he and Obama roughly share the same vision? There’s the above approach — pretend Obama hasn’t been clear about what he wants. Friedman has adopted other dodges, too. He has claimed that Obama’s version of the Grand Bargain doesn’t go far enough, because a Grand Bargain absolutely must contain entitlements cuts. Again, Obama and Dems have signaled a willingness to cut entitlements, dismaying many on the left. And even when Friedman admits that Republicans are more to blame for the lack of compromise, he makes up for it by somehow simultaneously claiming that “history” will hold Obama more accountable for failure to reach a deal.
Friedman would not have to resort to such contortions if he would just admit the obvious: Obama and Dems are the ones who roughly inhabit the ideological middle, as Friedman himself has defined it. Friedman agrees with them on the broad strokes of what need to be done.
Paul Krugman recently wrote that anyone who pretends that one side isn’t far more responsible than the other for what’s happening right now is "part of the problem.” Coming from a columnist as influential as Friedman, the claim that we don’t know what Obama wants in the way of deficit reduction, and the suggestion that this is a key reason the supercommittee is careening towards failure, are deeply irresponsible and risk badly misinforming the public.