Big stories, made and missed
By Paul Jacob
Outside the usual celebrity circuit of marriage, divorce, betrayal, indecent exposure, and over-exposure, this year’s big stories centered on politics. But in all these political stories was a consistent tendency for major media voices (which must now include mocker Jon Stewart and ultra-ironist Stephen Colbert) to miss the real story that should run under the headline, or at least after paragraph one.
1. Health care reform. Big win for the Democrats. Yes? No. Media folks tend to think Americans should have supported this. Most Americans don’t. So we witnessed lots of rumination on why Americans are letting politicians down. The fact that Democrats didn’t listen to Americans, but instead to their own narrow band of policy pushers, was the story that screamed for the most attention. The health care “victory” cost Democrats control over the House of Representatives — arguably, an outcome worthy of attention.
2. The “Bush Tax Cuts” extension. Did the President “cave in” to Republicans, or . . . does it really matter? The inability to think rationally about tax rate adjustments comes in several forms. It’s great to witness a few Republicans insist that Americans’ wealth is theirs, not the government’s, and that Washington has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. But R’s never get around to the spending problem — not significantly. Meanwhile, Democrats put on their “fiscal conservative” cap only on the matter of marginal tax rates, saying that the R’s favored cuts scuttle any chance to balance budgets. But when the R’s remind the D’s that the government actually collects more revenue with lower marginal rates (Laffer Curve and all), the D’s either go into denial or give a Clintonian shrug. This would be a crucial issue to resolve, you’d think, if the D’s really wanted to increase revenue. But with the R’s stressing revenue, they look a less coherent on the “spending” issue. Besides, maximizing the government’s take — is that really such a good thing?
3. “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” was struck down by the Senate, as if to prove that “lame duck” no longer holds meaning in today’s politics. Not talked about is the seemingly never-ending sessions of Congress, these days, on the one hand, and the current sexual misconduct in our “co-ed” armed forces. The narrowness of the discussion seemed strange to me, and once again I got the feeling that the differences between R’s and D’s on these issues are not over principles so much as reflexive “We’re not the Other Guys” positioning that makes up so much of contemporary partisanship.
This year’s issues not covered as “Big” were, perhaps, truly bigger:
1. State finances imploding. Multiple states, with California and New York making the biggest headlines, have proven themselves in financial ruins, and appear on the brink of bankruptcy . . . or whatever limbo is reserved for governments that can’t pay their bills. Hidden beneath this undercovered story was the bigger story, of…
2. Public-sector employee pensions. Underfunded, sometimes not funded at all. A number of news outlets have mentioned this — Reason magazine (and the Reason Foundation) has done heroic work putting it on multiple covers for several years now — but too few investigative reporters investigate, too few unearth how pervasive the problem is. Instead, media folks pretend that the big story is…
3. Excessively tight budgets in state and local governments due (solely!) to drops in revenue, leading to “impossible” and “scary” cuts to “essential” government services. Were journalists to look behind budget categories and look to see how often “current” budgets are merely devoted to paying workers for their amazing benefits packages, it might spark a revolution . . . against public employee unions in general, and unfunded pensions and medical insurance in particular.
The big take from these stories? Politicians promise the moon while delaying discussion of funding their lunacies, and, in the end, deliver (at best) cheese.
There is some cause for hope, though. Citizens in the initiative states are increasingly active in gaining some purchase on their politicians’ wayward ways.
At the national level, the move away from Obama’s too-much-more-of-the-same non-change and towards real change — in the form of less spending, responsibly balanced budgets, and against the giveaway, bailout, earmark mentality still pervasive in Washington — has been noticed as a big story, a pleasantly surprising victory for “the Tea Party” movement.
The recent crushing of Harry Reid’s over-porked omnibus bill shows that this movement has begun to have effect on even the lame duck Congress — who knows how far it can go, once the newly elected finally take their seats?
But this next Congress will simply stall — like previous ones — if they accept the lingo and mindset of today’s simplistic partisan idea spectrum. They must break out of bad old habits, of more than one kind. They need to realize the real state of tension in the United States: Between normal Americans and the Overlord Class in the nation’s capital. It’s not between Republicans and Democrats, “red” and “blue” America. It’s between the bulk of the citizenry that pays the bills and the too-big-of-bulk factions that are running the tab sky high — and the country into the ground.
In 2010, the American people made history, while their politicians merely made the news.