Sunday, February 15, 2009

I'm still mad, damn it

By Nancy Jane Moore

On election day, I drank champagne to celebrate victory at last. On inauguration day I cried a couple of times -- and danced a jig in my living room when Bush took off. At last we had change -- real change.

So a few weeks later, why am I still so pissed off?

I'm not mad at President Obama. I don't agree with everything he's done so far, but the only way I could get a president I completely agreed with would be to get elected to the job myself. And I don't want it.

I voted for Obama because he was very smart and very competent, and had a gift for not just saying the right thing at the right time, but for saying something that challenged our expectations. I also liked his ability to take strong stands without completely alienating his opposition. And it was clear that he was a good politician, that he knew that ideological purity sometimes must be sacrificed to get things done.

So far as president, he's been doing what I expected. I feel like the country is in good hands even when I disagree with his approach.

So again, why am I so pissed off?

It's true that the economic collapse is frightening and just gets worse. After months of being annoyed because no one would use the "R" word -- recession -- I'm now annoyed because they're using it so casually, as if the current situation were similar to the recession in the early 1980s, instead of evidence of a complete breakdown in the world financial system that could lead us into a situation worse than the Great Depression.

And with the exodus of the Bushies, the real problems of climate change are at last getting heard -- and they're even scarier than I expected them to be. I won't even go into the civil liberties issues.

But while those things scare the hell out of me, that's not exactly why I'm so pissed off, either.

I'm mad at the media.

Now I don't say that lightly, because my parents were journalists, and of all the myths associated with professions out there, the one I actually believe in is that the press is the Fourth Estate that keeps us honest. (Even though I spent years as a lawyer, I never fully believed in the adversary system, as most lawyers do.)

For reasons I do not comprehend, most major news outlets -- and I'm thinking of NPR, The New York Times, and The Washington Post (the only thing I watch on television news is the weather) -- have decided that "balanced" coverage means allowing right wing Republicans to rant against Obama's programs.

To listen to the people who were cheerleaders for and enablers of the Bush debacle accuse Obama and the Democrats of generational theft because they're trying to do what's necessary to get the country back on stable economic ground makes me furious. And when reporters don't even challenge their statements but just allow them to spew nonsense as if that "balanced" a rational explanation of why the government needs to spend money, I start worrying about my blood pressure and switch off the radio.

Those Republicans are the people who actually committed generational theft, the ones who enthusiastically threw money at the Iraq War, who championed corporate tax cuts and allowed the dismantling of regulatory agencies even as Wall Street was careening out of control, and who not only ignored climate change but denied it to the extent that we've made things worse -- much worse -- over the past eight years. We have to spend money now because they threw it away for eight years.

If it didn't make me so mad to listen to them, the irony of it would be hilarious.

But what makes me madder than having to listen to the bankrupt ideas of the people who did so much damage to our country -- and they better be praying that Obama and good luck will save it, or history is going to name them as responsible for the loss of the United States -- is that the only criticism we're getting of the stimulus package or the next installment of the corporate bailout or any other policy proposed by the administration is from the people who got us into this mess.

I'm sure there are legitimate criticisms of the stimulus package -- not just Republican rhetoric or nit picks about funding one particular program or the other. (The nit picks were mostly silly, anyway. What's wrong with re-seeding the National Mall? It is mostly dirt at the moment and needs attention, and that would be a quick program that would provide lots of entry level jobs.)

But we're not getting those kind of criticisms. Oh, Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman keeps saying the plan isn't Keynesian enough -- that it doesn't spend enough money. But that's only in his column -- I haven't seem much in the way of a detailed analysis of the stimulus addressing whether it provides enough money anywhere else.

And I'm sure some of the "Chicago Boys" (as Naomi Klein refers to them in The Shock Doctrine) have had the nerve to criticize government spending even when it has become obvious that their belief in unfettered markets is at the heart of the problem.

The thing is, while it's clear that we have to undo the deregulation of the business community that began in the Reagan years -- that is, that we have to re-regulate -- I'd like to hear some intelligent discussion of whether this government spending program is the best way to being fixing the financial collapse. I take Krugman very seriously and I am a great admirer of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, but even I suspect that there are good responses out there that do more than regurgitate Keynes. (And it isn't coming from those who scream "free markets" and "tax cuts.")

Good reporters would seek out people with those new ideas. Instead, we're getting coverage of politics that sounds remarkably like coverage of a football game -- second guesses about strategy, name calling -- the kind of reporting that makes me think that political reporters are just sports reporters with pretensions to seriousness. They only care about the game and who wins or loses. That's fine for sports -- that's the point of sports -- but in politics we also care about whether what we're doing works.

And nobody is reporting on the substance.

How are we ever going to solve our problems if the only information we're getting about the key issues of the day is a brief summary of a plan "balanced" by silly rhetoric and an analysis of whether someone's strategy paid off?

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