Bless his heart. There are times when I think we have David Brooks around to remind us why at least some of the “old conservative punditry” – like the GOP’s one-time career as a “normal party” – wasn’t working for us.
The Democrats in Congress hand him an axe to swing at them, and Brooks takes no notice of it in his haste to range himself with the Democrats, and excoriate Republicans.
Brooks reports that Democrats will “agree” to cut Medicare if Republicans will raise taxes – and jumps on the likely rejection of this (unofficial) proposal as evidence that the new wave of Republican legislators has “no moral decency.” These “members of a movement” (gasp?) aren’t behaving like a “normal party”: a normal party would greet the Democrats’ big “concession” with acclaim, and make concessions of its own.
Ed used a Lucy-and-the-football image with his piece on the Brooks editorial, focusing on valid concerns like whether the Democrats can be trusted, and the illogic of persisting with their fiscal strategy if our goal is to pay down the debt.
But I’m still back on that cutting Medicare thing. Talk about a stark unmasking. These are the same Democrats who never cease shouting that the evil, mean Republicans – with their suggestions for reforming Medicare – want to end the program, and by extension life, as we know it. The Democrats have been flogging that theme for years, groaning about balancing the budget “on the backs of our seniors” (see here or here, if you want more).
The Democrats don’t want to reform Medicare. They’re just willing to cut it. And right off the bat, that’s not a “compromise.” A compromise involves making a concession to the other side – but the Republicans haven’t asked for this. They propose to reform Medicare, not simply make cuts to it. Mere cuts to the program, without reform, are, precisely, a recipe for denying care to seniors. There is no Republican proposal to do this. This is a Democratic proposal.
If we were to employ the hyperbole Brooks falls into, we might ask where is his moral decency, if he accepts without demur this false implication about what the GOP is after? The Democrats’ narrative may hold that they are making a concession to the Republicans, with their proposal to cut Medicare. But it’s the job of a pundit to recognize when narratives of this kind are invalid.
Brooks could point out the gaping hole in the Democrats’ narrative, instead of basing his own appeal on it. He could point out what it says about the Democrats, if they won’t allow reform of Medicare so that citizens can have more control over their own medical arrangements – but they will cut Medicare’s budget, which will ensure that fewer and fewer services are available.
He could point out how clear it is that the Democrats’ highest priority is raising taxes. They’d rather cut Medicare than go without tax increases.
And if they have to cut something, it’s apparently going to be Medicare. Brooks could point out that there are other things that could be cut: that Obama has not increased the federal debt 35% by putting previously unprogrammed money into Medicare (or Social Security). The new deficit level created since 2009 is not due to Granny’s hip replacement or Grandpa’s triple bypass.
He could point out that cutting spending and raising taxes are not our only options. Deregulating our economy is one of the most effective steps we could take to whittle down the growing distance between government outlays and revenues.
He could point out a lot of things. But instead, Brooks serves politics as usual with punditry as usual. The problem with both is that they’re what has gotten us to where we are in 2011. More of them is not what we need. In fact, a pundit who can’t unpack a Democratic narrative should think about turning in his “conservative” card. The mother of all going-in positions is that Democrats don’t get to dictate the terms of the public debate.