You know, I was hoping to write more stuff today about how Ted Cruz is an asshole – and I might, the day is yet young – but apparently I have to deal with another important topic that’s been popping up on and offline for the past few days. I cannot for the life of me understand why this is still a problem, especially among the friends and acquaintances I have who are politically attuned, but there you have it, crap springs eternal.
Namely, after all that has been said and done in the past two weeks, exactly where the hell do you people get off still saying “both sides do it” and acting like that is a remotely accurate picture of the situation?
I talked about this before, when the shutdown started, and maybe then it was remotely defensible, but after the many stories yours truly already highlighted, among which there is Marlin Stutzman’s great quote about how the GOP doesn’t know what it wants, except they’re “not going to be disrespected,” or stories like this one, which tells you that the shutdown was part of a planned strategy to defund the Affordable Care Act, or this one, in which a Republican splits hairs to dodge the question of what the real purpose was for the shutdown or this one, which explains how the House Republicans changed the rules of the House of Representatives to prevent a majority vote from reopening the government unless they got Eric Cantor’s approval, there is no possible conclusion to draw from that is that you are voluntarily full of crap, and what’s worse, you’re sticking your fingers in your ears, so it can’t even come out.
There’s a current running through American politics that treasures political independence, standing apart from the pack, and developing your own opinions rather than simply following a party platform. Fair enough; that’s not only admirable but the mark of an informed citizenry, which one could argue is necessary in a country set up like the United States.
However, when political independence ceases to be agnosticism and becomes instead a security blanket, what you end up with isn’t an informed citizen capable of judging political parties equally, but a citizen who reflexively judges political parties equally even when all information contradicts that stance. The only thing dumber than a baldly partisan hack is an reflexively nonpartisan hack, because at least one of them is honest about their bias, while the other is pretending to have none.*
The thing that especially annoys me is that I’m not hearing from these people any solutions or strategies as to how either President Obama or Congressional Democrats could have avoided this sequence of events, and I think I’m not hearing them because all of them sound ridiculous or unconstitutional if actually voiced. Apparently Dems should just have given up their main legislative accomplishment because the GOP was holding the government hostage, or the President and Senate should just have ignored the House of Representatives, or something something both sides do it.
Never mind that if Mitt Romney were President, the Senate was Republican, and the House was essentially being ruled-by-proxy by a faction of far-left Democrats undercutting Speaker Pelosi’s control over the chamber, I highly doubt anyone would hold the GOP equally culpable for the resulting mess. Lord knows no one with a byline would.
(Well, maybe Dan Froomkin.** His take is exactly right, but I think it doesn’t go far enough, because political reporters are drawn from the population of Americans as a whole, and what’s become clear in the last year or so is that “Americans as a whole” contains several boatloads of people who think that every event must be spun into an opportunity to declare how much smarter they are than partisan voters.)
But go figure – when the Dems took the House and Senate in 2006, they didn’t proceed to shut the government down over Medicare Part D, or shut Republicans out of committee meetings, or pass out checks from lobbyists on the floor of the House during contentious votes. They tried to govern, and what they got in return was the 2010 midterm election, which put us where we are now.***
All kidding and curmudgeonry aside, if you’re one of the “pox on both their houses” brigade, what would you have chosen as a better solution? Should the Dems just have not caved during the fiscal cliff crisis, or the first debt ceiling crisis, or every other time the GOP basically treated the nation’s economic health not as a goal but as a concession to the President? Should the Dems just have given up and allowed the Republicans to, once again, hold the nation’s full faith and credit hostage in exchange for delaying a planned, funded, legislated, upheld law for no reason other than Republicans don’t like it? There really aren’t that many solutions for the current crisis that both satisfy constitutional requirements and allow the ship of state to move along. So if you’re going to claim such sage wisdom as “both sides do it” in the face of extensive contradiction, then you’re going to have to actually put forward a workable solution that doesn’t somehow refute your view and doesn’t also assume some kind of magical can opener.****
Because in this case, when you say you blame both sides, all I’m hearing is that you can’t distinguish babies from bathwater.
* Yes, you do have a bias if you’re still shouting “both sides do it” this far into the shutdown. When you continue to reaffirm your more-independent-than-thou fred, even when the evidence overwhelmingly contradicts you, that isn’t cynicism, realism, or lack of bias. It’s just refusal to accept your view of the American political landscape is wrong.
I find this particularly pernicious because in other areas of life people are not nearly so forgiving of this faux-savviness. When people refuse to accept any evidence that contradicts their faith, the same friends and acquaintances call them “religious fundamentalists” and make fun of them. But, for some reason, it’s okay to do that when it comes to politics.
** Also Krugman, who is, as usual, shrill.
*** Which is why saying that both sides are to blame because politicians don’t care about average Americans may be, to redeem a phrase, technically true, but collectively nonsense. Why would they care when the response to an actual attempt at responsible government is loads of misinformation, astroturfed protests, and voter apathy?
If I were a swing-seat Democrat lucky enough to retain my seat after 2010 and saw this bullshit peddled, I’d resolve never to listen to my constituents again, because it clearly doesn’t matter how well I do my job – people will still blame me as much as the GOP if something goes wrong. If I were a swing-seat Republican, I’d still resolve never to listen to my constituents again, because it clearly doesn’t matter how many rules I break or how baldly I rig the game – people will still blame the Dems at least as much as they’ll blame me if something goes wrong.
**** I suspect that, deep down, the reason no one’s really put forth a solution is that everyone in the room knows exactly how this went down – and thanks to solid reporting from people like Robert Costa and the other stories I highlighted above (or their sources), we do – but the false equivalence tribe doesn’t want to admit it, because then their cherished, enshrined political savviness would evaporate and they’d look like – gasp – they favor one party, which is their greatest fear.