Tom Brokaw is rapidly making up for lost air time by building premises on sand. Conventional wisdom piles atop conventional wisdom, none of it substantial, none of it justifiable, all of it delivered with sonorous assurance from the font of incontrovertible lore. On “Meet the Press,” Brokaw played a clip from the last McCain-Obama debate:
MR. BROKAW: Health care, energy, and entitlement reform—Social Security and Medicare—in what order would you put them in terms of priorities?
SEN. McCAIN: I, I think you can work on all three at once, Tom.
SEN. OBAMA: We’re going to have to prioritize, just like a family has to prioritize. Now, I’ve listed the things that I think have to be at the top of the list. Energy we have to deal with today. Health care is priority number two, because that broken health care system is bad not only for families, but it’s making our businesses less competitive. And number three, we’ve got to deal with education.
Brokaw proceeded to take refuge with David Broder, who wrotein The Washington Post, on Oct. 8: “John McCain and Barack Obama have been asked twice—once in the Mississippi debate and again on Tuesday night—what their priorities would be. McCain flat-out refused to choose, arguing that the United States can do it all. Obama mentioned energy, health care and education but did not acknowledge that he might have to choose among them.…It was a stunning rejection of reality.”
Who stunningly rejected what? Did I miss the part of the transcript where Obama stated his priorities? True, Obama did leave out entitlement reform, possibly because the issue of Medicare is too contentious (not that McCain has had anything constructive to say about it) and almost certainly because Obama understands that Social Security is not in crisis. But is it not self-evident that Obama did state priorities?
Broder chastised Obama for failing to “acknowledge that he might have to choose.” The Random House Unabridged Dictionary offers this meaning for “priority”: “the right to precede others in order, rank, privilege, etc.; precedence.” The right to precede, I take it, means that if you have to choose between A and B, priority for A means that you choose A rather than B. McCain didn’t acknowledge any priorities at all. Anyway, all presidents have to choose among goals, if not rhetorically, then in the effort they invest in Goal A as opposed to Goal B. This is political kindergarten. To David Broder and Tom Brokaw, there was an equivalent “rejection of reality” that was “stunning.”
Actually, Broder’s “stunning” observation was not only fatuous, it was ideologically loaded toward the empirically disproved right. In fact, in the column cited by Brokaw, Broder went on to say that “If either of [the candidates] has a clue what to do to help stabilize this tottering economy, he is keeping it to himself.” Hmm. Obama’s website offers this item:
Provide $50 billion to Jumpstart the Economy and Prevent 1 Million Americans from Losing Their Jobs: This relief would include a $25 billion State Growth Fund to prevent state and local cuts in health, education, housing, and heating assistance or counterproductive increases in property taxes, tolls or fees. The Obama-Biden relief plan will also include $25 billion in a Jobs and Growth Fund to prevent cutbacks in road and bridge maintenance and fund school repair - all to save more than 1 million jobs in danger of being cut.
Obama, by now, may well have decided that his $50 billion proposal is chump change. Had Brokaw included a liberal round-tabler, he or she might well have said so. But you can’t exactly say that Obama’s proposal is nothing. The Broder-Brokaw tripe is premised on an utterly unexamined piece of prejudice: that deficits are automatically dangerous―so much so as to be beyond the bounds of discussion. The invisible guest at the funeral of absolute laissez-faire is the liberal idea that deficits make immense sense at a moment of downturn. Deficits, when they put money in people’s pockets, lubricate the economy. Roosevelt discovered this; Kennedy rediscovered it; so did Clinton. That’s news to David Broder and Tom Brokaw. In fact, at NBC, it doesn’t even rise to the level of news. It didn’t happen.
False equivalency is to the Sunday morning chat shows what piety is to the pulpits. There was more.