This bit of faint praise may reflect—to borrow a phrase—the soft bigotry of low expectations, but I’ll offer it anyway: when Republican officials started pushing the risible claim that President Obama’s latest deficit reduction plans are an exercise in “class warfare” earlier this week, the political press responded reasonably.
That is, reporters generally treated the “warfare” line as a bit of boilerplate rhetoric, inserted it into that section halfway through a story reserved for the opposition’s views, and then got on with their business. For a typical, banal example, see this article from The New York Times.
This turn of events is noteworthy only because of the what happened in late winter 2009, when Obama unveiled his first budget proposal, the GOP started pushing the “class warfare” meme, and a segment of the Washington press corps lost its mind. During that episode, we were treated to a woefully misguided ABC News story that asked, earnestly, “Does Obama Tax Plan Promote Class Warfare?” and a Politico piece that answered, “Class warfare returns to D.C.” For the better part of a week, one of the leading narratives for political coverage was whether Americans had installed a revolutionary vanguard in the White House. It wasn’t an edifying moment.
If the coverage this time around wasn’t extraordinary, it at least avoided the trap of chasing a bogus narrative. Exactly why that is is hard to say—the question of when nonsense rhetoric becomes a full-fledged meme, and when it stays trapped in the ghetto of partisan media, doesn’t yet have a clear answer. The explanation probably has more to do with the vagaries of the news cycle than anything else. Or maybe reporters have just become inured to this particular bit of over-the-top language. In any case, it was nice not to be subjected to a spate of stories organized around the “class warfare” theme.Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.