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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Republican strategy during the sequestration fight depends upon two political givens: widespread public ignorance, and the extreme reluctance of the traditional Washington news media to exhibit “liberal bias” by stressing inconvenient facts. After all, aren’t “both sides” equally responsible for the current budgetary impasse? And shouldn’t President Obama lead by making the GOP the proverbial offer it can’t refuse?

Exactly what such an offer might consist of remains vague. Mostly, it’s coulda, shoulda, woulda stuff from celebrity pundits like Bob Woodward, the Washington Post editor who spent much of last week on national TV demonstrating that he can’t distinguish a warning from an apology.

“You do not ever have to apologize to me,” Woodward had responded to an allegedly intimidating email from longtime White House source, Gene Sperling. “I also welcome your personal advice. I am listening.”

Wow, that must have been scary! Faced with incredulity after the inoffensive email became public, Woodward alibied that he’d never exactly called it threatening.

Which begs the question of why he was talking about it on TV. Look, people frequently wander into newspaper offices describing government plots against them—often spelled out in all caps, with lots of red-ink underlining and rows of exclamation points. Most often they’re gently shown the door.

But I digress. Sperling’s point was that Woodward was completely off base in saying President Obama had “moved the goalposts” by seeking to close tax loopholes enabling guys like Mitt Romney to pay lower income tax rates than his wife’s horse trainers.

Could there be anybody in America who didn’t know that?

Certainly not Bill Keller. To the former New York Times editor, Obama’s big sin was building “a re-election campaign that was long on making the wealthiest pay more in taxes, short on spending discipline, and firmly hands-off on the problem of entitlements.”

Keller thinks that had President Obama campaigned on Simpson-Bowles-style austerity so beloved of “centrist” pundits whose own finances are secure, “he could now claim a mandate from voters to do something big and bold.” Instead, a weakened president now sounds “helpless, if not acquiescent.”

True, Keller does concede that “much of the responsibility for our perpetual crisis can be laid at the feet of a pigheaded Republican Party, cowed by its angry, antispending, antitaxing, anti-Obama base.”

But nowhere in all this sonorous muck will you find a factual account of exactly what the White House proposes to resolve the sequester that congressional Republicans find so abhorrent.

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