Post Neglects to Fact Check Right-Wing Screed

At first, I thought this article was indicative of the right’s bending the truth to fit its ideology, but on further reflection, it is more a damning indictment of Outlook editors at The Washington Post.

I’ve written a few opinion columns for The Post and have been challenged for assertions I made in them.  But that scrutiny apparently doesn’t hold when the newspaper is trying to refute charges of liberal bias.  To do that, it seems to allow conservatives to draw any conclusion they want.

The article is provocatively titled “America’s new culture war:  Free enterprise vs. government control” by Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute.  Its thesis is that most Americans want free enterprise capitalism while the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress want “European-style statism grounded in expanding bureaucracies, a managed economy and large-scale income redistribution.”

The entire article is intellectually dishonest, and Post editors should be ashamed for not challenging Brooks’ assertions.  He cites a Gallup Poll that

…found that 86 percent of Americans have a positive image of "free enterprise," with only 10 percent viewing it negatively. Similarly, in March 2009, the Pew Research Center asked individuals from a broad range of demographic groups: "Generally, do you think people are better off in a free-market economy, even though there may be severe ups and downs from time to time, or don’t you think so?" Almost 70 percent of respondents agreed that they are better off in a free-market economy, while only 20 percent disagreed.

I support stricter financial industry regulation, more environmental controls, a safety net for the poor, more federally financed infrastructure projects and a few other Obama administration policies.  I also have a “positive image of ‘free enterprise’” and I generally think people are better off in a “free-market economy.”  That doesn’t mean I oppose sensible controls or support libertarian concepts of the wild west in our economic system.

To suggest these poll results support Brooks’ contention that Obama and company are out of the mainstream is ludicrous, particularly if you look at that same March 2009 poll at the time of the stock market’s nadir.

  • People were split 50-50 on wanting “smaller government and fewer services or bigger government and more services”
  • 54% said it was a “good idea for the government to exert more control over the economy than it has in
    recent years.”
  • 56% thought Obama’s stimulus plan was a “good idea.”

The poll was wide-ranging, and if anything, doesn’t merely not support Brooks’ contention that Obama is out of sync with the American people; the poll actually refutes Brooks’ thesis.

Moreover, there is no evidence that Obama and company want to dissolve free markets or abandon capitalism for socialism as Brook argues.  Why does The Post let him draw such fallacious and dishonest conclusions?

The article, given precious center-front page placement in Outlook, is replete with disingenuous, erroneous or duplicitous conclusions.

If we reject the administration’s narrative, the 70-30 nation will remain strong. If we accept it, and base our nation’s policies on it, we will be well on our way to a European-style social democracy. Punitive taxes and regulations will make it harder to be an entrepreneur, and the rewards of success will be expropriated for the sake of greater income equality.

Brooks also argues that unfettered permission to maximize profits without regard to societal good is not only preferable but a convenient measure of success.

Earned success involves the ability to create value honestly — not by inheriting a fortune, not by picking up a welfare check. It doesn’t mean making money in and of itself. Earned success is the creation of value in our lives or in the lives of others. Earned success is the stuff of entrepreneurs who seek value through innovation, hard work and passion. Earned success is what parents feel when their children do wonderful things, what social innovators feel when they change lives, what artists feel when they create something of beauty.

Money is not the same as earned success but is rather a symbol, important not for what it can buy but for what it says about how people are contributing and what kind of difference they are making. Money corresponds to happiness only through earned success.

What Brooks seems to miss is that for many Americans, it is becoming impossible to earn success by creating “value honestly.”  The widening gulf between rich and poor is not because the poor are working any less hard.  They simply are pawns of those who want a greater share of the fruits of others’ labor.

Ironically, he concludes by citing Sen. Scott Brown’s victory as a symbol of the revolt of the “70% coalition.”

Scott Brown won the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat from Massachusetts in January by declaring himself not an apparatchik Republican but a moral enthusiast for markets. "What made America great?" he asked. "Free markets, free enterprise, manufacturing, job creation. That’s how we’re gonna do it, not by enlarging government." His cultural pitch for free enterprise hit just the right chord, even in liberal Massachusetts. It struck at the heart of the 30 percent coalition’s agenda for America.

Scott Brown is one of four Republican senators who just voted for the administration’s financial regulatory reform bill.

I guess The Post’s Outlook editors didn’t notice either.

Post’s Double Standard for Op-Ed Submissions

It’s not easy getting an op-ed into The Washington Post—unless you are a known quantity, if not of reasonable quality.  I’ve had success about a dozen times over the years, but on several occasions I was raked through the coals by editors wanting me to back up my assertions or interpretations.  And I’ve been unsuccessful, too, when editors didn’t think I had a unique perspective on the issue at hand.

But if you’re a usual suspect, you can pretty much say anything—or nothing—and get your column published.  Witness former Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich’s op-ed on Sunday: “Annapolis leadership is out of touch on marriage and other issues.”  What was his unique insight?  He starts off talking about the state’s attorney general ruling that same-sex marriages can be recognized by the state, but the clear intent of his column is political posturing.

What strikes me most is not the attorney general’s conclusion but the broader pattern it fits, which should give Marylanders pause: Our political leadership in Annapolis is regularly enacting policies that conflict with mainstream sentiment in Maryland.

Ehrlich makes the usual GOP case against raising taxes.

That decision — raising the sales tax by 20 percent — disproportionately hurt poor and middle-income families and dealt a serious blow to Maryland’s entrepreneurs. Every additional dollar the O’Malley administration takes away from Maryland families means one less dollar they can spend in Maryland’s small businesses. Less business means more layoffs.

The entire argument in that paragraph is specious, but a typical GOP talking point.  He also goes after unions, the GOP’s favorite whipping boys.

Forcing nonunion state employees to pay union dues demoralizes thousands of workers and erodes their financial security for no credible reason.

Which then leads to his grand finale.

Our representatives in Annapolis are out of step with families, employers and taxpayers. If nothing else, Mr. Gansler’s opinion will send lawmakers running for the ideological trenches rather than coming to grips with their spending habits or getting government off the back of job-creating entrepreneurs.

The question is not whether Marylanders want more jobs and less government experimentation with our state’s social fabric; the question is whether their representatives in Annapolis will ever start listening.

What The Post did—and does often—is give politicians a platform to speak their talking points, while you and I need to have a unique voice and point of view.

The newspaper even allows politicians to espouse views that the paper itself has called nonsense.  On the issue of reconciliation, The Post says it’s opposed to using it for the health care bill but points out that Republican objections are hypocritical.

LET’S GET a few things straight about reconciliation, the procedure by which Democrats may be able to pass health-care reform by a simple majority. We aren’t fans of using the reconciliation process for this purpose. To approve a change as sweeping as this on a party-line vote strikes us as risky for Democrats and, pardon the phrase, unhealthy for the country. But questioning the wisdom of using reconciliation is different from questioning its propriety. Republican rhetoric notwithstanding, using reconciliation in this context would be neither a misuse of Senate rules nor, in a historical context, unusual.

The Republican rap on reconciliation is that it is a "little used" (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) "abuse of the legislative process" (Indiana Rep. Mike Pence) that would be used to "jam this bill through Congress" (Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch). This is hard to take from a crowd that just a few years back was moaning about the preeminent importance of the up-or-down vote. In fact, reconciliation is no more a tricky parliamentary maneuver than the filibuster. Senate rules allow a minority to block legislation by requiring 60 votes to end a filibuster. They also provide a way around the filibuster in certain circumstances involving budgetary matters.

…And the biggest abuse of reconciliation rules was engineered by Republicans, when they obtained a parliamentary ruling that reconciliation could be used not only for tax increases, but for tax cuts as well. Those who complain about twisting the rules now weren’t bothered then.

So what does the paper do today?  It gives Sen. Hatch, whose argument it called “hard to take,” prime op-ed space to make the same argument.

To impose the will of some Democrats and to circumvent bipartisan opposition, President Obama seems to be encouraging Congress to use the "reconciliation" process, an arcane budget procedure, to ram through the Senate a multitrillion-dollar health-care bill….

Hatch makes no mention of the fact that Republicans used reconciliation to ram through Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts., which cost two and half times what the current healthcare legislation would cost.

But he has a name, so The Post lets him say whatever he wants.