David Brooks, King of False Equivalence
There are few things you can rely on more firmly these days than the fact that New York Times columnist David Brooks will defend to the death the proposition that no matter what terrible things Republicans do, Democrats do them at least as much and probably more.
His latest column rebukes the president for harsh criticism of Paul Ryan’s budget, partially on specific grounds, but mostly to push Obama back into his Brooks-designated box as someone who should be having a calm exchange of deficit reduction ideas with his fellow centrist-reformer Ryan.
It is not one of Brooks’ better efforts at prestidigitation.
Much of the game is given away by this brief acknowledgement of the Ryan Budget’s shortcomings:
It should be said at the outset that the Ryan budget has some disturbing weaknesses, which Democrats are right to identify. The Ryan budget would cut too deeply into discretionary spending. This could lead to self-destructive cuts in scientific research, health care for poor kids and programs that boost social mobility. Moreover, the Ryan tax ideas are too regressive. They make tax cuts for the rich explicit while they hide any painful loophole closings that might hurt Republican donors.
Since regressive tax cuts paid for by vast domestic spending cuts targeting the social safety net—which are also intended to claw back money for defense spending that the Pentagon says it doesn’t need—is sort of the essence of the Ryan Budget, this brisk treatment of its provisions as things worth quibbling about is pretty rich. Brooks is far more exercised by Obama trying to make a big deal out of these details. Quoting two very dubious sources, he announces that Ryan and Obama are actually pretty much on the same page because total spending won’t be vastly different ten years from now. So who cares if one side wants to cut Medicaid by one-third during this same ten-year time-frame, while the other is pursuing universal health coverage? Nothing to get all demagogue-y about!
Brooks gets even more upset about Obama’s claim that Ryan would “end Medicare as we know it,” wheeling out Glenn Kessler’s much-derided PolitiFact attack on Democratic arguments that it would “end” (full stop!) Medicare to dismiss the president’s characterization. Brookes also ignores the inconvenient facts that in Ryan’s proposal (a) the “option” to stay in traditional Medicare is rather barren if the funds allocated to seniors to exercise it don’t pay for the benefits, and (b) if too many seniors exercise that kind option, the numbers won’t add up at all.
But no matter. All this Brookesian tut-tutting is intended to get the column to its predestined conclusion:
As I say, I have my own problems with Ryan’s plan, which Obama identified. But Ryan has at least taken a big step toward an eventual fiscal solution. He’s proposed necessary structural entitlement reforms, which the Democrats are unwilling to do. He’s proposed real tax reform, which the Democrats are also unwilling to do.
These “necessary structural entitlement reforms,” mind you, include “ending Medicare as we know it,” which Brooks called a lie three paragraphs earlier, and block-granting Medicaid, which he does not deign to mention at all. As for “real tax reform,” Brooks himself says near the beginning of his column that Ryan proposed no such thing because he didn’t want to distract the very wealthy from the new benefits he is showering on them.
The really weird thing is that everyone other than Brooks—not just Obama, but Ryan himself (who has described his safety-net cuts as necessary to reduce the immoral dependence of non-tax-paying lucky duckies on public assistance) and his presidential candidate Mitt Romney—seems to agree that the Ryan Budget does indeed represent a stark difference in values, goals and programs between the two parties, and a worthy general election campaign topic.
Ah, but here’s why: Brooks wants Obama to stop all this divisiveness, and in recognition of the deficit “calamity” facing the nation, compete with Ryan by “topping him with something bigger and better.”
And there you have it: the “Other Obama” of the column’s title could restore himself to Brooks’ favor if he’d only admit his kinship with Paul Ryan and compete with him to roll back the New Deal, the Great Society, and the progressive nature of the federal tax code. Then the false equivalence of Obama and Ryan could be replaced with true equivalence, and David Brooks would be a very happy man.