More than any of his predecessors, President Bush understands the conventions of journalism and the traditions of political debate. These require that respectful attention be paid to whatever claims the president makes. Journalists who have the temerity to question whether the claims ring true (or whether the numbers add up) can count on being pummeled as liberal ideologues, even when they are only seeking the facts.
The president's claims are thus duly reported, and most of the challenges come from the political opposition. Then the administration defends itself (as in, "administration officials dismissed the criticism as partisan carping"). Even when the most diligent and numbers-savvy budget reporters try to explain what's going on -- and bless all of them for trying -- the truth is usually lost in the cacophony of claims and counterclaims.
E. J. Dionne
This is not new, just different. Observers as disparate as Charles Dickens and Jules Verne, as recently as the 19th century, found an American political culture that was long on producing heat, short on producing light. The cries of "partisanship" as a way to end discussion of public concerns did not begin with the Gingrich Republicans, and is not a creation of post-Reagan era politics. What Mr. Dionne identifies is just the latest variation on an old American theme. As Ecclesiastes said, there is nothing new under the sun.
Mr. Dionne goes on to discuss the budget, and the deficit, which shows no signs of shrinking or even being reduced under this President, and reaches this conclusion:
The whole point (and, yes, this happened in the 1980s, too) is to create deficits, followed by a "crisis," followed by demands for cuts in domestic programs, especially in those "federal outlays" for low-income people.In other words, the very people in charge are seeking only to preserve their power and their position. And if, indeed, "'twas ever thus," then I am haunted once more by these words, attributed to Jesus of Nazareth by Jon Dominic Crossan:
"Only the despised are blameless. Only the wretched are guiltless."