Monday, August 1, 2011

An Example of How the Media's Focus on Balance Warps Perceptions

Nate Silver deserves a drubbing for this one.  The important thing to note about the debt ceiling debate is that it has been from the start about how fully the Republican's agenda would be fulfilled in return for raising it.  So when I see something like this:

Perhaps, on a 100-point scale where 0 represents a total victory for Democrats (say a debt ceiling increase with no strings attached) and 100 represents a total victory for Republicans (perhaps the passage of “cut, cap and balance”), Mr. Boehner’s original bill would be scored at about a 70 and Mr. Reid’s at a 50.

I get angry.

Let's be honest about what a truly neutral scale would look like.  0 should be a bill that fulfills a number of Democratic priorities (say an increase on taxes on the wealthy to help close the debt and a hefty dose of fiscal stimulus to raise GDP growth thus cutting the deficit long term) and 100 should be a bill like that mentioned by Mr. Silver.  In this case, 50 would be raising the debt ceiling with no strings attached, no one gets their priorities met, which is more or less what usually happens.

Putting a scale where 0 is defined solely in non-ideological technocratic terms, raising the debt ceiling, and 100 is full partisan terms (with full Democratic ideological priorities apparently at -100) seems to me completely deceptive, since the -100 definition isn't even mentioned.  The framing here makes it look like simply raising the debt ceiling is an extreme partisan position and the current compromise fairly centrist, which it isn't at all.  This defines politics in completely relativistic terms, whatever one sides position on an issue, even if it involves substantial compromise and a complete abandonment of that side's ideological priorities, is defined as the extremist partisan position.  This is downright silly.  A scale of 0 to 100 can't be defined by wherever the parties are on any particular issue, it has to be defined in terms of each party's ideological priorities.  To do otherwise is to substantially distort partisan issues.

On the broader issue about whether this will help/hurt Republicans/Democrats, I'm agnostic.  I just think we should talk about these things in consistent terms rather than letting political opportunists move the goal posts whenever they want to.

No comments:

Post a Comment