Mischaracterizing the Deficit Debate
by Gary Therkildsen*, 7/1/2010
Ryan McNeely had an interesting post over at Think Progress this afternoon on Roll Call's recent "extremely flattering profile" of Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD), a leader among the Blue Dog Coalition in the House. McNeely notes that the article portrays Herseth Sandlin "as a thorn in the side of [Rep.] Nancy Pelosi [D-CA], bravely defending the nation from increased deficits." Of course, the problem with that description, like the media's general portrayal of the debate on deficits and debt, is that it is so oversimplified that "it does a grave disservice to our discourse."
McNeely points out what seems to be the regular hypocrisy of most Blue Dog members on deficit matters, such as rejecting the extension of unemployment benefits that doesn't include offsets, but voting for deficit-increasing measures like a repeal of the estate tax or an energy bill that gives billions in tax breaks to "extremely profitable oil companies."
Unfortunately, Roll Call chose not to examine any of these aspects, which fell outside of their preconceived narrative:
If Herseth Sandlin doesn’t believe it’s worth spending money to help create jobs or to extend UI benefits because she’d rather spend the money elsewhere, then that’s the debate we need to have, not the pretend debate of brave members standing up to Pelosi as part of an 'anti-deficit insurgency.'
This oversimplification and mischaracterization seems to be symptomatic of a larger trend. Now that economic conventional wisdom, which has all but smothered Washington, dictates that deficits are bad and that the country needs to start addressing its debt problem immediately, we'll continue to get media coverage similar to the Roll Call piece, which only reinforces the narrative.
There are a few brave souls out there trying to beat back this ridiculous meme – such as Paul Krugman, Dean Baker, and David Leonhardt – but while deficit hawks have the ear of the press, and therefore the country at large, liberals and progressives will find it hard to launch further simulative economic policies, which the country still needs so badly.
Image by Flickr user Tony Webster used under a Creative Commons license.