False Equivalence, Memorial Day Edition

The Marxists had a term for what's going on now. But we just call it gridlock.

From the front page of today's NYT, a strong and important lead story about how the Republican majority in the House and minority in the Senate are committed to nothing less than the full repeal of Obama care. But the story is presented under this headline:


So, one side "insists" on the "total repeal" of existing legislation; the other side "fears reopening debate." Hmmm, how could we possibly judge which of them was being more obstructionist? More from the story:

Republicans simply want to see the entire law go away and will not take part in adjusting it. Democrats are petrified of reopening a politically charged law that threatens to derail careers as the Republicans once again seize on it before an election year.

As a result, a landmark law that almost everyone agrees has flaws is likely to take effect unchanged.

"I don't think it can be fixed," Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said in an interview. "Everything is interconnected, 2,700 pages of statute, 20,000 pages of regulations so far. The only solution is to repeal it, root and branch."

Yes, it sounds like partisans on both sides are equally responsible for this standoff. Rather than partisans on one side betting everything on an outright obstructionist approach. (Cf: Debt ceiling fight, "the sequester," etc.) And more on the consequences from Jamelle Bouie:

It's hard to overstate the extent to which this is a break with the past. The Social Security Act was followed by two decades of major changes... Likewise, as the Times notes, the Medicare Act came in for changes in 1967 and 1972, as lawmakers made corrections and adjusted for unforeseen circumstances.

Without the political leeway necessary to make adjustments to the Affordable Care Act, the ride to implementation may be bumpier than expected. This, in all likelihood, is the point behind GOP opposition to changing the law.

Or, as the Marxists used to put it, a strategy of intensifying the contradictions -- the worse, the better. These days we just call that "gridlock."

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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