Has the False-Equivalence Moment Finally Passed?

What a difference three days can make.

Two items, each worthwhile in a different way, from the Washington Post.

1) Ezra Klein interviews Robert Costa, of National Review, for Costa's reportorial insights on why hard-line House Republicans are sticking with a strategy that damages the country but also seems self-destructive for the GOP itself. The whole thing is very much worth reading, but here are two important exchanges (emphasis added):

Klein: How much of this is a Boehner problem and how much of this is a House Republicans problem?...

Costa: What we're seeing is the collapse of institutional Republican power.... And so many of these [new House] members now live in the conservative world of talk radio and tea party conventions and Fox News invitations. And so the conservative strategy of the moment, no matter how unrealistic it might be, catches fire. The members begin to believe they can achieve things in divided government that most objective observers would believe is impossible...

Klein: How do House Republicans end up convincing themselves of unrealistic plans, particularly when they’ve seen them fail before, and when respected voices in the Republican and even conservative establishment are warning against them?

Costa: When you get the members off the talking points you come to a simple conclusion: They don't face consequences for taking these hardline positions. When you hear members talk candidly about their biggest victory, it wasn’t winning the House in 2010. It was winning the state legislatures in 2010 because they were able to redraw their districts so they had many more conservative voters. The members get heat from the press but they don't get heat from back home.

2) The Post's editorial page publishes a statement so remarkable that when I saw it on line I had to cross-check with the physical paper to make sure it actually appeared in print. (For proof that it has, see photo at the bottom of this item).

Just three days ago, this same editorial board  delivered what I think, and now dare hope, will stand as a lasting marker of Peak False-Equivalence thinking. It lamented the impending showdown, said that hardliners on all side were to blame, and built to this conclusion: 

Ultimately, the grown-ups in the room will have to do their jobs, which in a democracy with divided government means compromising for the common good.

Today the same "The Post's View" editorialists for the same paper address the same topic in a distinctly different frame of mind. It begins thus:

Along the way it makes observations like this:

Republicans have shut much of the government in what they had to know was a doomed effort to derail the Affordable Care Act. That law, in case you've forgotten in the torrent of propaganda, is hardly revolutionary. It is an effort to extend health insurance to some of the 40 million or so people in this country who have none. It acts through the existing private-insurance market. Republicans tried to block its passage and failed; they hoped to have it declared unconstitutional and failed; and they did their best to toss Mr. Obama out of the White House after one term in order to strangle it in its cradle, and they failed again.

They’re entitled to keep trying, of course — though it would be nice if someday they remembered their promise to come up with an alternative proposal. But their methods now are beyond the pale

I don't know what can account for this change, but it is a welcome one. Here's the way it looked in the paper, with a different headline.

To anticipate the next 1,000 protest letters: the point here is not, "the press should criticize Republicans." It is that the press should recognize reality and at moments when one party is behaving in extreme ways it should come out and say so, despite the powerful (and admirable-in-its-origins) aversion to seeming to take sides in political disputes. And I will hope now to leave this topic until and unless (God save us all) the debt-ceiling fight raises it again.

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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.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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