I hope that the on-line conversation this afternoon, between David Brooks of the NYT and Ezra Klein of the WaPo, is captured and stored in a time-capsule somewhere. People can look at it years from now as an unusually crystalline exposition of different media perspectives on politics and policy during the Obama era.
What I've been calling the "false equivalence" outlook is one whose starting point on most issues is: "Enough of the posturing and blame game from both sides. Until we reach the true ideal of a New Centrist Party to bring us together, we have to rely on the President to put out sensible centrist plans. And if there's no agreement, our starting-point assumption is that he hasn't been forthcomingly reasonable enough."
The other outlook, which for lack of a better term just now I'll call "journalistic realism," instead says: "Yes, of course, over the years both sides have gone through 'righter' and 'wronger' phases; democracies finally move forward by compromise; and presidents have more power and therefore more responsibility for finding consensus than anyone else. But just at the moment one side is saying 2+2=4, and the other is saying 2+2=5, and the '4' people are right."
I'll let you match contender and perspective yourself. Here's a sample:
Brooks: In my ideal world, the Obama administration would do something Clintonesque: They'd govern from the center; they'd have a budget policy that looked a lot more like what Robert Rubin would describe, and if the Republicans rejected that, moderates like me would say that's awful, the White House really did come out with a centrist plan.
Klein: But I've read Robert Rubin's tax plan. He wants $1.8 trillion in new revenues. The White House, these days, is down to $1.2 trillion. I'm with Rubin on this one, but given our two political parties, the White House's offer seems more centrist. And you see this a lot. People say the White House should do something centrist like Simpson-Bowles, even though their plan has less in tax hikes and less in defense cuts. So it often seems like a no-win for them.
I know, like, and respect both of the discussants, and I think each of them has done us a service with this exchange -- Klein in having the initiative to propose the discussion and Brooks in having the menschy-ness to agree. It is worth close examination. I look forward to further reflections by both writers in their columns and (seriously) thank them for this start.
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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. He and his wife, Deborah Fallows, are the authors of the new book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America, which has been a New York Times best seller and is the basis of a forthcoming HBO documentary.