JONATHAN CHAIT FEBRUARY 18, 2010
The news media has a lot of biases, but the most pronounced is a bias in favor of fiscal conservatism. I mean the term in its old fashioned sense -- the belief in the primacy of balanced budgets. Indeed, this point of view is so widespread among elites, including the news media, that they fail to recognize it as a point of view at all.
Take a look at Brian Williams' interview with Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, co-chairman of the new debt commission. I should note that, broadly speaking, I agree with Bowles and Simpson, in that I would like for their preferred policy mix to succeed (though I highly doubt that it can, politically.) There are, however, ideological opponents on both the left and the right. Yet you'd think from the interview that Simpson and Bowles were involved in some kind of non-controversial charitable endeavor rather than a political project with an ideological point of view.
Here is a list of every question Williams asks in the interview:
Erskine, I'll give you the first question. What does it say that the co-chairs I'm looking at, neither of whom are running for anything nor hope to in the near future?
Senator Simpson, it's been said this ought to be on the scale of a Marshall plan, but we don't have a war to point to or an Apollo program. And we don't have a rocket to point to. How do you get people who are worried about jobs and health care-- to be outraged about this? How do you get people energized in this cause?
How do you get the parties off the dime? You know the lines in the sand that both parties have set. The Democrats, "This is an oversimplification." The Democrats don't want to touch entitlement spending. The Republicans don't want to touch taxes. This is gonna take a little bit or a lot from everybody.
And Senator Simpson, you-- said a quote not long ago that's already-- become quite famous. "There isn't a single member of Congress, no one, who doesn't know where this is headed." When people hear that, that sure sounds like-- a lack of courage, if everybody knows what's happening here.
But senator, think of how politics has changed. Let me throw out a few names. Bob Michel, Mac Mathias, Alan Simpson. Where are they all today?
Erskine Bowles, how do you get people to pay attention to this commission? I'm thinking most recently of the findings of the 9/11 commission, which I think if most Americans read it-- sat down, read it start to finish, would still come as something as a surprise to them.
Final-- final question for both of you, Erskine first. Sum up how serious a problem this is, when you look at-- children and grandchildren's futures in the United States. How do you put this in terms of urgency?
There's not a question there that couldn't have been written by Simpson and Bowles themselves.
I actually think Brian Williams is pretty good. And again, I'd love it if Simpson and Bowles actually could create a sustainable bipartisan consensus to maintain tax revenues and spending at some sustainable level. But this is a political and ideological question, not an uncontestable truth.