When Balance Creates Incoherence

The Washington Post’s Jeffrey Birnbaum has written a column titled, “Looks Like It Will Be A Lost Year In Legislation.” While I agree with his main premise, that Congress ought to be working harder to enact laws that will serve the nation, his explanation for the status quo is instructive:

One word characterizes the situation: gridlock.

That’s right, Birnbaum blames . . . everyone. Equally. He somehow failed to mention such relevant details as which political party controlled both houses of Congress. He listed some legislation that he thought was frivolous, but did not say who had proposed it. This vagueness, I assume for the purpose of appearing balanced, makes it possible for the author to criticize Congress generally for not getting things done, but it does not offer any insight into why things are this way, or how to fix them. Take this example:

The urge to play it safe would explain the rush of largely rhetorical issues that are about to clog the Senate’s legislative docket: Constitutional amendments that would ban flag-burning and same-sex marriages, and a resolution that would censure President Bush for warrantless wiretapping.

Not that these things don’t matter. They are likely to rile up voters, perhaps enough to compel them to go to the polls in November. That is their greatest value — at least for the pols who plan to shout about them.

Anyone who takes these issues seriously should be either amazed or offended at the silliness of Birnbaum’s argument. If legislation energizes voters, isn’t that what it is supposed to do? Isn’t that why we vote for representatives in the first place? To make laws we like? Not to mention the short shrift given to issues some people take quite seriously. I don’t see how censuring the President for violating a clear law is a “rhetorical issue,” and I’m sure there are some out there who feel the same about his other examples.

This is strange enough, but later on in the piece there occurs such a strange omission that I can’t figure it out:

What lawmakers crave more than a lobbying bill with teeth is a lobbying bill, period. They want the ability to say they voted for “reform” if and when indictments are brought against members of Congress. That, they hope, will be enough to insulate them from voter outrage.

Not lawmakers, Jeffrey: Republicans. Say it with me now, Republicans. Republicans have the lobbying scandal problem. To refuse to say it plainly, for the sake of balance, is to reduce your column to insanity. Are there any Democrats currently facing indictment? You know the answer. (No.)

I have trouble understanding what the column is supposed to be about in the first place. Maybe the conclusion will help:

This situation is not helped by the president’s dismal job-approval ratings, which are making the Republican majority nervous and the Democratic minority eager to capitalize on anything that might give them political advantage.

“The two political parties are in what seems to be a perpetual war for political power, making it even harder to forge a compromise,” Josten said.

Which is a formula for a lost legislative year.

Hmm. Well, that certainly is too bad. Those parties should stop being so power hungry and monolithic so there can be real compromise. How can they both be equally blind?

Oh, wait. That’s not how it is. The Republican, Rovian machine, has made things this way. Birnbaum’s refusal to tell it like it is has made his column empty and unconvincing.

One Reply to “When Balance Creates Incoherence”

  1. “Are there any Democrats currently facing indictment? You know the answer. (No.)”

    While off-hand I can’t think of any congressional Democrats UNDER indictment, I believe it is fair to say that Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) is FACING possible indictment.

    (William Jefferson…heh….what’s in a name)

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