Bush: “Do as I Say, Not as I Do”

Now that the Democrats are in control of Congress, Bush has decided to embrace his inner deficit hawk. Showing that when it comes to hypocrisy he’s indeed the highest ranking politician in the US, he complained about wasteful spending and asked members of Congress to show fiscal restraint.

President Bush promised yesterday to produce a plan to balance the federal budget in five years and challenged lawmakers to slash their special pet projects in half next year, embracing priorities of the new Democratic leadership that will assume control of Congress today.

The member of Congress whose special pet projects are the most costly is the President of the Senate. The war on Iraq destroyed a country and has since then failed to rebuild it, to the tune of $100 billion a year. Cutting taxes on the rich and defunding IRS audits have cost several times as much. Some of these come from Bush rather than Cheney, but Cheney is certainly the member of Congress most associated with these wastes.

What is remarkable isn’t that Bush is dishonest, but that the media reports his dishonesty. The Washington Post article notes,

Bush has never proposed a balanced budget since it went into deficit, never vetoed a spending bill when Republicans controlled Congress and offered little sustained objection to earmarks until the issue gained political traction last year.

(…)

But the government has spent more than $500 billion so far on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and counterterrorism operations elsewhere, and Bush plans to submit a new supplemental spending request at the same time he announces his regular budget next month, possibly near $100 billion.

As far as I can tell, US media outlets are never that blunt. The Washington Post didn’t skewer Bush out of concern for the US debt, or out of sudden affectation for reality-based reporting.

Nor did it do it because liberals had been complaining about media bias whenever a mainstream newspaper failed to put the headline “Bush Lied; People Died” on the first page. Liberals aren’t that powerful; conservative complaints about media bias only shifted media coverage to the right after decades of pressure that included an alternative right-wing media and complaints on outlets more powerful than Daily Kos.

Finally, it didn’t do it out of an ingrained liberal bias. The American right’s argument about media bias usually boils down to the fact that most journalists lean left. Let’s suppose that it’s true and relevant for a second; American journalists actually lean left socially and right economically, which means they have no vested interest in making Bush’s economics look bad.

I think the best explanation for this is a question of political momentum. The American mainstream media follows the New York Times in viewing its role as being above the fray and reporting neutrally. But neutrality is largely defined by the political tug of war, which makes it vulnerable to political manipulation as well as shifts in public attitudes.

Not coincidentally, the one issue the American mainstream media is systematically biased on, foreign policy, is also the one on which the American center is completely out of touch with the global center. Globally, being pro-American on anything outside Eastern Europe is right-wing, often very strongly so. In the US, being even neutral on the US is fringe.

So the US media changed based on not just what people say about it, but also which political party is better at getting its message out. The Republicans used to be better at it, largely out of sheer dumb luck caused by the rise of the right-wing media. The Democrats have improved immensely lately, and now that they’re in control of Congress, they have big enough an arena to make journalists believe that the political center is anti-Bush.

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