Editor’s note: This op-ed is by commentator and veteran ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore. It originally aired on Vermont Public Radio. To listen
Throughout this wholly unnecessary crisis over raising America’s debt limit, which threatens to set off a major financial meltdown, I have been taken by the extent to which the mainstream news media portray it as a Washington problem for which both major parties are more or less equally to blame.
Even normally liberal-leaning news organizations seem to see equivalence between positions taken by President Barack Obama and the Democrats on the one hand and the Tea Party-driven Republicans on the other. In this narrative, both sides are guilty of “playing politics” as both are more interested in their re-election prospects for the presidential and congressional elections of 2012 than in the economic future of the country.
Of course both parties are playing politics — but to suggest each is equally responsible for the crisis is just plain wrong. Obama and the Democrats have been willing to make major compromises – far too major and too many in the view of most people on the left. The Republicans and the Tea Party have not conceded anything. They have staked out a position on the hard right and have absolutely refused to budge. As the president noted in his address on Monday night “compromise” has become a dirty word for the Tea Party and most Republicans in Congress. Yet, as former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin has said recently, democracy is all about compromise. It cannot function without it.
I would go even further. Without compromise you can have dictatorship– and in the present crisis it is the dictatorship of a distinct minority– the 87 new Tea Party members of the House of Representatives. This is not a secret. For weeks now, many of them have been stating emphatically that no matter what President Obama agrees to, they will still vote against raising the debt ceiling.
I am not an advocate of the mainstream media taking partisan positions on controversial political disputes. But there are certain critical times when the media cannot sit on the fence. If, for example, network television news had taken the position that there was a moral equivalence between Martin Luther King and his non-violent protesters– and Bull Connor, the police chief of Birmingham, Ala., whose cops attacked the protesters with dogs and chains and clubs — Jim Crow would still be alive and well in the South. The Civil Rights and the Voting Rights Acts of the 1960s were passed because a substantial majority of the American people — having seen the reality of racism in its rawest forms, night after night on the evening news — ultimately supported an end to decades of discrimination.
While the issues that threaten the country today are of a very different nature, decisions made or not made in the next few days are likely to have a profound impact on America ’s future. So this is not the time for the news media to take the easy way out by proclaiming that Washington is simply dysfunctional. Those who would lead us into a calamitous default must be identified and held accountable.