Dunsmore: Accountability matters in debt ceiling coverage

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.

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  • John Fairbanks

    Well-put, Mr. Dunsmore. Jonathan Chait has a good piece on The New Republic’s blog about how the Villagers in DC all rallied `round the “cut spending now” mantra, with a particular shout-out to the Washington Post editorial page.

    I would add there has been too little mention of the actual origins of the deficit/debt problem — tax cuts, two wars on the nation’s credit card, and the Medicare Part D prescription drug legislation that specifically forbade Medicare from negotiating drug prices. (Imagine if that were a nut graf in every major news story.)

    Add to that the spending necessary to just keep the country and our people afloat in Depression II, and, to paraphrase Everett Dirksen, you’re talking about real money.

    Wonder, too, if Americans were reminded on a regular basis that deficits didn’t matter to Republicans until this past year, and that the debt ceiling has been raised without a fuss many times before, including 7 times during the Bush years.

    All that seems more or less to have fallen down the Memory Hole, while the Right continues to push falsehoods about social spending, tax cuts, and entitlements.

    Then there is the little matter of overwhelming majorities of Americans favoring a balanced approach to the deficit, namely, revenues and spending cuts, a consensus ignored by both Congress, the President, and much of the media.

    The perception is that the Tea Party is essentially driving the lawmaking process right now, and to a certain extent, that’s correct. Therefore, in DC terms, they are the story, not the causes of the deficit, different solutions, or even the millions of Americans who are about to become less economically secure because of the deal that apparently has been struck.


  • walter carpenter

    The problem is that so much of the mainstream media (for lack of a better phrase right now) has to break every few minutes to display ads from the big corporations that they have to bow down too for revenue. This corporations do not want us to remember that Bush raised the debt ceiling 7 times without so much as a whimper out of the GOP; they are making out big time and do not want us to know how good the war business is for them so it is much easier to blame the debt on the poor.

  • The general public narrative regarding this whole debt limit crap is as phoney as phoney can get: the only ones who have not compromised are the radical right wing Republicans (which accurately describes today’s Republican Party).

    On the other hand the only ones to continue raising the white flag of semi-agreement and cowardly acquiescence are those members of the DC Democratic Surrender Machine (a machine that include Leahy, Sanders and Welch).

  • Alex Barnham

    Many of the critics of the US economy are saying that the debate is another fear tactic to further undermine the US economy by making the US dollar more worthless. We enjoy a very high standard of living compared to the rest of the world. If we are to become part of the world economy, the standards of the US have to drop to level out and the other nations standards have to rise. When the value of the dollar drops, as it will due to the massive printing of money based only on credit, payback will be demanded by the lender. China is our biggest lender but they are now not liking the direction we are going with our unbacked paper currency. Can we stiff China and get away with it? Probably. NOT!!! Suggestions anyone?

  • Jim Mulligan

    The media has been sitting on the fiscal fence for decades
    which one might argue is why we are where we are today. The
    recent SS revelations are classic. I don’t think anyone has ever mentioned that in ’09 & ’10 we added close to $150B per month to the National Debt. We don’t know what it is this year because effectively we haven’t been told in three [3]months. June marked our 33 consecutive monthly operational loss aka Deficits hitting the $3.6 trillion bell…August looms.

    Has anyone dared to take issue with the 10 year projected economies vs expenditures in the current brouhaha? I have yet to see or hear anyone divide the former by 10 on a comparative basis. How about the Debt flirting with the GDP? The U-6 unemployment figure etc. etc.

  • Jim Candon

    Just think. Mr Dunsmore used to be a major figure in the nations mainstream media. Now he can show himself to be the real partisan he’s always been.