Ezra Klein and the 'Rotten' 112th Congress

Ezra Klein and the 'Rotten' 112th Congress

It’s no surprise to see Ezra Klein attacking the record of the 112th Congress. He’s a partisan, left-wing Democrat who spent the 111th Congress promoting Obamacare–a policy that most Americans continue to oppose and that brought Democrat one-party rule to an end. But in Klein’s over-the-top, false attack on the outgoing 112th as the “rottenest Congress in history,” he demonstrates a level of intellectual dishonesty that is symptomatic not just of left-wing columnists but also the warped thinking of the media in general.

Klein does not use the term “rotten” in its conventional sense, to refer to some kind of political corruption. If he did, he would have to acknowledge that the 111th was in fact far worse than the 112th, with its 9,000 earmarks in the 2009 Omnibus Spending Bill, the “Louisiana Purchase,” the “Cornhusker Kickback,” and the rest. The House of Representatives banned earmarks in the 112th Congress and will do so again in the 113th.

What Klein means by “rotten” is that the 112th Congress got little done. It passed relatively few laws, lurched from one artificial crisis to the next, and ended with low approval ratings from the public. Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether passing laws–even bad laws–is an appropriate measure of success, Klein leaves out two major facts. One is that President Barack Obama refused to co-govern with the opposition, and the other is that the Democrat-controlled Senate blocked almost everything the House of Representatives did.

When President Bill Clinton lost the 1994 midterm elections, he interpreted the result as a demand from the electorate that he moderate his positions. He did so–and achieved balanced budgets, welfare reform, and economic growth. President Obama, who spent the 1990s deriding Clinton’s brand of center-left politics, chose to do the opposite–to tack even further left and to campaign perpetually against a “do-nothing Congress,” gambling (astutely) that the media would not hold him accountable for how little it had done.

In the debt ceiling crisis and the fiscal ceiling crisis, Obama’s goal was not to achieve policy gains for the left but to shatter the opposition. In the former case, he succeeded in branding the Tea Party as extremists; in the latter, he split the mainstream Republican leadership on the tax issue, leaving it divided and dispirited. In both cases, the House of Representatives voted for compromise–but was tarnished by its supposed intransigence. Meanwhile, Obama celebrated the fiscal cliff deal by re-committing himself to confrontation on the debt ceiling issue, which he refuses to negotiate –as if he had a choice, as if the rest of the government did not matter. 

The fact that the Senate has been, by far, the more obstructionist of the two houses came to light dramatically in the fiscal cliff negotiations, when Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to offer a counterproposal to the last GOP offer, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had to call in Vice President Joe Biden–not President Obama, who played brinkmanship to the very last day–to get a deal done. Were it not for the leadership of the Senate Republican minority the fiscal cliff would have kicked in–as Obama and Reid may have wanted all along. It is worth remembering, too, that the Senate has not passed a budget in years–neither in the 112th Congress, nor in the last session of the 111th. It has also simply ignored dozens of House-passed economic bills.

If the 112th Congress is to be condemned because it failed to achieve much, some–if not most–of the blame lies with the President and the Senate. But Klein does not even mention that. Instead, he merely asserts that the 2010 elections “ensur[ed] that party polarization would lead to political paralysis.” No, they did not. They ensured that the parties had to work together to get anything done–which is what Americans wanted them to do. But one side refused to do so, essentially refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of those elections.

Klein’s attitude is reflected by the media in general, which gleefully repeated the “do-nothing Congress” meme throughout 2012 without distinguishing between one house and the other. What the media’s “tolerant” liberals could not tolerate was that Republicans had rebuked their candidate, that Americans did not want one-party rule by the Democrats, and that the country wanted an ideologically diverse government to reflect its diverse priorities. The same is true today–though media outlets like Politico are already trumpeting the possible return of one-party rule in 2014, thanks to the the fiscal cliff fallout. 

Klein and his cohort do not like multiparty democracy. They do not like nuance, or compromise. They simply worship power–power that they imagine is theirs by right, and which they believe they exercise by proxy, through the Democrats. 

What is “rotten” is not the 112th Congress, but a press corps that refuses to uphold even the pretense of fairness or accuracy.