I didn't join in the David Brooks pile-on yesterday, after Brooks published a column arguing, among other things, that President Obama doesn't have a plan to avoid the sequester. I didn't join even after Jonathan Chait and others directed Brooks's attention to the plan, the existence of which is easily verifiable, or even after Ezra Klein spoke with Brooks about the fact that the plan exists. I didn't even join when Brooks told Klein,
In my ideal world, the Obama administration would do something Clintonesque: They’d govern from the center; they’d have a budget policy that looked a lot more like what Robert Rubin would describe....and Klein pointed out that, in fact, Robert Rubin's own proposal would be even less palatable to Republicans, because it seeks more new tax revenue than Obama's plan.
I didn't join the pile-on because Brooks wasn't engaging in journalism. He wasn't even engaged in fact-based punditry. What Brooks was writing was theology.
Brooks was writing a commentary rooted in the Beltway's political religion. In a religious faith, stories are told that are frameworks for belief, even if they're not believed literally. Thus, when I was a Catholic, I was told that the Bible is the revealed word of God -- and yet my faith also accepted the theory of evolution, which tells an origin story for life on Earth that contradicts the one in the Bible. The Church was saying, in effect, that the Genesis narrative of creation is theologically true, even if it's not literally true.
You could say the same thing about the Brooks narrative. It doesn't matter whether President Obama has acted in good faith, despite Republican intransigence, to deal with issues of taxes, spending, debts, and deficits in a responsible way -- there are two strains of the Beltway faith, one of which tells us that, on economic issues, Democrats are always wrong and Republicans are always right, the other of which (the one of which Brooks claims to be an adherent) tells us that both parties are to blame, but it's the responsibility of Democrats to move the discussion to a point midway between where the two parties are, which is, by definition, the responsible center. Republicans, according to this faith tradition, will inevitably meet Democrats halfway -- though if they don't, that's also the Democrats' fault.
So I cut Brooks a break. His column would have been irresponsible if he'd been trying to disseminate news, but he wasn't. He was preaching.
And the same goes for Bob Woodward's latest article. Woodward tells us, that, according to his reporting, the Obama White House first proposed the sequester back in 2011 -- therefore (he implies), whatever terrible consequences come to pass as a result of the sequester are Obama's fault. Woodward glosses over the fact that the sequester was a way to save the economy from disaster after Republicans took it hostage, threatening to destroy America's full faith and credit by refusing to raise the debt ceiling; moreover, Woodward claims that "the final [sequester] deal ... included an agreement that there would be no tax increases," and thus Obama now "is moving the goal posts" by asking for tax increases, which is not true according to the wording of the legislation.
But it's OK that Woodward is toying with the facts, because, once again, this is not journalism -- it's catechism. Democrats must be wrong. Republicans can be wrong or they can be right, but Democrats must always be the real guilty parties. This is an inviolate tenet of the Beltway faith. It's a myth we must all live by -- otherwise we might have to address the question of whether it's even possible to run a country responsibly with the Republicans as one of our two major parties.
But asking that question could lead to a loss of faith. And so Brooks and Woodward preach.