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Chris Cillizza, Conventional Wisdom Regurgitator

February 11, 2013

When it comes to political commentary and analysis, the only thing worse than conventional wisdom is no wisdom at all. But each day, Washington Post writer and MSNBC regular Chris Cillizza walks that fine line between the banal and the inane. And with his latest stenography on the budget, the national debt, President Obama's cabinet nominees and State of the Union Address, Cillizza is once again missing the forest for the trees.
Take, for example, his Sunday epistle, "Obama should focus on deficit in State of the Union." Beginning with the pronouncement that "it's the deficit, stupid," Cillizza declares:

The debt is the issue of the day, and one that, if Obama is beginning to eye his legacy as president, could go a long way toward shaping how history remembers him. Make this speech a deficit speech.

And why, according to Cillizza, is the debt the issue of the day? Because of Pew Research poll numbers showing that the economy and jobs, not the Treasury's red ink, still tops Americans' list of concerns? (On Monday, a new Quinnipiac survey found that "President Barack Obama should focus on the economy in his State of the Union Address, 35 percent of American voters say" while just "20 percent say the federal deficit is the top priority.") Jut because Republicans are once again ramping up their demagoguery on the national debt they largely created doesn't mean deficit reduction should be Obama's focus--and slashing government spending his strategy--during Tuesday's State of the Union. The lesson of the fiscal cliff and sequester standoff isn't that the U.S. is cutting the deficit too slowly, but instead much too fast. What the CBO and private forecasters like Goldman Sachs have shown is that steep spending cuts now cripple economic growth and cost hundreds of thousands of jobs. President Obama should rightly emphasize near term economic growth and job creation, which also happen to be the best long term prescription for reducing the national debt. To put it another way, "it's the austerity, stupid."
In much the same vein, Cillizza's insights on the looming budget sequester are, well, not insightful. Last week, he asked, "Who is responsible for the sequester?" Cillizza's answer should come as no surprise:

Well, according to our Washington Post colleague Bob Woodward, the idea did in fact originate in the White House.

Forget for the moment that John Boehner crowed "I got 98 percent of what I wanted" and "I'm pretty happy" when the Budget Control Act and its sequester mechanism became law in August 2011. Cillizza ignores altogether that the BCA came about only because of the Republicans' unprecedented threat to block a debt ceiling increase and so trigger a default by the United States. ( Cillizza's inside the Beltway scorekeeping notwithstanding, Mitch McConnell's admitted hostage-taking and the GOP's consistent refusal to raise more revenue is "how the sequester became politically inevitable.") As I recently noted of these kamikaze conservatives now so willing to sink the U.S. ship of state:

It's not just that Ronald Reagan presided over 17 debt limit hikes and a tripling of the national debt during his eight years in the White House or that President George W. Bush nearly doubled it again. The end-of-decade $5.6 trillion surplus forecast by the Congressional Budget Office in 2000 was more than eviscerated by two unfunded wars, two rounds of Bush tax cuts, the unpaid-for Medicare prescription drug benefit and the TARP bank bailout. To accommodate those "spend and not tax" policies, Bush and his GOP allies in Congress voted seven times to raise the U.S. debt ceiling. (That vote tally included a "clean" debt ceiling increase in 2004, backed by 98 current House Republicans and 31 sitting GOP Senators.) And as it turns out, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) voted for all of it.

Of course, Republicans' willingness to undermine the full faith and credit isn't the only area in which Chris Cillizza now takes the GOP's unprecedented obstructionism for granted as the new normal. That South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is promising to put a hold on President Obama's nominations for the CIA and the Pentagon unless Graham's Benghazi inquisition is continued is without recent precedent. That is the story. But for Cillizza, all that counts is why:

Remember that Graham is up for reelection in 2014 and has been, for the better part of his first term, someone whom conservatives have viewed skeptically -- particularly regarding his support for comprehensive immigration reform (Lindsey Graham-nesty!) and his comments on climate change...
Fighting the administration like hell -- particularly on the former Republican Hagel -- then is a way for Graham to prove to (or, maybe remind) the party base that while they may not be with him on every issue, he remains a committed conservative. Graham is making sure voters know that even if they don't like him, they like Obama even less. It's a classic case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Cillizza's recent analysis of new polls revealing trust in government at an all-time low provide another case in point. Asking "are we in the end times of trust in government," Cillizza provides a content-free answer:

Instead, it appears to be a political death -- or at least bloodletting -- by a thousand cuts. No one event is to blame. Rather, something even more corrosive to government appears to be happening -- a steady and growing belief that politicians in Washington are simply not to be trusted...
The depressing reality of Pew's long-term trend on trust in government is that there is no obvious cure for what ails the body politic these days. Without a clear cause, a sure solution isn't available. It's possible that we are simply in a new era in which trust in institutions like our government simply won't ever approach -- or come close to approaching -- its historic highs.

But we do have "a clear cause." There is only one culprit when it comes to the record-setting use of the filibuster, blocking President Obama's nominees and threats to destroy the U.S. economy over the debt ceiling. Last year, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein provided the answer on the pages of Cillizza's own paper:

Let's just say it: The Republicans are the problem.

And so it goes for Washington's least insightful insider. The same man who in 2009 joked with colleague Dana Milbank about Hillary Clinton drinking "Mad Bitch" beer had this glowing farewell for Sarah Palin two weeks ago. His take on "what Sarah Palin meant?"

The Palin story is, in the end, one of tremendous talent misused. Like any number of playground greats who never make the NBA or, when they do, wind up disappointing, Palin had as much natural ability as anyone this side of Barack Obama or John Edwards, but was unable to translate that talent into results once the bright lights came on. That she never made good on her remarkable natural talents is a sign of how the political process can chew up and spit out those who aren't ready for it.

Of course, with her stunning ignorance, almost complete lack of intellectual curiosity, jaw-dropping venality and petty politics of payback and grievance, Sarah Palin represented the degradation and devolution of the Republican Party. As a quick glance back at their fawning over Palin confirms, conservative women wanted to be her; conservative men wanted to do her. In a rare moment of candor, it was Republican strategist and former Romney adviser Michael Murphy who four years ago most aptly summed up what Chris Cillizza now calls Palin "tremendous talent."

"If Sarah Palin looked like Golda Meir, would we even be talking about her today?"

As for Chris Cillizza, whatever people are talking about today, he'll be writing about tomorrow. If you need a "Fix" of that, you know where to go.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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