THE CHRONICLE attacks the sequester standoff today with a thunderous barrage of marshmallows.
The editors wonder aloud "why the political gamesmanship is taking precedence over seeking common ground and achieving workable solutions." (Editorial, "Playing 'chicken' with the nation's economic [read fiscal] future," Houston Chronicle, March 13, 2013 (emphasis added)).
Common ground and workable solutions are generalities, nothing more -- inchoate pleas for our national government to do something that works.
Cut spending? Don't cut spending? What?
The editors don't know and don't say.
The fiscal mess is the great issue of our time. Upon the answer depends the future of America, whether we continue to grow and prosper or tip over into decline.
What must be done, at a minimum, is to cut the growth rate of new spending. This is not hard to grasp. It's arithmetic, not the calculus. Yet the Chronicle is unwilling to say even that.
To do so would mean taking sides. It would mean reconsidering whether more federal spending -- which the Chronicle regularly demands for this program or that program -- is wise or even possible, and more radically yet, whether it might even be possible to do without this program or that.
When these editors get to the old folks home and their grandkids come by to ask what they did in the great war against fiscal ruination, their only anwer will be this: "We demanded something be done! Something workable! Our wrinkled old hands are clean."
The editorial also trafficks in the worst kind of moral equivalency, casting blame more or less equally on both sides.
Both the Obama administration and congressional Republicans seem most interested in achieving their partisan aims while landing punishing blows to the opposition.
That's the topic sentence. Here's the first tranche of evidence:
The president's bet seems to be that holding out rather than negotiating with Majority Leader John Boehner and the House Republicans will give him a cudgel to bash the GOP for the next 18 months or so and perhaps regain a Democratic House majority in November 2014.
What is said in this sentence is true and is, indeed, good evidence of a president's seeking parisan aims while landing punishing blows to the opposition. So far, so good. Now what about the other guys?
Republicans are betting that the voting public will grow weary of the president's strategy and come around to their view that the debt and deficit must be brought under control with spending cuts.
The GOP's sin, apparently, is having a strong view on a question of policy: that the debt and deficit must be brought under control with spending cuts.
I suppose fiscal sanity could be characterized as a "partisan aim," but holding views on policies and fighting to vindicate those views in the arena of legislative combat is the very purpose of Congress. To condemn a party for that is to condemn the very enterprise of self-government.
And where exactly is the "punishing blow to the opposition?" Hoping the public will come to agree on fiscal sanity and to see that the true advocate for fiscal insanity is the one who will not negotiate and who is using the sequester as a cudgel to bash the GOP?
The same false moral equivalence -- implied this time -- appears in the lede.
The federal budget sequestration deadline came and went nearly two weeks ago and the sky hasn't fallen, despite all the Chicken Little warnings.
That's certainly true, but it avoids a key question: Who the heck was Chicken Little? A reader might be forgiven for imagining that it was both Congress and the White House. But you know, I know, and the editors know that it was Barack Hussein Obama.
There is no honest moral equivalence here.
Americans who are paying close attention know that the traditional budgeting process in Washington has not been followed since 2007. That's coming on six years ago. No business owner, not even a kid running a lemonade stand, could operate this way for this long and survive. And yet, Washington lurches along with no hint of concern for the larger picture.
That is true in the same sense that it might be said that Europe decided to go to war in 1939.
Well, yes. But Adolph Hitler might have done more of the deciding than, say, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and Great Britain.
Here it is not "Washington" that is refusing to write budgets, or "Congress." It's the United States Senate, controlled by Harry Reid and a cowardly and irresponsible Democratic majority.
The House produces budgets. The Chronicle may not like them, but like them or not, budgets they are.
The Senate, with the tacit support of the president of the United States, refuses to write budgets. Democrats have invented a new theory of budgeting, which is not to budget. The new approach is to use continuing resolutions to spend whatever what spent last year plus the automatic spending growth already baked into pie plus whatever add-ons are absolutely necessary for what might be characterized as the Democrats' partisan aims. This approach is, like much else, a ratchet, ever cranking the spending up and up and up.
It's not Washington, D.C., that is refusing to write a budget. It's not Congress. It's one party and its president.
The Chronicle knows this but chooses to obscure the point.
If the newspaper is so keen on process arguments -- let's have some meetings and agree on something -- why not call for the Senate to play its constitutional role in the running of our country? Demand that the Senate propose a budget, hold some hearings, pass a budget, then proceed to a conference committee to fight out the much-desired compromise with the nasty old Republican-controlled House.
That's called regular constitutional order. It has worked for centuries. But because it requires transparency and accountability and responsibility and a whole bunch more big words, it's incompatible with the president's true project, the fundamental transformation of America. That evidently requires obfuscation, evasion, and a refusal to accept responsibility.
Regular constitutional order would restore the intended balances between the two houses and between Congress and the president.
The idea that our fiscal survival depends on direct negotiations between one highly partisan president and one house of Congress is, itself, a perversion of the constitutional order.
This is what we have because this is what the president wants.
The Chronicle accepts this constitutional disorder -- despite all the evidence the newspaper has marshalled to demonstrate its remarkable failure -- as a perfectly reasonable way to do the nation's business.
We need more from the Chronicle than useless generalities and a deliberate refusal to assign blame to the blameworthy party. We need editors with the courage and clarity to admit we have a problem, define the problem, propose specific answers, and condemn those who stand in the way.
Don't hold your breath.