The Dean=Gore Media Trope

Well, I’ve been saying it for a long time, but now it’s being said by others: the media are doing to Dean what they did to Gore in 2000, reporting their canned story instead of facts. Salon has an article by Eric Boehlert today on The Media vs. Howard Dean, and it’s a stemwinder.

I’m actually troubled by a number of things about Dean’s responses to accusations of inconsistency. I am not entirely satisfied with the way he has handled any of the quibbles over his record (and they are quibbles — the same consistency is not being required of the other candidates).

For instance, I don’t think he handled the Confederate flag controversy as well as he should, though in that case, he was stabbed in the back by those who should have supported him. As has been widely reported, he originally delivered the remark to a minority audience in early 2003, who applauded him. When he delivered it again, and the media pit bulls grabbed hold of it, his original audience did not defend him, instead choosing to get all bent out of shape about Confederate flags. Free clue: he wasn’t supporting the Confederate flag — he was talking about people who do so and making an important point about how much those with whom we disagree might very well share economic interests. But Dean has not made this point and instead of showing that he could turn the flap into an opportunity to explore the whole issue, he caved and apologized. Perhaps he was just cutting his losses. In any event, he did do a better job explaining the issue in later debates without referring to the Confederate flag, so perhaps this was OK, after all.

The other main issue that bothers me is the middle-class tax cut. Dean proposes rolling back the entire Bush tax plan, which when it came to a vote actually included a number of middle-class tax cuts incorporated into the bill by Democrats. Other candidates want to retain these tax cuts (which average $300 or $1400 per year, depending on which candidate is talking). I can see an argument for both. Dean’s case is that retaining the tax cut won’t come close to restoring the net loss in services and benefits to middle class taxpayers that were necessary to pay for the huge tax cuts. Dean’s point is that the net gain to the middle class of rolling back the entire Bush tax plan as passed will be far greater than the meager benefits of the Democratic-sponsored middle-class tax cut. But he’s not making this case as forcefully as necessary. Yes, he’s making the argument, but he’s not closing the deal, he’s not drawing out the implications of the details — he seems to think that sticking with a rundown of all the things that cost more because of Bush’s global budget is sufficient, without closing the circle and making the point that it’s all connected, that you can’t look at one without the other.

It seems to me that currently the momentum is with John Edwards, who is not a terrible candidate (he’ll be a great candidate in 2008, I think). Edwards’ best talking point is the idea the Bush economic program is shifting the burden of financing government from capital to labor. By this, Edwards really means that the tax system is being made less progressive, shifting much of the tax burden from the wealthy (capital) to the worker (labor), as well as shifting the benefits the government provides more and more to the wealthy. It’s an excellent point, exactly correct.

And it’s the point Dean should be making when asked about his plan to repeal the Bush tax cuts in their entirety.