The dead tree media are more about narratives than news these days, but occasionally narratives can be interesting in their own right. They can be good bellwethers if you want to know which way the political winds are blowing. Take, for example, an article about the value-added tax in last Wednesday’s Washington Post. Other than telegraphing the Administration’s thinking on the subject, it was a masterful example of the current journalistic state of the art in presenting editorials as news.
True, the title larded it on a little thickly. In the paper version it was “Experts say Washington is too quick to dismiss a value-added tax.” I see the Internet has toned it down a notch to the somewhat more subtle, “VAT’s benefits outweighed by politics, experts say.” In journalistic parlance, an “expert” is someone with a modicum of academic gravitas who will reliably spout a given propaganda line if the narrative of the day requires it. Any news organization worth its salt keeps a stable of them on hand suitable for any occasion. Germany’s Spiegel magazine has one of the world’s greatest menageries, including my personal favorite, “peace researchers,” (Friedensforscher), whose ostensible purpose is to promote hatred of the United States. In the case at hand, the choice of “experts” would seem to indicate that the WaPo’s editors, and therefore the Administration, have concluded that the American people need another regressive tax to go along with legalized gambling. No surprise there. Soaking the rich never works. They’re too good at fighting back.
Scanning through the first few paragraphs, we learn that the President’s press secretary, always good for a laugh, has told reporters, “This is not something the President has proposed, nor is it under consideration.” The Republicans, we are informed, don’t want to raise taxes either, even though they “howled about cuts to Medicare in the recent healthcare overhaul.” (Only Republicans “howl.” Democrats “object.”) Sure enough, the right’s movers and shakers on talk radio defended Medicare as if it were some kind of sacred cow, in the midst of their ringing denunciations of nationalized health care. Of course, we also have the Republicans to thank for the massive new prescription drug entitlement, a fact the article doesn’t even bother to mention.
Cutting to the chase, we arrive at the “zinger” paragraph at the end, where the editors always provide a pithy synopsis of the narrative for those too dense to figure it out from the rest of the text. In this case it is provided by “expert” Bruce Bartlett, a historian, all the more legit because, as we are informed, he was a domestic policy adviser in the Reagan administration:
“I think we have to remember that low taxes or tax rates are not an end in themselves; they are the means to an end, which is higher growth and greater prosperity,” Bartlett wrote on the blog Capital Gains and Games. “In this sense, I think right wingers pay far too much attention to the negative economic consequences of taxation while essentially ignoring the negative economic consequences of exremely large deficits.”
Assuming the Democrats and Republicans are really the only players that matter, I can’t fault the WaPo’s logic here. After all, when Republicans accuse Democrats of deficit spending, it’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Of course, the article studiously avoided even the slightest mention of another, seemingly significant, player, if the latest Rasmussen poll is any guide; the Tea Party Movement. This seems a little odd, considering that the explosive growth of government and the accompanying deficits are the main reasons the movement exists to begin with. Do the editors consider the Tea Partiers insignificant? Why, then, have they been shaking with fear for the last month about the way the movement is “fomenting violence?”
Be that as it may, it would seem that (surprise, surprise) the Administration has changed its tune, and that with alacrity. In fact on the very day the article appeared, the AP ran a story with the headline, “Obama suggests value-added tax may be an option.” Robert Gibbs must have been stunned!
Well, this is a democracy, and the American people did vote for these people. Government bennies don’t grow on trees. Eventually, they must be paid for. As for those who actually believed Obama when he said he wouldn’t raise taxes on 95% of us, the only advice I can give them is, “open your mouth and close your eyes…”