The word “bickering” is one of the most overused terms in the lexicon of the political media.
Slate’s David Weigel recently highlighted some pretty bad punditry over president Obama’s recent State of the Union address in an article aptly titled “The Worst State of the Union Analysis Yet.” His piece highlighted the poor reasoning of The Wall Street Journal’s Bill Galston, a former Clinton White House courtier, who criticized the president Obama’s announced plans to use executive orders to enact his agenda as being bad because it will lead to bickering, “There is some evidence that the American people are tired of the bickering and want to figure out a way of moving forward together…”
“Bickering” or it’s cousin “partisan bickering” is one of the most overused terms in our political media, and it accomplish little except to belittle our democracy and confuse regular Americans about our national debate. The term itself implies argument of course, but also stresses the idea of an argument or dispute over petty or trivial things. But here’s the rub, the disputes between president Obama and the Republicans in Congress are hardly petty or trivial. To cite one example from Obama’s State of the Union address, Obama called on Congress to extend the federal government’s emergency unemployment benefit program for 1.6 million unemployed Americans which has recently expired. This proposal is fairly popular but has run into a road block in Congress as Republicans by and large have opposed it.
You may agree or disagree with president Obama over extending unemployment benefits, but I would challenge anyone to depict his disagreement over extending it with Congressional Republicans as being based on petty or trivial differences. Instead it’s a substantive policy difference over how to address economic concerns that will directly affect millions of Americans.
That’s just one example, but it these sorts of divisions are pretty apparent in other issues the president touched on like sanctions against Iran, the American troop presence in Afghanistan, and raising the minimum wage. Indeed an overall list of substantive difference over policy between president Obama and Republicans in Congress could go on for pages. But Glaston’s characterizing of these disputes instead makes it sound like Barack Obama and John Boehner are two people who agree on the issue, but are arguing over the name of the bill or some other such trivial matters, instead of leaders of two different political parties with major philosophical differences over how to solve national problems.
No one is served by depictions of very real and substantive differences over policy as petty disputes. Except perhaps journalists who don’t want to do the hard work of explaining these differences to their readers.
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