A great column from E.J. Dionne on the media clout of Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh and the extent to which the discourse remains wired for conservatism:
While the right wing’s rants get wall-to-wall airtime, you almost never hear from the sort of progressive members of Congress who were on an America’s Future panel on Tuesday. Reps. Jared Polis of Colorado, Donna Edwards of Maryland and Raul Grijalva of Arizona all said warm things about the president — they are Democrats, after all — but also took issue with some of his policies. […] Her point has broader application. For all the talk of a media love affair with Obama, there is a deep and largely unconscious conservative bias in the media’s discussion of policy. The range of acceptable opinion runs from the moderate left to the far right and cuts off more vigorous progressive perspectives.
A great example of this, that Dionne doesn’t use in his column, was the incredibly skewed coverage of the debate over the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. To the best of my knowledge, the vast majority of economists who accepted the basic outlines of the case for fiscal stimulus felt that the politically determined $800 billion cap on stimulus outlays meant that the thing was too small. I wouldn’t say that the press should have covered this issue to the exclusion of noting the objections of members of congress who deemed it too big, or of the minority of economists who reject the idea of stimulus out of hand, but the whole concept that there could be a position to the left of Obama’s was nowhere to be seen.
And you see this time and again. Yet, everyone could always tell from Obama’s voting record in the Senate, from his statements as a candidate, and from basic common sense that Obama is not, in fact, the most left-wing politician in the United States of America. On issues from climate change to health care to Afghanistan to stimulus to banking regulation there is a critique-from-the-left that doesn’t get heard at all. And even on the issues where I don’t, personally, buy the critique-from-the-left I think it’s regrettable that it’s become so obscured. You win political arguments by capturing “the middle ground.” That means that if your position is defined by default as “the left” anchor point, you’re destined to lose.