Juan Williams, by all accounts, is one of the rare Washingtonians who is a decent and kind human. That fact makes his firing from NPR, which certainly seems unjustified, all the more outrageous.
Even so, it’s worth putting NPR’s treatment of Williams and attitude toward reasonable discourse into perspective. The Republican Party is on the eve of an Election Day on which they are projected to make historic gains and recover control of the House of Representatives. If a few breaks go their way, they could also recover the Senate.
Whether they recover one House or two, there will be a few legislative priorities that they need to prepare for in the next Congress. The first will be ensuring the extension of the Bush tax cuts, which may need to be done retroactively if Democrats and Republicans fail to find a compromise in the lame duck session. Another will be voting on the recommendations of the deficit panel, which are due the month after the elections. The deficit commission’s recommendations will prove difficult even for the most conservative congressmen to embrace. Without a doubt, they will be more extensive and painful than the cuts presented in, for instance, Eric Cantor of Virginia’s YouCut program, which allows anyone to simulate various budget cuts online. The program’s suggested cuts were laughably small. The deficit commission’s will not be. Whether they vote for the commission’s specific cuts or not, the Republicans need to do what the Democrats have failed to do, and immediately present a plan for returning the country to the path of solvency.
Lastly, and relatedly, if Republicans are going to defund anything, it should be Obamacare. Outside of a Hail Mary-type measure like the Constitutional convention Philip Klein outlined as a possibility, defunding would be the only way to undo the damage done by Obamacare before at earliest 2012, when even more of its provisions will have taken effect.
It should go without saying that reforming health care is far more important than denying NPR its federal funding, which is infinitesimal relative to what the government spends on health care. It would be a tragedy if a momentary outrage derailed the real conservative agenda, which could easily spell the difference between solvency and bankruptcy.
So when Cantor joins Jim DeMint and Joe Barton in committing to introducing a bill to defund NPR, you have to wonder whether his priorities are off or he just lacks the necessary concentration. Threatening to defund NPR is a great way to play to the great number of people who are rightfully outraged. But this is the time to plan a serious overhaul of government, not start a vendetta with public radio.