Most of my political friends are proud to tell me that they do not read the Washington Post any longer, ever since its final conversion to aggressive woke journalism.
This is a shame since conservatives are in effect cutting themselves off from the institution most responsible for setting the political agenda for the nation from its capital. Indeed, it is the bible of Washington, D.C., without which the government cannot be understood.
Of course, it takes a strong stomach for any discerning mind to daily face the consuming woke-leftism that is written into every “news” story. For those who might miss its more subtle news bias, it provides a regular column by Dana Milbank to simplify the message further with articles so pro-left Democratic that one can rush through them quickly to learn that day’s proper disdain for anything right-of-center. But one must concede that its coverage is comprehensive.
The main pages, however, are mostly driven by its favorite journalistic term, “outrage,” rather than by simple leftism. Every day the Post is bursting with stories about people who are outraged about nearly everything, from Washington to the remotest corners of the Earth. This need to hyper-expose any alleged human or institutional failure applies even to its largest nearby institution, the national government. Overriding its big-government ideology, its reporting of agency actions from inside sources proves every day that national government does not work.
These exposés should be regular reading by everyone, even if the blame is mostly slanted toward the Right. One must understand that the residents of the D.C. area and the Post’s readership are mostly left-leaning, the richest per capita in the nation, and overwhelmingly Democratic. The Post can show the warts right out in the open and not worry much about rebuttal from its few conservative columnists. Just in case anyone misses the message, Milbank has now published a book titled The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party.
Milbank’s thesis is that, of course, former President Donald Trump is a “destructionist” but also that pretty much all Republicans over the last quarter-century have been too. This destruction began with the revolutionary former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, then the George W. Bush administration, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former presidential consultant Patrick Buchanan, TV show host Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, Watergate operative Gordon Liddy, the Tea Party, former Rep. Tom DeLay, the 2010 Supreme Court, and even former Attorney General John Ashcroft — pretty much everyone who has done anything on the right.
To promote book sales, the Post ran an A-section, full-page summary by Milbank himself. What better way to promote such a partisan book? The Post found conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr.’s cranky son Christopher promoting his new novel and convinced him to review Milbank’s book. This was published in the Post book section around the same time as Milbank’s own review of himself. Christopher admits that “here and there” the book is “breathless” (a fair conclusion would be “mostly all” was emotional), but he finds that The Destructionists generally has “considerable merit.”
An endorsement by Buckley’s son; now that is really clever — a journalistic Machiavellianism too good to miss.
Not finished, another day’s Post featured (former neoconservative) regular columnist Max Boot praising his “brilliant Post colleague” for tracing today’s woes back to Gingrich. But he adds that Milbank did not go back far enough, as Boot’s own earlier book had traced the source of today’s conservative Republican crack-up all the way back to 1964 presidential nominee Barry Goldwater. Boot does, however, mention that “something profound has changed in recent years” that makes things so much worse. (READ MORE from Donald Devine: A Century of Bureaucratic Failure — and the Coming Opportunity to Fix It)
But all was not lost. That day’s Post top front-page headline hyped the Democratic comeback: “Senate passes key climate, health bill: Sweeping goals were long stalled. Biden agenda gets boost as Democrats unite.” The formal bill title is the Inflation Reduction Act, but the phrase does not appear until in the space below a large photo of Senate Leader Chuck Schumer celebrating the great Democratic victory.
Lurking below was a smaller headline worth a year’s subscription: “Why the ‘Inflation Reduction Act’ is no such thing,” by former longtime Post economics columnist Steven Pearlstein. It begins:
One of the more enduring fallacies informing discussion of the economy is that there are a couple of dials located in a vault somewhere in Washington that officials can turn this way or that to control employment, output, inflation—even the price of gasoline.
It is a statement that could have come right from Goldwater himself, or even Bill Buckley.
For decades, the country had been living well beyond its means, running large and persistent trade and budget deficits made possible by an overvalued dollar, artificially low interest rates and the willingness of trading partners to recycle their surpluses back into the American economy. Indeed, those imbalances had persisted for so long that just about everyone had come to think they were the new normal and that they could continue in perpetuity.
Recovering from this excess “cannot be painless,” he says. “Government spending will have to be more in line with government revenue.” The only alternative is “living with the boom-and-bust cycle of the last 30 years.” He concludes:
In short, a healthy, sustainable economy is not one that requires government officials to be constantly and dramatically adjusting macroeconomic dials in Washington to keep things in balance. Rather, it is one that relies more on the natural self-correcting mechanisms of open, competitive, and well-regulated markets.
Where do the beliefs that government dial manipulation can fix everything come from? They go back to the progressive era — to President Woodrow Wilson and the Federal Reserve Act, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and his limiting the gold standard, and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society spending and President Richard Nixon’s institutionalizing it — when progressivism was generally accepted in both political parties. Only President Ronald Reagan and former Chair of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker questioned the dogma and were partially successful in opening the self-correcting mechanisms until 2008, when presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama doubled down by further tightening the macroeconomic dials that Pearlstein criticizes.
Something profoundly different has truly taken place in recent years. It has become obvious to Americans that the whole welfare-state “dial” does not work. Pearlstein understands but so does the Brookings Institution, whose precursor helped institute the progressive dialing structure that promises everything but delivers so little.
The administrative welfare state spends plenty of money, but it cannot solve the problems its assurances promise to fix. The century-long progressive dream has failed, and all sides are truly outraged about it, inflamed by both mainstream and conservative journalism and social media. The result is both a frustrated Bernie Sanders–esque progressive intellectual/elite Left that justifies even FBI raids on its leading political opponent and a rural/blue-collar/working-class Right that supports not only Donald Trump but also, in some cases, foreign autocrats like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
Ordinary people on both sides feel lied to about government results. Progressive leaders cannot conceive they have been wrong since the beginning — that there is no magic-wizard government dial that can fix everything — and conservatives have no brave Buckley-type intellectual to tell the unvarnished truth that there is no centralized solution.
But if Pearlstein can say so on the front page of the Washington Post, who knows what might be possible?
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies. He is the author of The Enduring Tension: Capitalism and the Moral Order, new from Encounter Books; America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution; and Political Management of the Bureaucracy. He served as President Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term and can be followed on Twitter @donalddevineco1.