Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sacrifice This!

It's so last week by now, but as someone who pressed the meme against the Bush-Cheney junta (here and here), I feel an obligation to address the kerfuffle over the politics of sacrifice -- nicely covered here by Paul Sunstone for those who have already forgotten last week's kerfuffles.

The gist is that President Obama has been caught in the kind of "gotcha" favored by big media gas-bags like Chuck Todd and Howard Fineman for, on the one hand, criticizing the Bush administration's refusal to demand shared sacrifice for the sake of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while on the other hand, declining to demand what Todd and Fineman et. al. consider adequate shared sacrifice for the sake of the ongoing economic collapse. Todd posed the question at last week's press conference:

Why, given this new era of responsibility that you're asking for, why haven't you asked for something specific that the public should be sacrificing to participate in this economic recovery?
Media Matters runs down many of the flaws of this particular "gotcha," the most fundamental of which rest in the glaring asymmetries of the underlying crises.

As currently waged, the wars in the Middle East place enormous demands on currently-serving military and their families, while every other American is able to experience the wars as decreasingly frequent news items. Americans can opt out of even acknowledging the wars, and Bush-Cheney encouraged this insouciance. (To the extent Obama is continuing this encouragement, he is subject to the same criticism.)

Americans cannot similarly opt out of the ongoing economic crisis. Those of us not yet unemployed live with the specter of it daily. Savings accounts of all kinds and sizes are being laid waste, whole industries are rolling away like so many tumbleweeds, and even the wealthiest of us are already on the sharp end of its effects. It is most certainly not something we experience through news reports.

An equivalent demand of shared sacrifice in these two cases is ludicrous on its face; how Todd, Fineman, and others have found such an equivalence shows their detachment from reality. Were this caliber of news reporting to vanish, it would not be, nor would it be felt as, a sacrifice.

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