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David Gregory and the Balance Trap

Jon Stewart had David Gregory, acolyte of conventional insider wisdom, on his show the other night. Stewart gently prodded Gregory to acknowledge the level of insane, unbridled, irrational rage directed at President Obama by the birthers and others. Gregory tried to change the subject, saying that this is “bigger than Obama”, that the charge that “the president is illegitimate” was also made against Clinton and Bush.

Stewart was too polite to point out Gregory’s intellectual laziness. Gregory desperately wants to fit the right wing fury against Obama into the comfortable template of “balance”. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t always cooperate. At least 17 Republican members of Congress have either supported or enabled the transparently racist “birther” fantasy that Obama, the nation’s first black president, isn’t a real American. Republican members of Congress have stood side by side with unhinged extremists who accuse Obama of being a terrorist and a Nazi. They have spoken at the “How to Take Back America” conference, which featured a workshop incoherently entitled “How to Recognize Living Under Nazis and Communists“.

Gregory correctly remembers that many people were upset about the 2000 election and were outraged by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision that effectively awarded an incredibly close, hotly disputed election to George W. Bush. But he’s missing some important differences: (1) there was some objective basis for people to be upset about the election in 2000–it was incredibly close and only came to an end following a Supreme Court decision in which the justices voted along ideological lines. The birther/Nazi/terrorist accusations made against Obama are “rooted” only in fevered nonsense ; (2) elected Democrats did not question Bush’s legitimacy months after his election, and they certainly did not appear at rallies accusing Bush of instituting a totalitarian state or colluding with terrorists and (3) the level of extremism on the right, including among elected Republicans, is of a different order than anything we saw on the left. One elected Republican member of Congress “joked” about lynching Democrats. Another praised a self-described “right wing terrorist” as a “great American”. Republican leaders are irresponsibly spreading the “death panels” lie, telling paranoid people that they have every right to fear government coming to “pull the plug on grandma.”

Gregory surely feels more comfortable being able to say “on the one hand people hate Obama, but, on the other hand, they also hated Bush,” but he’s failing to observe reality. There are important differences between the criticisms that were made against Bush and those made against Obama–both in terms of the type of criticisms and in terms of who is making and enabling them. To me, the most important difference is that a significant number of elected Republicans are egging on the right-wing crazies. To Gregory, it’s nothing new, just the same old right-left back and forth. That may feel comfortable, but it’s simply not accurate.

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Chris Edelson

Chris Edelson

Chris is a lawyer and professor at American University who writes frequently about current political and media issues. His writing has also been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Metroland (Albany, NY), and at