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Republicans block unemployment bill

Cross-posted at Femocracy.net.

As you are most likely aware by now, Republicans and DINO Ben Nelson united to filibuster a bill that would have extended unemployment benefits to millions of Americans. Perhaps this is because Republicans don’t understand a basic economic principle – if you give people money, they will spend it on food, clothing and shelter, therefore putting it back into local economies. If they have no money, those economies become depressed and the recovery drags on. Needless to say, they have demonstrated how out of touch they are with the Americans hardest hit by this recession – but I have a sneaking suspicion it’s not just Sharron Angle who believes the unemployed are "lazy" and "the jobs are out there," and the people who are out of work are in their position only because they don’t want to serve espresso at Starbucks or pick fruit in California orchards. In fact, for Republicans who have come out of this recession with their free market faith apparently unshaken, this is probably a quietly held belief, even if most are not as impolitic as to say it out loud – because in a free market that exists only in an ideal world, unemployment is always a choice by those out of work, not a condition that is imposed by employers.

But Senator Debbie Stabenow is saying what many of us are thinking, but most in the DC intelligentsia won’t say publicly – the Republicans want the economy to fail, because it improves their election chances. If the unemployment bill passes, it’s a win for Democrats. If the unemployment bill fails, Democrats will take the blame – because most in the American public don’t understand the arcane rules of the filibuster and won’t understand it’s Republicans blocking progress. In the Senator’s words:

"It’s very clear that the Republicans in the Senate want this economy to fail. They see that things are beginning to turn around….in cynical political terms, it doesn’t serve them in terms of their election interests if things are beginning to turn around." 

I mean sure, it’s a cynical political move that runs contrary to the ideal of public service by prioritizing electioneering. But political parties are primarily interested in gaining and retaining power, and the interests of their constituencies comes second.

Yet my real point is about the failure of the media to educate the public. I know reporters and editors don’t like to think this, but a lot of people just skim headlines and look at pictures when they’re pressed for time, and only read the articles that strike them. So let’s have a little headline sampling of widely-used news sources:

The New York Times: "Congress Fails to Pass an Extension of Jobless Aid"

The Washington Post: "Senate again rejects expanded spending package"

CNN: "Unemployment benefits extension nixed for nearly 1 million"

You get the picture – the unemployment bill failed. It died somewhere in the halls of Congress. There’s mention of Congress or the Senate, which sounds bipartisan. The Times mentions that Republicans blocked the bill in the second graph. The Post ledes with "Senate Democrats abandoned on Thursday effort to provide fresh aid to cash-strapped state governments and extend emergency unemployment benefits…." See? It’s the Democrats’ fault. CNN doesn’t mention the filibuster at all, only the vote tally.

Does anyone wonder why Americans don’t understand the filibuster? And why Democrats will be blamed for bill failures that Republicans block?

This is why I chose the headline "Republicans block unemployment bill." Frankly, this tells it like it is. I see two problems with the approach of the mainstream media – first, the media pursues this monolithic idea of "impartiality." So stating the Republicans killed a bill might sound partisan, and therefore should be toned down to say "Congress" or "the Senate." It’s almost like they’re trying to prove they’re  not taking sides. (Therefore, since Democrats are in charge, it’s easier for voters to believe it’s their fault.) Which brings me to my second point – I think the false notion of "liberal media bias" that has become an out-of-control talking point for conservatives was probably one of the most brilliant strategic moves ever. Now the monolithically-impartial mainstream media is so afraid of being painted as "the liberal media" that it has to swerve rightward to create a false balance. This is why you can have a Democrat rationally explaining the provisions of a health care bill and why this will change the system for the better, and a Republican screaming "It’s socialism!" and these are both treated as equally valid and well-thought-out viewpoints.

This is how Republicans get away with grinding our government to a standstill – because our watchdog press is too afraid to challenge them. If more people understood the filibuster, it might help everyone place blame where it lies – squarely on their shoulders. The media doesn’t even have to use fancy outdated words like "filibuster" – they can explain that using Senate rules, all the Republicans ganged up to block the bill. That’s pretty straightforward and plainspoken. (Except for maybe the ganged up part – that was my liberal injection.) Writing a headline to say the Republicans blocked an unemployment bill is telling it exactly as it happened – so why won’t newspapers just print that? Why won’t news sites online put it in their headlines? I’m sorry, but I’m having little sympathy with your argument that the Internet is killing old-guard media that desperately needed in our society if you can’t follow your own stated purposes in educating and informing the public. You’re letting them walk away with the wrong impression just because you haven’t gotten past the idea that what the public remembers most from a story sometimes is the headline.

Republicans killed the bill. Let’s tell it like it is.

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