Bob Woodward, the legendary Watergate reporter turned reliable chronicler of insider accounts of political events, has made a series of bizarre assertions over the past week.
It started with Woodward’s odd weekend assertion that the White House is trying “to move the goalposts” by replacing sequestration with a deficit reduction package that includes tax hikes. The idea of sequestration was always that it was something elected officials were going to want to replace with alternative deficit reduction. Republicans have been trying to replace it with a package of cuts targeted at income support programs for the poor. Obama’s been trying to replace it with a mixture of spending cuts and tax hikes. Either everyone’s moving the goalposts (which I think is tendentious but even-handed) or no one is moving them. But it really intensified Wednesday morning when Woodward went on Morning Joe to suggest it’s crazy of Obama to be applying the law as written to the military, instead of simply ignoring it.
Things moved into the absurd Wednesday night when it was revealed that National Economic Council director Gene Sperling had concluded an email disagreement with Woodward with the observation that in Sperling’s view Woodward would come to regret clinging so tenaciously to an untenable position.
As if determined to prove Sperling right, Woodward chose to start talking around town about how Sperling had threatened him—a ridiculous interpretation that the ridiculous conservative media has been running with—rather than sticking with the obvious interpretation that Woodward’s reputation among journalists is going to suffer from flagrant wrongness. It would be interesting to see Woodward try to hash this out with, say, fellow Post-ie Ezra Klein, but instead he’s going the full wingnut and will be appearing on Sean Hannity’s show Thursday night to advance the agitprop agenda. In retrospect, this whole affair was foreshadowed by the release of Woodward’s latest book last fall. It made much less of a splash than many other Woodward books. Most well-informed observers agreed with Noam Scheiber that it was marred by anti-Obama bias, but under the circumstances of the time, it didn’t get the right geared up either. By essentially doubling down on the worst qualities of that book, Woodward has managed to make himself the center of attention again.
But none of this changes the fact that we are facing cuts in government spending that are projected to harm the economy in the short term without doing anything to improve the long-term budget picture. The White House wants to replace those cuts with a balanced package of spending cuts and tax hikes. Republicans are insisting on an all-cuts package. It’s not a very complicated debate. It just happens to be that the Democratic position is much more popular than the Republican position, so clear statements of what’s happening tend to put the GOP at a disadvantage. Woodward’s epic week of attention-grabbing tends to obscure the underlying clear issue—are all cuts and no tax hikes better, or is a mix of cuts and tax hikes better?