Perhaps the most surreal moment in the budget crisis came when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, concerning Republican efforts to pass another temporary measure, “they’ll say it’s short-term but what that really means is it’s a short-cut around doing our jobs. Instead of solving problems, they’re stalling. They’re procrastinating. That’s not just bad policy, it’s a fantasy.”
Reid, of course, belongs to the party that couldn’t produce a budget despite years of total control in both houses of Congress. Is he out of his mind to suggest the Republicans are somehow “procrastinating” because they haven’t corrected his party’s dereliction of duty yet?
It’s a remarkably insipid talking point, but Reid isn’t crazy. He’s just assuming the Democrats still have a power they no longer possess: the power to control public memory.
The story of American politics is a constantly evolving saga. It doesn’t “begin” or “end.” At best, it has vague chapter breaks, which pundits tend to describe with grandiose language about “the end of an era” or the “creation of a new landscape.”
In reality, events bleed into each other. Cause and effect don’t fit neatly into one Presidential term or Congressional session. Clinton’s actions led to Bush’s election. Bush did things that helped Obama get elected. All of them presided over trends that began before they took office, and continued after they left. With a broad enough historical view, it could fairly be said that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt has as much to do with our current debate over debt and entitlement reform as Representative Paul Ryan does.
Great power lies in being able to determine when a particular political “story” begins and ends. Harry Reid assumes his audience has completely forgotten about the 111th Congress, and wants the story of the impending government shutdown to begin with the 2010 midterm elections. It’s a relatively extreme example of something politicians do all the time.
One of the admirable things about Paul Ryan and his “Path to Prosperity” is that it does not try to carve out a narrow window of time, and demand the audience ignore everything that precedes or follows it. Watch Ryan’s introductory video again, and note the long timelines.
By contrast, Harry Reid has been saying he might consider looking at Social Security “two decades from now,” when he’s 91 years old. In other words, the story of government insolvency extends no further than a year or two into the future. You’re not supposed to think any farther ahead than that.
The same tactic was on display in the debate over President Obama’s war in Libya. The Left insisted you forget everything they ever said about George Bush and Iraq. That story ended two years ago. The Obama narrative began with his election, and can be compared to nothing that came before it… not even his presidential campaign statements.
Democrats are still slowly, painfully learning that they can’t do this anymore. They’ve lost the total media control necessary to shape history. Fox News, conservative radio hosts, and conservative bloggers have acted repeatedly to keep the Left from closing the book on history they desperately need voters to forget about. We’ll do it again during the rest of the 2011 budget battle. This outfit is called Human Events because we remember events from more than a year ago.
Harry Reid will look less foolish when he finally understands that his party no longer controls public memory. History is open-source now.