Sequestration 2013: Nothing But a Media-Invented Horror Story?


One of my professors once taught me that the essence of writing a good screenplay is the conflict. Man versus nature, man versus man, man versus his conscience; without conflict, drama falls flat.

Nowhere is this mantra more evident than in the popular media’s coverage of Congress and the White House in their trepidation over what the press calls $85 billion in cuts. The actual figure is prorated to $64 billion spread over the remaining nine months of 2013, but the press thrives on selling newspapers and TV ads and and nothing draws a crowd like a big fight. This plays into the hands of the partisan politicians who get to play both hero and victim, distracting us from the triviality of what they actually accomplished and deflecting blame for any negative outcomes.

Per BizPac Review, NewsBusters accused the media of not telling the public the truth about "just how small these cuts are in relation to the size of the budget and the economy and therefore how inconsequential they’re going to be."

Predictably, the budget cuts brought high theater once again to Capitol Hill. The panic is about as convincing as the "terror" we felt in the audience as we watched the fakey monsters attack Tokyo in those old Godzilla movies. Although they were lumped into the "horror movie" genre, nobody ever experienced real fear while watching the guy in the goofy rubber dinosaur suit wade through cardboard skyscrapers, swatting model airplanes from their strings.

In this week’s matinee, we had the military industrial war hawks intoning gravely about the perils of the "massive cuts" to military spending. They forget to mention that after 2013 the budget bobs back up to its previous level. Even if we made the cuts a permanent cap on military spending, the budget would be peeled back to the level of ... wait for it ... 2006!

We were treated to scenes of aircraft carriers running out of fuel in the middle of the Atlantic, overseers of nuclear installations wandering away from their posts, and our shores left naked to the invaders from, I don’t know, North Korea? You would think that they might first reduce some of the troop strength in Germany, where 53,000 American soldiers are based, or maybe Japan, where 35,000 of our troops live in comfort in one of the world’s highest-priced economies.

Meanwhile, in cinema number two, we have equally somber defenders of the bruised dignity of their own damsel in distress: the social side of the budget. They address the cameras flanked by teachers, cops, and firefighters — 98% of whose paychecks come from state and local coffers, not federal.

Again, it's pretty clear that they could come up with better places to cut spending, but this is all part of what veteran reporters call "The Washington Monument Effect." In the last budget conflict, there were many painless places to cut spending during the impasse that caused a short government shutdown. Instead they chose instead to close the Washington Monument to create a dramatic effect for photo ops. In today’s version, Congress has offered a revision allowing all departments of government to choose where to make cuts rather than have them be imposed mandatorily across the board. The White House declined the offer. Presumably, it makes better press if the cuts remain arbitrary.

These actors have staged a maudlin production that is dramatized from the more boring story; the one in which they quietly bought political favor for decades by borrowing money and handing it out to backers in the form of corporate and social welfare. This system worked well for their political and personal gain. As a result, the size of government has doubled in the last 11 years. But nNow they must answer to a disgruntled audience, each of whose families owns $750,000 of debt.

These trivial cuts amount to one half of one percent of the $16.7 trillion debt. That’d be at least a start, except that, as can be seen from the graph above, our spending and debt actually increase despite the so-called cuts. 

Rand Paul, who is like the kid in the theater spoiling the movie by groaning at the unrealistic parts, said it well: "I would say balderdash. It’s untrue, unfair, dishonest, disingenuous ... The sequester is a slowdown in the rate of growth of government. It’s the least we can do. Our country is drowning in a sea of debt, borrowing $50,000 a second. We have to slow down spending."

The right wing is equally disingenuous, since the slashes to the Pentagon’s budget are also not cuts at all. In the overall scheme, the cuts are only decreases to the baseline increases they would have otherwise enjoyed.

Despite the scary monsters and special effects the real conflict in this drama — which has been staged by media shills as a Republican versus Democrat epic clash — is instead a desperate struggle between hapless taxpayers and their so-called representatives who are continuing to sell them into serfdom.