Once the law becomes the law, the politics of it are supposed to end.
Politics is about what Congress and the President should do; once a law is passed and enacted, what Congress and the President should do is no longer relevant on that issue. All that matters is what they did do, and what that means going forward. Once a statute becomes law, the only relevant questions are:
- What does the statute require?
- What does the statute allow?
- What does the statute prohibit?
It is simply not lawmakers', or the chief executive's, job to "sell" the law. The law is not a product. The law is the law.
It's also not the job of elected officials to inform the public of what the law is and does, viz., what the law requires, allows, and prohibits. Congress' job is to legislate; the President's job is to "faithfully execute" the law. It's up to those whose job it is to distribute and disseminate information to the public. IN. FOR. MA. TION. It's the public's job to know the law and, to the extent they don't, to find out. (Note that ignorance of the law is never a defense in court.) People don't go to the President or Congress for information; that's what the news media is for.
If some Republican goes on TV and says, "You can drive 95 MPH on the New York Thruway," or "Don't pay attention to traffic lights; they've been abolished," does it then become the Democrats' job or the President's job to "sell" the public on what the actual speed limit on the Thruway is, or that traffic lights are still in effect? Of course not; that would be absurd, and Chuck Todd might even agree. Both of those statements are obvious lies, and it would be irresponsible and downright dangerous for the news media not to correct them, not to tell the public that the speed limit on the Thruway is still 65, and that traffic lights are still in effect everywhere.
But, imagine now that same Republican going on that same TV and saying, "Under Obamacare, you can drive 95 MPH on the New York Thruway," or "Don't pay attention to traffic lights; they've been abolished by Obamacare." It seems, according to Chuck Todd, that under this circumstance it is the Democrats' and the President's job to convince the public that the Affordable Care Act does not change the speed limit on the Thruway or abolish any traffic laws. If people believe that they can now drive 95 MPH on the Thruway and run red lights with impunity, that's the Democrats' fault, and the President's fault, for not "selling" the fact that the Affordable Care Act does no such things. And the "news" media has no responsibility whatsoever to inform the public that speed limits and traffic lights are still in effect.
In the first example, the imaginary hypothetical Republican is only talking about traffic laws, which, last I checked, are neither controversial nor especially political. But in the second example, is he talking about traffic laws, or is he talking about Obamacare? And why should it make a difference to my imaginary hypothetical Chuck Todd? The first set of falsehoods is not precisely the same as the second set of falsehoods, in that they are false in different ways and for different reasons. But why should it make a difference that the second set of falsehoods attributes nonexistent rules of law to Obamacare while the first set merely articulates nonexistent rules of law, without naming the statute (or the President) under which or by whom they were supposedly enacted?
I think my hypothetical Chuck Todd has got it backwards in an even more dangerous way. "Traffic lights have been abolished" is an obvious lie that no one in his right mind would believe. But there's a significant cohort of the American public that would believe, if they were told -- especially by a GOP politician, media figure or even a fellow GOP fan -- that "Obamacare abolishes traffic lights." Even if anyone did believe that the speed limit on the Thruway was raised to 95 MPH, they'd quickly have that belief dispelled as soon as they got on the Thruway and saw the "SPEED LIMIT 65 MPH" sign; however, if you tell them "Obamacare raises the speed limit on the Thruway to 95," no amount of road signs will convince some of them otherwise. And the end result, either way, is a lot of car accidents.
(Suddenly I'm imagining a Fox viewer defending a speeding ticket by telling the traffic-court judge, "I heard Obamacare made the speed limit 95!" I'll leave it to the reader to imagine the judge's response.)
So, why should there be a difference, in terms of whose job it is to report and convince the public of what is actually true, between some politician saying "Traffic lights have been abolished" and that same politician saying "Obamacare abolishes traffic lights"? Why should there be a difference between "Under Obamacare, the speed limit on the Thruway goes up to 95" and "Under Obamacare, you'll be forced to change doctors and put your grandmother to death"?
What Chuck Todd is saying, it seems to me, is that where a significant portion of the population is that inclined to believe things that are, if not obviously false, at least demonstrably false, or easily correctable with a little due diligence, then it's not the media's job to report the falsehood, it's the job of whomever has a political interest in people knowing the truth, to convince people of the truth.
Meaning, if one party is lying about the law (or a particular law) for political reasons, i.e., because the actual law makes the other party look good politically, then the latter party has to dispel the lie, and the "news" media doesn't. Where information is so intertwined with politics, in the public mind or that of the news media, it becomes the politicians' job to inform, and the purveyors of information are relieved of that obligation.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act may be the first federal statute in history for which any and all information pertaining thereto is at first, at last, and in between, entirely political, and is actually being treated as such by those who purport to be the purveyors of information.
Ultimately what Chuck Todd saying is that the media's job begins and ends with reporting what politicians say, what "people" "are saying," and leave it to the public to do their own due diligence and figure out for themselves who is lying and who is telling the truth. And here's the most nefarious part of it: When we talk about the law, about current events, and so forth, most of the time we're talking about things that no one can know first hand. The national debt is my favorite example of this; there is no way any person can possibly know what the national debt is (i.e., what the actual amount is), unless someone tells them or someone publishes it somewhere it can be found. If one TV news station tells me the national debt is $16 trillion, and another station tells me it's $25 trillion, how do I know which one is true, or whether either of them is true? How do I determine which one is correct?
Those are rhetorical questions, of course, and everyone pretty much agrees what the national debt is, so it may not be the best example. But still; no one would know what it was unless they were told.Iif all of our knowledge is second- or third-hand, it is that much more important to be able to trust the purveyors of information to tell us the truth.
Maybe the attention being given to Chuck Todd's idiotic statement will help start to reverse this trend. I wouldn't count on it, given how lucrative his idea of "news" "reporting" is. But there's always hope. We can even hope that if some Republican actually does go on TV and say that Obamacare abolishes traffic lights, someone on TV will tell the public that that's not actually true.
Yeah, right, who am I kidding?
I can see it now:
WASHINGTON, DC -- Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN) said today that Obamacare is going to drive medical and emergency-room costs "into the stratosphere," because the law abolishes all traffic lights and will lead to a spike in car accidents.
"The American People are in for a shock when they find that all the traffic lights are gone, thanks to Obamacare. This law is not only a train wreck, it's a car wreck; it's millions of car wrecks waiting to happen. We need to stop this law, and save the American people from its devastating effects."
White House spokesman Jay Carney issued a terse statement late this afternoon, saying only that "the Affordable Care Act does not change any state traffic laws."
But Republicans were not buying it. "Traffic lights save lives," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), speaking to a gathering of supporters in Brookfield, Wisconsin. "Why is the President trying to kill Americans in car accidents, by abolishing traffic lights as part of this massive government takeover of health care?"
House Speaker John Boehner echoed Sensenbrenner's remarks, saying, "The American People do not want this law. They want to keep their doctors, they want to keep their grandparents alive, and they want to keep their traffic lights."