"Do-nothing!" "Polarized!" "Least productive Congress on record!"
The recently departed 112th Congress got no respect from the news media. As the House and Senate expired on Jan. 3, CBS News droned on about their do-nothing nature, echoing the New York Daily News, Seattle Times and Huffington Post, among others.
Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein, founder of the JournoList network of Obama groupies who work to delegitimize criticism of the president, highlighted the "do-nothing" talking points:
"The 112th ... wasn't just unproductive in comparison to the 111th. It was unproductive compared with any Congress since 1948, when scholars began keeping tabs on congressional productivity." That was when President Truman campaigned successfully for re-election against a Republican-controlled "do-nothing Congress."
What of this mantra about "congressional productivity"? If it's still true that, as New York Judge Gideon Tucker wrote 1866 and Mark Twain popularized, "No man's life, liberty or property is safe when the legislature's in session," then congressional unproductivity should be our desideratum.
Klein and his ilk insist we should be upset, nay outraged, that the 112th Congress passed only "about 220 public laws -- by far the least on record." For believers in government as first rather than last resort for dealing with any social, economic or even personal difficulty, the key to our national progress is the constant imposition of new laws to intrude further into citizens' lives and curtail their independent decision-making.
But this happens to be the antithesis of America's formative declaration in favor of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. By happiness, the founders meant a condition resulting from civic virtue, a nexus of traits expected to yield private and public bounty from myriad individual choices freely and justly pursued. The founders did not intend to replace the British monarchy with a local regulatory aristocracy.
The media types hostile to the "do-nothing 112th" see it differently. Their antipathy is rooted in the fact that the Republican majority in the House of Representatives balked at doing Democratic President Obama's bidding without question.
Hence Klein's praise for the "big, bold initiatives" of the Democratic-controlled 111th Congress. He notes enthusiastically that it gave us Obamacare, the president's stimulus program, the Dodd-Frank financial reforms and more. That these examples of a "do-everything" Congress continue the transformation of Americans from free citizens into wards of the state, buried in debt and still vulnerable to "too big to fail" banks, does not matter when the objective is government uber alles.
When the expiring 106th Congress was being similarly smeared by left-leaning media types late in 2000, the Cato Institute's Stephen Moore wrote in "What's So Bad About a Do-Nothing Congress?" that "over the past 20 years, the economy tends to do better the fewer laws Congress passes."
In fact, according to Moore and the sources he cited, "a strong case can be made that the greatest virtue of Congress over the past six years has been its judicious inaction on President Clinton's most economically destructive ideas -- notwithstanding the unsightly election-eve spending spree that funded many of Clinton's budget priorities."
So, "do-nothing Congress" is a label Democrats and their supporters in the media attach to Republican-controlled House or Senate chambers that don't assent to the demands of Democratic presidents. A Democratically controlled Congress that obstructs a Republican president's agenda is never a "do-nothing." On the contrary, it will be portrayed as safeguarding the Republic from a ruinous chief executive.
The GOP's task in the 2014 elections will be to convince voters that it wants not to do nothing, but rather to do something else. It will have to clarify, overcoming ceaseless vilification from the other party and its media extensions, that restoration of Americans' prosperity and security will require doing "big, bold" things to diminish the role of government.
Eric Rozenman is a Washington-based news media analyst. Any opinions expressed above are solely his own.