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Blaming both sides equally for fiscal-cliff stalemate ignores the facts of the matter

With apparently the best of intentions, Howard Schultz, CEO of the Starbucks coffeehouse chain, has instructed his employees to push a “come together” message to the powers-that-be in Washington in an effort to end the stalemate in negotiations regarding the so-called fiscal cliff.

But the gesture gives credence to the false impression that Republicans and Democrats are equally to blame for the stand-off.

Ezra Klein puts it THIS WAY:

[A]t the elite level — which encompasses everyone from CEOs to media professionals — there’s a desire to keep up good relations on both sides of the aisle. And so it’s safer, when things are going wrong, to offer an anodyne criticism that offends nobody — “both sides should come together!” — then to actually blame one side or the other. It’s a way to be angry about Washington’s failure without alienating anyone powerful. That goes doubly for commercial actors, like Starbucks, that need to sell coffee to both Republicans and Democrats.

That breaks the system. It hurts the basic mechanism of accountability, which is the public’s ability to apportion blame. If one side’s intransigence will lead to both sides getting blamed, then it makes perfect sense to be intransigent: You’ll get all the benefits and only half the blame.

The two parties are not equivalent right now. The two sides are not the same. If you want Washington to come together, you need to make it painful for those who are breaking it apart. Telling both sides to come together when it’s predominantly one side breaking the negotiations apart actually makes it easier on those who’re refusing to compromise.

And Paul Krugman puts it THIS WAY:

Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, exemplifies the hopeless confusion factor. By all accounts, he’s a good guy, with genuinely generous instincts. But in his message to employees, urging them to write “come together” on coffee cups, he gets the nature of the fiscal cliff completely wrong. In fact, he gets it wrong in two fundamental ways. He writes:

As many of you know, our elected officials in Washington D.C. have been unable to come together and compromise to solve the tremendously important, time-sensitive issue to fix the national debt.

OK, first of all, the fiscal cliff is NOT A DEBT PROBLEM. In fact, it’s the opposite: the danger is that with expiring tax cuts, expiring unemployment benefits, and the sequester, we’ll reduce the deficit too fast. Deficit scolds are having a hard time reconciling their sudden concern about excessive deficit reduction with everything they were saying before – and evidently Mr. Schultz hasn’t gotten the message that we are now at war with Eastasia, and always have been.

And then, on top of that, he has the politics all wrong, in the characteristic centrist way: he makes it sound as if the problem was one of symmetric partisanship, with both sides refusing to compromise. The reality is that Obama has moved a huge way both in offering to exempt more high-earner income from tax hikes and in offering to cut Social Security benefits; meanwhile, the GOP not only won’t agree to any kind of tax hike at all, it also has yet to make any specific offer of any kind.

So that’s a double shot of total misunderstanding. And you could say that there’s yet a third error in Schultz’s message – amongst his errors? For he sends people, in the name of public-spiritedness, to Fix the Debt – who, as I’ve already pointed out, are not good guys at all.

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