The Agenda

Jennifer Medina on the RGA

I don’t think of myself as a media critic. But reading Jennifer Medina’s New York Times report on the RGA struck me as a little odd:

 

But underneath all the elation is the sobering reality that many of the governors are facing huge deficits in their states. Somehow, though, state leaders seemed to take a kind of strange joy in describing their dour prospects, especially the newly elected governors who are not likely to shoulder responsibility for whatever decisions brought their state to that point. They almost bragged about the size of their deficits, outdoing one another to show what kind of difficult environment they are entering. [Emphasis added.]

I should note that this is a very strong claim. One could easily interpret this sentence as telling us that newly-elected Republican governors are gleeful about the economic misery facing their constituents. So surely the next sentence would constitute a strong and convincing example of the conceit Medina describes: 

“We’re at the bottom of every good list and the top of every bad list,” said Susana Martinez, the governor-elect of New Mexico, who said the estimate of the state’s budget gap doubled just after Election Day, to $452 million — nearly 10 percent of the state’s expected revenue of $5.6 billion.

But this strikes me as a fairly matter-of-fact description of the challenges facing a poor state, in which large numbers of citizens have limited English proficiency.

My question: would the above paragraph had passed muster had Medina been describing President Obama’s dire description of the state of the U.S. economy at the time he took office? To be sure, the president often takes on a sorrowful tone, as he should, yet he has also engaged in colorful description of the mess that he inherited that, at times, take on a clever, witty cast that sounds a bit like bragging, at least to some ears. 

As the article continues, there are a few more red-flags:

 

Like Ms. Martinez, these governors are promising to “right-size” government, by privatizing public services, eliminating entire state departments or making enormous cuts to longstanding programs. They are promising to find ways to block the Obama administration’s health care plan, which they say will drastically increase the size of their deficits and threatens to drive small companies out of business.

This would have been a useful moment to assess these claims, e.g., by describing new Medicaid obligations and the costs they’re likely to entail, or by describing the speed with which public spending at the state and local level increased during the Bush years above the rate of overall economic growth. 

And in all this, they see an opportunity to assert their authority.

“We all need to be asking what is the role of government,” said Nikki Haley, who was elected governor in South Carolina. “It was never intended to be all things to all people. There are incredible opportunities to look at here.”

I get the impression that Haley is actually doing the opposite of asserting her authority in that sentence. Rather, she is suggesting that government, including the state government she’s about to lead, surrender some authority. I have no doubt that Republican governors made all kinds of claims about states’ rights, etc. But this wasn’t an ideal example. 

Regardless, I’m sure that Medina was doing her best to give us a fair characterization of the RGA gathering.

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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