Take it from someone who reports the news. Sometimes you can become the news. Like many television types – for good or ill – I’ve become somewhat of a fixture in their homes. Not all their homes, and not always a welcome fixture. But enough homes, and I guess for some, enough of a fixture, that my views are routinely parsed and my interviews quite often dissected. Over the years I’ve been called everything from a clueless right-wing shill to and an equally clueless liberal lunatic. It’s true. And oftentimes, it comes from the same folks watching the same on-air exchange.
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My boss is famous for saying we all live in our own heads, but some of us see things through our own unique prism as well. Conservatives see much of what ails them through the prism of over-spending. Liberals see much of what irks them through the prism of not enough spending. It’s not always that simple, or that black and white. But for many people, life is defined through the political lens they define it. Liberals will assign sinister conservative intentions to those who harbor views that aren’t their own. Conservatives will do the same in reverse.
Such extremes aren’t new, or even unique. Some insist the environment in Washington today has become toxic, however, because these views are so sharp nowadays, and so sharply divided.
American history provides many examples when the legislative and executive branches have battled one another over differences that started out over philosophy, but quickly morphed into sheer hatred. Rutherford B. Hayes and Herbert Hoover come to mind. That’s human nature. But in their cases and many others, it’s far from unusual political nature. It’s not them. It’s…us.
Let me stress, there’s nothing wrong with strong points of view. There’s everything wrong with refusing to see the other side’s point of view. That doesn’t mean conservatives automatically should endorse more spending -- that cuts to the core of their philosophy of limited government -- any more than Liberals should readily endorse restrained spending that cuts to their core of desiring more government. Yet each side has an obligation to appreciate math and philosophy.
And the math suggests Republicans control the House, Democrats the Senate and the White House. That doesn’t mean it should be liberals’ way or the highway, but it does point out the need for philosophical speed bumps along that highway.
Me? I guess I’m a pragmatist, a business pragmatist – and I’m a realist in the strictest business sense. I appreciate the numbers for what they are, so as the businessman I am at heart, I try to work them to my advantage. Not my total advantage, but my advantage just the same.
Yet, like Ronald Reagan, I realize there are limitations. Just like Reagan appreciated that though he came into office in a landslide, he couldn’t slide by on everything he wanted. He realized stepping in to office that he wasn’t going to get everything he wanted in that office. There were limitations, as much as there was this thing called a constitution.
He could dominate Capitol Hill, but Ronald Reagan knew he couldn’t completely rule Capitol Hill. He knew intrinsically that with the House under democratic hands, Speaker Tip O’Neill wasn’t going to simply grant his wishes. So Reagan worked on getting “a lot” of his wishes. Not all, some say, not even most…but enough of the ones that mattered that Reagan could go back and say he got the ones that made the difference. Reagan was famous for saying he’d rather get 80% of the loaf of bread than no loaf at all. One could extend that thinking to looking at the alternative to stubbornly demanding all that loaf – in the end, just loafing around waiting for a different result.
Short of a huge electoral switch, numbers are what they are in the moment. Republicans these days are right to “hope” for better numbers that shift government more into their favor after the mid-term elections this year. They have every good reason to believe their majority builds in the House, and they might even take the Senate. However, there are no guarantees of that happening – just electoral hopes it will.
So what strikes me as odd, is waiting out the clock assuming it will. Again, it might. But I’d hate to base my legislative strategy on having a better hand at this political poker a bit later – not with all the problems we have now.
That’s why I was particularly surprised, even offended by some Republicans’ efforts to essentially sue to the executive branch and the president more directly, for defying the Constitution and over-using executive orders that they argued bypassed Congress. I certainly could understand their frustration. But when I pointed out to one of their most vocal supporters, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, that this has little chance of passage and wasted precious time addressing far more pressing issues, she demurred, and went back to the need to take the president to court.
I reminded her as well, that President Bush had even more executive orders, and that suing a president, any president, over the use of such orders, almost obligates future challenging parties to pursue the same strategy. Remember one party’s view of presidents acting like kings depends on whether it’s their president from their party giving the other the royal treatment. Again, I’m not an advocate of such behavior; I am an advocate of more constructive behavior.
But back to viewers and what they see: Many saw me taking the “side” of Democrats on this one, and thereby proving I was secretly an Obama sycophant, as one emailer put it. Still another claimed that by so aggressively going after a congresswoman, I was a misogynist – that I’d never treat a male politician the way I did. When I pointed to more than a few examples of similarly taking male and female politicians of both parties to task on any number of issues, it didn’t seem to matter. The impression stuck, and that’s because impressions stick in the eye of the beholder whose views are stuck through the prism with which he or she sees life.
Liberals hearing me going after Ms. Bachmann cheered. Conservatives seeing the same thing jeered. Yet just days before when I was going after a democratic congressman pushing for a huge hike in the gasoline tax to pay for infrastructure repairs, I was ripped apart by many on the left who all but claimed I didn’t have a clue. Never mind the point I was making was that the congressman wasn’t accounting for the billions of dollars we had already given Washington to address our infrastructure needs, they read it as, “Cavuto doesn’t give a damn about our infrastructure needs.”
It wasn’t much different in the midst of the financial meltdown when I was sharply criticizing President Bush’s bank bailout plan. Not only did I say at the time he was establishing a dangerous precedent, he was encouraging banks to behave badly again, knowing full well that they’d have the government at their back, and us feeding the dimes (that turned into billions and billions of dimes). I remember getting very angry calls from the Bush White House back then, and even laissez fair conservative economists who argued things were different at the time. We had to rescue banks, or we’d all be in the clink. No less than the late great Jack Kemp called my argument silly, and former General Electric (NYSE:GE) Chairman Jack Welch, deemed me hopelessly naïve.
No matter, I wasn’t then, and am not now, looking for your understanding – just a better appreciation for my thinking. I’ve said more often than my viewers would like to hear that I’m neither red or blue, just green – just money – just taxpayers’ money – who’s spending it, who’s abusing it, who’s losing it, and who’s giving you the runaround explaining it. That’s it. That’s all of it.
Yet every time an argument gets heated – usually over money – the reaction is priceless. Those emails and letters I can quote invariably talk about never wanting to watch me again, and further, vowing to tell their friends to never watch me again. I feel bad when viewers bolt, but I’m sometimes surprised for the reason they bolt – not because my conduct in an interview was offensive – but it was offensive to their point of view. It wasn’t in lockstep with the way they see life.
As I’ve mentioned many times, politics doesn’t follow locked steps. It veers. Like life, it veers. It’s why liberals like John F. Kennedy surprise you when they advocate cutting taxes, which he did. Or conservatives like Ronald Reagan surprise you when they call for talks with an evil empire like the Soviet Union, which he did. They say it took Richard Nixon to go to China, and Dwight Eisenhower to call out the military industrial complex – against their perceived DNA, maybe in an effort to recreate some DNA. And maybe recreate something else.