60 Minutes Coddled Obama But Pounds Cantor from the Left as Gridlock-Causing Rigid Tea Party Ideologue

Three weeks after CBS’s 60 Minutes delivered a friendly sit-down with President Barack Obama in which Steve Kroft gently chided him for being too willing to compromise with Republicans, the show didn’t even attempt a matching approach to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Instead, Lesley Stahl relayed a portrait painted by liberals (“He’s working on humanizing his image, and presenting himself as more reasonable”) as she blamed him for “gridlock” and offered a caricature of Cantor as an “inflexible” ideologue putting Tea Party politics ahead of passing Obama’s beneficial policies. 

Stahl abandoned any pretense of journalistic objectivity, repeatedly pressing Cantor to “compromise” – to agree with Obama on the rationality of raising taxes more, touting how even Ronald Reagan had recognized the need to hike taxes.

She also reinforced the very negative image the media created:

> He’s worried about the Republican’s hardline image and also his own which is why he invited us home to see the other side of Eric Cantor.

> Given his upbringing and his marriage, Cantor says he’s nothing like the intractable obstructionist the Democrats say he is.

> He’s working on humanizing his image, and presenting himself as more reasonable.

She followed up that last characterization: “As an American, are you proud of the President?” Of course, last month Kroft never thought to ask Obama if he was “proud” of John Boehner, Eric Cantor or Mitch McConnell.

 

Audio: MP3 clip which matches the video excerpts

Stahl’s opening framed her story through Obama’s prism, advancing the wishes of Obama operatives to discredit his conservative opponents:

President Obama’s nemesis throughout the year was 48-year-old Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Majority Leader of the House, who played a major role in the Republican strategy. The White House blames Eric Cantor, more than anyone else, for disrupting the President’s first term. Especially for scuttling one set of deficit reduction talks after another.

“President Obama has made Eric Cantor the face of what he sees as Republican inflexibility,” Stahl agreeably relayed, fretting over how “Cantor has fought the President’s policies at every turn, including using his authority as Majority Leader to prevent a vote on the President’s jobs bill.”

She soon identified the Tea Party as the real culprit: “Driving much of the gridlock is the large Republican freshmen class in the House. Eric Cantor was the one who went out in 2010 and recruited most of the freshmen who are conservative and backed by the Tea Party.”

Painting Cantor as the impediment to good government, Stahl complained that “he imposed a condition the Democrats would not accept. He wanted every dollar of new revenue offset by equal cuts in tax rates.” Stahl insisted he was the one who failed to compromise, citing how Obama’s allies noted he “just wanted spending cuts. And I’m just trying to figure out where’s the compromise coming from? Where is the compromise?”

She pleaded: “Okay, but what about revenues? A compromise. You wanted the spending cuts, they wanted revenues.”

Moving to the tax rates in place since 2003, she argued: “Everybody says they want to preserve the tax cuts for the middle class. The disagreement’s over the millionaires. So, why not keep the rates down for the middle class and worry about the millionaires later?”

Repeating a favorite liberal talking point, Stahl asserted: “Your idol, as I’ve read anyway, was Ronald Reagan. And he compromised.

She then lectured: “There seemed to be some difficulty accepting the fact that even though Ronald Reagan cut taxes, he also pushed through several tax increases, including one in 1982 during a recession.”

Compare all that with the December 11 segments with Obama, as detailed in my post: “Kroft Avoids Scandal with Obama, Presses Him to Respond to Liberal Disappointments”:

CBS’s Steve Kroft challenged President Barack Obama a few times during the two-part 60 Minutes interview aired Sunday night, but managed to ignore the scandals (Solyndra, Fast & Furious and collapse of MF Global run by ally Jon Corzine) while mostly cuing up Obama to knock down criticism of him or pressing him with complaints from the left that he hasn’t done or gone far enough: “They thought that you were gonna be bolder.”

“Since the midterm elections, you made an effort at bipartisanship. It hasn’t worked out that way,” Kroft fretted in crediting Obama with the noble effort before seemingly conveying the liberal complaint the stimulus didn’t spend enough: “There’s a general perception that the stimulus was not enough. That it really didn’t work.”

Kroft relayed how “many” Democrats “believe the President was too willing to compromise during the deficit negotiations,” pressing Obama on how he gave in to conservatives: “You gave up a lot. You said you wanted a balanced approach. You didn’t get it. You cut a trillion dollars and set up the framework to cut another trillion plus, and the Republicans gave up nothing. I mean, there are people in your own party who think that you were outmaneuvered, that you were stared down by John Boehner and Grover Norquist and capitulated....It seems to be all the compromising is being done by you.”

Portions of the lead report on the 60 Minutes aired Sunday night, January 1, which, despite the holiday, ran two fresh pieces (Cantor and cheating on SAT tests) along with a repeat one (rock climbing):

LESLEY STAHL: 2011 will be remembered as a year of perpetual gridlock in Washington and open combat between the President and the Republicans in Congress. There was a litany of standoffs: from three near government shutdowns, to a stalemate over raising the debt ceiling, to the latest skirmish over extending the payroll tax cut. There seems to be more finger-pointing than governing and the public is fed up.

President Obama's nemesis throughout the year was 48-year-old Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Majority Leader of the House, who played a major role in the Republican strategy. The White House blames Eric Cantor, more than anyone else, for disrupting the President's first term. Especially for scuttling one set of deficit reduction talks after another.

We spoke to the Majority Leader recently and asked him why everything in Washington turns into a fight.

ERIC CANTOR: I understand people's frustration, I really do. I mean, there's a lot of people unemployed. A lot of people who've lost hope right now.

STAHL: But they're frustrated with the Congress. That you're playing games, it feels like.

CANTOR: There's not, there's no games. What we're trying to do is trying to do what's good for this country.

STAHL: Why go through this brinksmanship, gamesmanship, one-upsmanship? Explain it. Maybe there's a real good answer.

CANTOR: But ultimately this is part of the legislative process that I know it's frustrating. I live it.

STAHL: What do you say to the Democrats who charge that all you're really trying to do is deprive the President of a win?

CANTOR: That to me is, that's just political rhetoric and I dismiss that. Because I really do believe that most if not all people who are elected to Congress really want to do what's right with this country.

STAHL: You've got a nine percent, the Congress has a nine percent approval rating. What do you think this conveys about confidence in our government? Don't you think this is shredding that?

CANTOR: Well, I think that ultimately the confidence comes from good results. And, you know, somehow that saying goes, "The harder you work, the sweeter the reward." And we're certainly being put to that test right now.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'm going to keep on talking to Eric Cantor. Some day sooner or later he's going to say, “Boy, Obama had a good idea.”

STAHL: President Obama has made Eric Cantor the face of what he sees as Republican inflexibility. Cantor has fought the President's policies at every turn, including using his authority as Majority Leader to prevent a vote on the President's jobs bill.

OBAMA: I'd like Mr Cantor to come down here to Dallas and explain what exactly in this jobs bill does he not believe in?

STAHL: Cantor would say what he doesn't believe in is spending government money to create jobs, but the President's keying on him has taken its toll. He's been picketed and heckled. He has fallen in the polls and so has his party as, according to a CBS News poll, the public blames them more for the gridlock in Washington.

Driving much of the gridlock is the large Republican freshmen class in the House. Eric Cantor was the one who went out in 2010 and recruited most of the freshmen who are conservative and backed by the Tea Party. He meets with them regularly, and several of them told us Cantor is their inspirational leader and father figure. But Eric Cantor does not want to be seen as unreasonable. To prove that he’s been accommodating, Cantor told us that during his budget talks last spring with Vice President Biden, he endorsed over $200 billion in revenue increases.

STAHL: So you were in favor of reducing some of the loopholes?

CANTOR: Absolutely, I said that in the very beginning.

STAHL: Like what? He says he was willing to get rid of tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, corporate jets and increase the special 15 percent tax rate on partners in private equity firms and some hedge funds.

CANTOR: We have a tax code that is littered with preferences. Because people who figure it out come to Washington with their influence and go and get provisions in the tax code that favor their industries.

STAHL: But then he imposed a condition the Democrats would not accept. He wanted every dollar of new revenue offset by equal cuts in tax rates. That is the crux of the stalemate hovering over Congress on almost every single fiscal issue.

CANTOR: Let's just make sure we're revenue neutral at the end, okay?

STAHL: So there'd be no benefit from revenues toward the deficit?

CANTOR: Well if you want to raise taxes somewhere we want a corresponding offset for the broader goal of lowering rates for everyone.

STAHL: With both sides dug in, five attempts to get a deficit reduction deal failed. Cantor then proposed that the two sides put off their major disagreements and just vote on what had been agreed to in previous negotiations which was roughly $10 in spending cuts for every one dollar raised thru revenues. That set off a testy exchange between Cantor and the President at a White House meeting.

STAHL: Didn't the President say repeatedly in the meeting that he wasn't going to agree to it without more revenues?

CANTOR: Who's not compromising there? Who's not compromising there?

STAHL: Well, they would say you because you just wanted spending cuts. And I'm just trying to figure out where's the compromise coming from? Where is the compromise?

CANTOR: There's plenty of compromise. We all know that there are ways to reduce spending in Washington, okay. Everybody-

STAHL: Okay, but what about revenues? A compromise. You wanted the spending cuts, they wanted revenues.

CANTOR: But my assertion at the White House meeting was, "Look, take the progress now because look where we are now. We didn't take any of that progress, and we are worse off now than we would've been if we had just said incremental progress is a good thing. So let's go ahead and do that."

STAHL: But the President said ten to one was unfair and too imbalanced. We wondered if Cantor would apply his idea of "making incremental progress" - based on what the two sides could agree to - to the Bush tax cuts that expire end of this year.

STAHL: Everybody says they want to preserve the tax cuts for the middle class. The disagreement’s over the millionaires. So, why not keep the rates down for the middle class and worry about the millionaires later? You keep saying, 'Let's pocket what we got.' Pocket what you got.

CANTOR: If you're operating in an environment, a context of too much spending, everybody knows pocket those wins because the goal-

STAHL: But not pocket the wins on taxes, what?

CANTOR: No, listen. The goal is to reduce the deficit. And so if you've got some cuts that you can agree on to reduce the deficit take 'em.

STAHL: But revenues reduces the deficit.

CANTOR: You can't tax your way out of that it's so bad. You can't tax your way out of it.

STAHL: Do you see the image of Congress part of your concerns, part of your portfolio?

CANTOR: Absolutely. Absolutely.

STAHL: He's worried about the Republican's hardline image and also his own which is why he invited us home to see the other side of Eric Cantor.

....
CANTOR: Given his upbringing and his marriage, Cantor says he's nothing like the intractable obstructionist the Democrats say he is.

CANTOR: Nobody gets everything they want. And so--

STAHL: That's just exactly your image: that you want only what you want.

CANTOR: But it's just I hope I'm not coming across like that now, because it's just not who I am. I mean, it really is–

STAHL: So are you ready to compromise?

CANTOR: So I have always been ready to cooperate. I mean, if you go back to the first--

STAHL: What's the difference between compromise and cooperate?

CANTOR: Well, I would say cooperate is let's look to where we can move things forward where we agree. Comprising principles, you don't want to ask anybody to do that. That's who they are as their core being.

STAHL: But you know, your idol, as I've read anyway, was Ronald Reagan. And he compromised.

CANTOR: He never compromised his principles.

STAHL: Well, he raised taxes and it was one of his principles not to raise taxes.

CANTOR: Well,  he also cut taxes.

STAHL: But he did compromise-

CANTOR: Well I-

[Press Secretary, off-camera: That just isn't true. And I don't want to let that stand.]

And at that point, Cantor's press secretary interrupted, yelling from off camera that what I was saying wasn't true. There seemed to be some difficulty accepting the fact that even though Ronald Reagan cut taxes, he also pushed through several tax increases, including one in 1982 during a recession.

REAGAN, FILE FOOTAGE: Make no mistake about it, this whole package is a compromise.

CANTOR: We as Republicans are not going to support tax increases.

STAHL: So, we've seen the two sides of Eric Cantor: the push and pull between his hard fighting style on legislation that appeals to his party's conservative wing and his warm, Southern gentleman demeanor.

....

STAHL: In Republican circles, he's seen as an ambitious man on the rise whose goal it seems is to one day be Speaker of the House. For now he's working on humanizing his image, and presenting himself as more reasonable.

STAHL: As an American, are you proud of the President?

CANTOR: You know, he is my commander in chief. I respect the man. I like the President. You know, the disagreements that we have are policy-based. You know, he's got a lot on his plate. I respect that. And I want to continue to try and work with him.

STAHL: So it's not a personal animosity between the two of you?

CANTOR: Certainly not. Certainly not from my perspective.

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center