Who knew that Barack Obama’s real ambition is to be Howard Kurtz?
In his commencement address at Hampton University, the president once again decided to act as if he were America’s Media-Critic-in-Chief. In Obama’s words:
You’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter. And with iPods and iPads; and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — (laughter) — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.
Later in the speech, Obama added this:
So, allowing you to compete in the global economy is the first way your education can prepare you. But it can also prepare you as citizens. With so many voices clamoring for attention on blogs, and on cable, on talk radio, it can be difficult, at times, to sift through it all; to know what to believe; to figure out who’s telling the truth and who’s not. Let’s face it, even some of the craziest claims can quickly gain traction. I’ve had some experience in that regard.
There are several things one can take away from the president’s remarks.
The first is that there’s a certain irony in being instructed by Obama about avoiding arguments that “don’t always rank that high on the truth meter.” This instruction, after all, comes from a man who, throughout the health-care debate, repeatedly made false and misleading arguments about the effects of ObamaCare on bending the cost curve, on the deficit and debt, on whether people will be forced to leave their employer-based policies, on whether his plan advocated Medicare cuts, on whether it would subsidize abortions, and much else.
Mr. Obama is also the person who, when he was running for the presidency, promised all health-care negotiations would be broadcast on C-SPAN (They weren’t.), that he would accept public financing for his campaign (He didn’t.), that he would put an end to “phony accounting” (He hasn’t.), that lobbyists will not work in his White House (They do.), that he would slash earmarks by more than half (He has not.), that he opposed giving Miranda rights to terrorists (He favors them.), that he was against an individual health-care mandate (He supported it.), and that he would resist the temptation “to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long” (He succumbed to the temptation.).
Where, I wonder, does Mr. Obama rank these statements on his cherished Truth Meter?
And what are we to make of the fact that the very paragraph from Obama’s speech where he laments the lack of truth in public statements includes — you guessed it — a false statement by Obama?
In his commencement address, Obama insists he doesn’t know how to work an iPod. But here’s an item that appeared on the Huffington Post on June 25, 2008:
WASHINGTON — Bob Dylan. Yo-Yo Ma. Sheryl Crow. Jay-Z. These aren’t musical acts in a summer concert series: They’re artists featured on Barack Obama’s iPod.
“I have pretty eclectic tastes,” the Democratic presidential contender said in an interview to be published in Friday’s issue of Rolling Stone.
Is that distant sound we hear the Truth Meter going off again?
By now Obama has spoken out against the New Media often enough to know that he both despises it and is obsessed with it. For all of his talk about his eagerness to listen to others, “especially when we disagree,” as he put it on the night of his election, Obama clearly resents being challenged. He gets especially exasperated and condescending when his challenger has made the better argument. That is, in fact, a trait of Team Obama; we see that attitude on display almost every day in the person of Robert Gibbs, the snidest and least likable press secretary in our lifetime.
The president and his aides are clearly used to being cosseted. They seem to believe the American public should treat them as reverentially as staff members of the New Yorker do.
It may seem odd for a man who presents himself as a public intellectual who cherishes open-mindedness and vigorous debate to be so relentlessly critical of the diversity of voices and viewpoints now in the public square. But remember this: Barack Obama is a man whose attitudes and sensibilities have been shaped by the academy, an institution that is the least (classically) liberal and open-minded in American life today. A stifling conformity and an unwillingness to engage arguments on the merits, combined with a reflexive tendency to attack the motives of those who hold opposing views, are hallmarks of the modern university. They are also, alas, hallmarks of America’s 44th president. But Mr. Obama is learning the hard way that America is not one big Ivy League campus. Here, differing opinions are heard, whether they are welcomed by those in power or not. The public will not bow down before any man or any office. And politicians who treat dissenting voices as if they are a Tower of Babble, to be mocked and ridiculed into silence, eventually receive their comeuppance. So shall Obama.