Many of President Obama’s liberal supporters are angry today as they contemplate just how badly they were fooled by Democratic campaign rhetoric in both 2008 and 2012. Left-wingers who thought they were electing someone who would scale back or completely dismantle the measures put in place to defend the country against terror by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are hard pressed to explain or rationalize the Olympic-scale hypocrisy of the administration after the latest revelations about data collection from Verizon phone subscribers. I agree with our Max Boot who thinks the PRISM program is justified and necessary, even if I sympathize with those who wonder how we can trust the same government that lied about Benghazi, had the IRS target conservatives and spied on working journalists not to abuse this power.
But for liberals, facing up to the fact that Obama has continued Bush’s policies and even gone further than his predecessor on drone attacks and information collection is a tough pill to swallow. So it was hardly surprising that the president would receive a stiff rebuke from the New York Times editorial page, even if its writers tend to be among his biggest cheerleaders. On Thursday afternoon, the Times posted an editorial that said the following:
The administration has now lost all credibility. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it.
The Times was right about the president’s credibility, even if he lost it long before this episode. But just as that editorial was being relayed around the nation as a significant rebuke from Obama’s base, the Times decided to qualify their condemnation and, as Politico reports, changed the piece to soften the blow. The words, “on this issue” were added to the text of the editorial online and then in print without explanation to the readers. This leads one to wonder whether the Obama cheer squad at the paper decided it had to qualify their attack because too many of the president’s critics on a whole raft of issues were quoting their piece as proof of the collapse of his support.
When asked about the change by Politico, the Times made it clear they thought it was no big deal:
“The change was for clarity’s sake,” Andrew Rosenthal, the Times editorial page editor, told POLITICO on Friday morning. “It was clear from the context of the editorial that the issue of credibility related to this subject and the final edit of the piece strengthened that point.”
That may be so. All publications are always working to hone their work as long as possible and to correct any possible errors or misunderstandings. But what’s at play here is the corner into which Obama has backed his most ardent supporters.
The Times and many on the left may not like the fact that Obama’s rhetoric turned out to be just so much blown smoke, as today he is being dubbed “George W. Obama” or having his administration being referred to as Bush’s fourth term. But they are very skittish about doing anything that might give comfort to Republicans who have been quicker to realize that the emperor at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue hasn’t been wearing clothes long before the PRISM leak was published.
Many in the mainstream liberal media may be upset about the president’s performance on issues like the Benghazi lies, the IRS scandal, the spying on the Associated Press and Fox News. But those who think liberal outlets will hold him accountable need to remember that however much the media may care about some of these issues or others on which the president has disappointed them, there is a limit as to how far they will go in pursuing that disagreement. The old “no enemies on the left” dynamic in which the political war with conservatives is always prioritized over anything else will always cause newspapers like the Times to pull its punches when it comes to an issue that could hurt Barack Obama.
The Times deserves some credit for consistency on this particular issue since it disagreed with both Bush and Obama. But no one should be under any illusion about whether they will press this or any other issue if they thought the president was in any real trouble. Their pious disclaimers notwithstanding, partisanship will always trump principle at the Times.