Commentary Magazine


Topic: Chris Matthews

Liberals and the Race Card

In response to the GOP opposition to Ambassador Susan Rice potentially being nominated to be secretary of state, liberals are doing what is by now second nature for many of them: playing the race card. Never mind that the opposition is based on the fact that Ambassador Rice misled (knowingly or not) the nation about the lethal attacks on the Benghazi consulate. Never mind that Republicans who are critical of Ambassador Rice were supporters of Condoleezza Rice when she was nominated to be secretary of state and, before her, Colin Powell. Never mind the fact that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is admired by many Republicans and most conservatives — and has been treated maliciously by the left.

Those facts don’t fit the libel, so they’re ignored.

The Susan Rice episode is part of a deeper malady. During the presidential campaign liberals time and again accused Republicans of being racists and of using “dog whistles.” They wanted to put African Americans “back in chains,” in the words of Vice President Biden. If a Republican criticized President Obama on his retreat on welfare work requirements, it was motivated by racism. It reached such absurd levels that some liberal commentators like Chris Matthews and John Heilemann argued that referring to Chicago was evidence of racism. (Mr. Heilemann has recently graduated to making gay jokes about Republican senators. Classy.)

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In response to the GOP opposition to Ambassador Susan Rice potentially being nominated to be secretary of state, liberals are doing what is by now second nature for many of them: playing the race card. Never mind that the opposition is based on the fact that Ambassador Rice misled (knowingly or not) the nation about the lethal attacks on the Benghazi consulate. Never mind that Republicans who are critical of Ambassador Rice were supporters of Condoleezza Rice when she was nominated to be secretary of state and, before her, Colin Powell. Never mind the fact that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is admired by many Republicans and most conservatives — and has been treated maliciously by the left.

Those facts don’t fit the libel, so they’re ignored.

The Susan Rice episode is part of a deeper malady. During the presidential campaign liberals time and again accused Republicans of being racists and of using “dog whistles.” They wanted to put African Americans “back in chains,” in the words of Vice President Biden. If a Republican criticized President Obama on his retreat on welfare work requirements, it was motivated by racism. It reached such absurd levels that some liberal commentators like Chris Matthews and John Heilemann argued that referring to Chicago was evidence of racism. (Mr. Heilemann has recently graduated to making gay jokes about Republican senators. Classy.)

About this I wanted to say a couple of things, the first of which is that the left in general — and MSNBC and the Congressional Black Caucus in particular — have used the charge so recklessly and promiscuously that it’s been drained of virtually any meaning. That’s terribly unfortunate, since at some point when the accusation fits, it won’t be nearly as potent as it should be. But to hear someone in politics accused of racism these days is more likely to elicit from a reasonable person a roll of the eyes than anything else. For some liberals, every Republican is George Wallace or Bull Connor. (Both men, by the way, were Democrats.)

My second observation is that I’m more inclined than in the past to believe that the left actually believes the charge. That is, in past years I felt like reflexively accusing conservatives of racism was a political weapon — a charge the left knew was false but which they thought might be politically advantageous. I’m now more of the view that those on the left actually view conservatives and Republicans as animated by malign intentions. For them, the personal is political. It’s not enough to disagree with Republicans; they cannot help but demonize those who hold views different than their own. Politics pits the Children of Light against the Children of Darkness. It is all very adolescent and very Manichean, and it is all quite harmful to politics.

This mindset exists among some on the right, to be sure, and where it does it should be confronted. But as a general matter conservatives tend to ascribe less cosmic importance to politics than do progressives. In any event, the bile that emanates from many liberal quarters is getting worse, not better. It is a consuming rage. And over time, it disfigures the heart and soul of those who are imprisoned by it.

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The Left’s Race Dog Whistles

Some Republicans may be shocked and confused that Democrats are seizing on any mention of welfare or immigration or any other legitimate political issue that can be described as racism. They shouldn’t be. Democrats have been howling about “coded language” and “dog whistles” all year, as well as making race-based complaints about voter ID laws. But lately they have become less subtle as Vice President Joe Biden’s threat that Republicans want to “put y’all back in chains” to a mostly black audience indicated. The hysteria on the left on this point has become particularly intense this week, as the Republican National Convention has served as a convenient target for commentators like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews who have become nearly unhinged trying to prove that Republicans are appealing to racism.

But if anyone is determined to keep race on the minds of Americans it is the Democrats. The obsessive search for hidden racism in Republican rhetoric isn’t merely because, as Mickey Kaus noted today on his blog, they “simply have race on the brain.” It’s because waving the bloody shirt of the fight against segregation is their only way of recapturing the magic of 2008, in which Americans took pride in voting for Barack Obama because doing so was a way to take part in a historic achievement. After four years of presidential futility, it’s not possible to make voters buy into another round of “hope and change.” But it is still possible to make independents and wavering Democrats think voting Republican will undo the progress that Obama’s election signaled.

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Some Republicans may be shocked and confused that Democrats are seizing on any mention of welfare or immigration or any other legitimate political issue that can be described as racism. They shouldn’t be. Democrats have been howling about “coded language” and “dog whistles” all year, as well as making race-based complaints about voter ID laws. But lately they have become less subtle as Vice President Joe Biden’s threat that Republicans want to “put y’all back in chains” to a mostly black audience indicated. The hysteria on the left on this point has become particularly intense this week, as the Republican National Convention has served as a convenient target for commentators like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews who have become nearly unhinged trying to prove that Republicans are appealing to racism.

But if anyone is determined to keep race on the minds of Americans it is the Democrats. The obsessive search for hidden racism in Republican rhetoric isn’t merely because, as Mickey Kaus noted today on his blog, they “simply have race on the brain.” It’s because waving the bloody shirt of the fight against segregation is their only way of recapturing the magic of 2008, in which Americans took pride in voting for Barack Obama because doing so was a way to take part in a historic achievement. After four years of presidential futility, it’s not possible to make voters buy into another round of “hope and change.” But it is still possible to make independents and wavering Democrats think voting Republican will undo the progress that Obama’s election signaled.

The welfare argument is particularly disingenuous, but it is being treated as a license to engage in the most vicious rhetoric imaginable against the GOP. Hence, Matthews’s television tirades and, to seize upon just one of many possible examples, Joan Walsh’s accusation today at Salon that Rick Santorum engaged in “race baiting,” “lying” and “creepiness” during his convention speech because of his mentioning of the welfare issue and the president’s decision to stop the enforcement of some immigration laws.

But the liberal claim, repeated as gospel not only on the opinion pages of the mainstream media but on their news pages as well, is that Republicans are lying about Obama’s changes in the Welfare Reform Act. They insist that he changed nothing and that the GOP charges that he gutted welfare-to-work regulations are fabrications. But the truth, as Kaus noted, is much closer to the Republican narrative than that of the Democrats. It’s true that, as they have repeated endlessly on MSNBC, all Obama did was to give states flexibility in enforcing the law. But taking away such flexibility was the whole point of the movement to reform welfare that culminated in the passage of the act that was signed by Bill Clinton. Obama’s changes will allow states to eliminate work requirements. That’s a fair point and has nothing to do with racism.

But to treat any mention of welfare as a code word for black is a sign of the liberals’ plantation mentality, not that of conservatives. The assumption that welfare equals black is not only factually incorrect — more whites receive such assistance than blacks — it is an insult.

That fits in with the Democrats’ efforts to treat voter ID laws aimed at combating fraud as the next generation of “Jim Crow,” since they assume that minorities are not as capable as whites of obtaining the photo ID that is needed for virtually every other transaction required by society.

Far from the Republicans wanting to talk about race, it is only in the interest of the Democrats to reopen these old wounds. That’s also why the left is going all out to discredit any black person who dares to oppose Obama. Hence the deluge of abuse being showered today on Utah Republican Mia B. Love as well as Democrat turncoat Artur Davis, both of whom wowed the nation with their convention addresses last night.

No American racist was likely to vote for Obama in November with or without a helpful reminder from either party that he was African-American. But plenty of moderates otherwise inclined to support Romney may be scared away from the Republicans by false charges that the GOP is appealing to race. The only dog whistles today being sounded are all from the left, as Democrats desperately attempt to convince Americans that it is still their duty to vote again for Obama.

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“Hardball” Host Can’t Answer the Question

If you’d like to see what happens when an arrogant, thin-skinned journalist is asked a legitimate question about a silly (but revealing) comment he once made, you can’t do much better than viewing this clip of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.

C-SPAN’s Steve Scully—one of the most objective and decent journalists in America today—asked Matthews if he still felt toward Barack Obama today the same “thrill” that went up his leg in 2008.

The response by Matthews is filled with bitterness and self-righteousness. “If you had done your reporting over at C-SPAN, you would have checked that I said the exact same thing in 2004 after I heard his address up here in Boston,”” according to Matthews. “I want to help you with your reporting,” Matthews says later. And it gets worse from there, with Matthews—who for some inexplicable reason characterizes his work as “reporting”—constantly trying to put down Scully, including calling him a “jackass.” Matthews is enraged because Scully asked Matthews a question Matthews faces from “every horse’s ass right winger I bump into.”

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If you’d like to see what happens when an arrogant, thin-skinned journalist is asked a legitimate question about a silly (but revealing) comment he once made, you can’t do much better than viewing this clip of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.

C-SPAN’s Steve Scully—one of the most objective and decent journalists in America today—asked Matthews if he still felt toward Barack Obama today the same “thrill” that went up his leg in 2008.

The response by Matthews is filled with bitterness and self-righteousness. “If you had done your reporting over at C-SPAN, you would have checked that I said the exact same thing in 2004 after I heard his address up here in Boston,”” according to Matthews. “I want to help you with your reporting,” Matthews says later. And it gets worse from there, with Matthews—who for some inexplicable reason characterizes his work as “reporting”—constantly trying to put down Scully, including calling him a “jackass.” Matthews is enraged because Scully asked Matthews a question Matthews faces from “every horse’s ass right winger I bump into.”

How dare one journalist read an accurate quote from another and ask if he still holds those same views.

The irony abounds. Chris Matthews hosts a show called “Hardball”—yet when asked about his previous statement, he whines and complains as if the question itself is illegitimate. And unlike Matthews, Scully is respectful to his guests and doesn’t constantly interrupt them.

Of all the people I have met in the political class over the decades, those with the thinnest skins tend to be journalists. They are antagonistic toward politicians and revel in their effort to “afflict the comfortable.” Yet when the tables are turned in even the most gentle of ways, many of them (though certainly not all of them) become petty, small-minded, and ad hominem in their response. It’s no wonder the American public holds journalists in such low esteem.

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Chris Matthews Hero Worships Obama

In 2008, Chris Matthews famously said this after listening to Barack Obama’s speech: “I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don’t have that too often.”

Let’s hope not.

Now, in 2012, after President Obama’s speech in Kabul, Afghanistan, the Obama Legend grows even larger.

“It was right out of Henry V actually,” Matthews said, “a touch of Barry, in this case, in the night for those soldiers risking their lives over there.”

So Obama, whom his press courtiers have compared to Lincoln, can now take his place next to Shakespeare.

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In 2008, Chris Matthews famously said this after listening to Barack Obama’s speech: “I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don’t have that too often.”

Let’s hope not.

Now, in 2012, after President Obama’s speech in Kabul, Afghanistan, the Obama Legend grows even larger.

“It was right out of Henry V actually,” Matthews said, “a touch of Barry, in this case, in the night for those soldiers risking their lives over there.”

So Obama, whom his press courtiers have compared to Lincoln, can now take his place next to Shakespeare.

This is only a hunch, but I rather doubt Obama’s speech will be remembered and quoted more than 400 years from now.

Young King Henry V’s speech at Agincourt is one of the greatest in history (here’s Kenneth Branagh delivering it in his 1989 film “Henry V”). For Chris Matthews to compare what Obama said last night at Bagram Air base to the St. Crispin’s day speech is beyond ridiculous. It is to enter a world of fantasy and parody, of obsequiousness and hero-worship, that most of us cannot even imagine.

 

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Cold War Revisionism Run Wild

As J.E. Dyer pointed out a few days ago, the standard treatment of the Cold War in the academy of the 1970s and 1980s was that it was a bad idea. That argument had many facets, but among the most consistently presented of them was the theme that the artificial Cold War scare had been used to justify close American relations with anti-Communist dictators.

This anti–Cold War bias has, to my mind, waned slightly, in part because of the work of historians like John Lewis Gaddis, and in part because it’s now history, and as such is safe for everyone to be in favor of. Indeed, it’s so safe that President Obama is free to call for Sputnik moments.

Still, the argument about American foreign policy endures. Since both Democratic and Republican presidents fought the Cold War, our policy, whatever you care to say about it, was bipartisan. Yet by and large, the charge of friendship with autocrats is used to tar Republicans. As Mark Mazower, a historian at Columbia, put it last year, “the kind of values talk that Reagan . . . injected into the Republican Party” is “tolerance for nasty dictators so long as they were not Reds.”

As John made clear in his earlier post, in regard to the binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, the argument about whom the U.S. should work with in pursuit of its national interests in this imperfect world is an old, long, and complicated one, and the only immediately nonsensical position is that we should simply ally ourselves with the absolutely pure. But what is really wonderful is to watch media liberals suddenly — now that we have a Democrat as president — discovering the virtues of American collaborations with the autocrats. Here, for instance, is Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball on Tuesday:

[Americans] do not like seeing people treat their friends badly. We treated Diem terribly, we let him get butchered then killed in Vietnam even though he was our ally for all those years. We watched the Shah become, as Henry Kissinger called him, a “flying Dutchman” before he died. Americans do sense when we’re being right with people.

Well, we did – or rather, President Kennedy did — treat Diem terribly. But this sudden surge of sympathy for the Shah, coming from the left, is remarkable, for — in his day — the Shah was close to the top of the left’s list of villains. By itself, this is Cold War revisionism run wild.

Even worse, though, is the way Matthews personalizes it. It wasn’t just Diem we treated badly: it was millions of our friends in Vietnam. Sure, one man matters, especially when he’s president. But we’re not going to “be right with people” if all we do is worry about the fate of their unelected leaders.

As J.E. Dyer pointed out a few days ago, the standard treatment of the Cold War in the academy of the 1970s and 1980s was that it was a bad idea. That argument had many facets, but among the most consistently presented of them was the theme that the artificial Cold War scare had been used to justify close American relations with anti-Communist dictators.

This anti–Cold War bias has, to my mind, waned slightly, in part because of the work of historians like John Lewis Gaddis, and in part because it’s now history, and as such is safe for everyone to be in favor of. Indeed, it’s so safe that President Obama is free to call for Sputnik moments.

Still, the argument about American foreign policy endures. Since both Democratic and Republican presidents fought the Cold War, our policy, whatever you care to say about it, was bipartisan. Yet by and large, the charge of friendship with autocrats is used to tar Republicans. As Mark Mazower, a historian at Columbia, put it last year, “the kind of values talk that Reagan . . . injected into the Republican Party” is “tolerance for nasty dictators so long as they were not Reds.”

As John made clear in his earlier post, in regard to the binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, the argument about whom the U.S. should work with in pursuit of its national interests in this imperfect world is an old, long, and complicated one, and the only immediately nonsensical position is that we should simply ally ourselves with the absolutely pure. But what is really wonderful is to watch media liberals suddenly — now that we have a Democrat as president — discovering the virtues of American collaborations with the autocrats. Here, for instance, is Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball on Tuesday:

[Americans] do not like seeing people treat their friends badly. We treated Diem terribly, we let him get butchered then killed in Vietnam even though he was our ally for all those years. We watched the Shah become, as Henry Kissinger called him, a “flying Dutchman” before he died. Americans do sense when we’re being right with people.

Well, we did – or rather, President Kennedy did — treat Diem terribly. But this sudden surge of sympathy for the Shah, coming from the left, is remarkable, for — in his day — the Shah was close to the top of the left’s list of villains. By itself, this is Cold War revisionism run wild.

Even worse, though, is the way Matthews personalizes it. It wasn’t just Diem we treated badly: it was millions of our friends in Vietnam. Sure, one man matters, especially when he’s president. But we’re not going to “be right with people” if all we do is worry about the fate of their unelected leaders.

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Was Tim Russert Olbermann’s ‘Greatest Protector’?

The divorce between Keith Olbermann and MSNBC is no surprise. Mr. Olbermann is a notoriously difficult personality; he left on bad terms with ESPN, FOX sports, and now, for a second time, MSNBC.

Olbermann proved to be a ratings draw for MSNBC and helped it secure a solid second place among cable news networks — far behind FOX but still ahead of CNN. Yet higher ratings came at a high cost. Olbermann’s presence stained the journalistic reputation of not only MSNBC but also NBC News. After all, it was the home for, and gave a platform to, an individual who embodied liberalism at its most enraged, most extreme, and most irresponsible. Moreover, for a time Olbermann was not simply a commentator for MSNBC; he was also (with Chris Matthews) an anchor for its political coverage. Having Olbermann as one of the stars in NBC’s journalistic galaxy revealed its biases and also made them more pronounced.

One other thing is worth calling attention to — Olbermann’s statement, in his final broadcast, that Tim Russert was Olbermann’s “greatest protector and most indefatigable cheerleader.”

Since Tim died in 2008, it’s impossible to know whether he would agree with Olbermann’s characterization. But count me a skeptic.

We know Russert was himself an outstanding journalist, a man of impressive fairness who cared deeply about NBC’s reputation. It has also been widely reported that one of Russert’s best friends, Tom Brokaw, felt that Olbermann was doing significant damage to MSNBC. (“After Russert died and Brokaw appointed himself the custodian of the Russert legend, he began beating on Steve Capus and Jeff Zucker and Jeff Immelt that MSNBC was an embarrassment,” one source familiar with the inner workings of the newsroom has said.)

Is it possible that Russert saw in Olbermann what no other serious person did? Could Russert have actually considered Olbermann a jewel in the NBC News crown? Perhaps. But it would take a lot more for me to believe Russert was an “indefatigable cheerleader” for Olbermann than simply Olbermann’s claim that this was the case. After all, Olbermann fashioned himself as not simply a journalist but a modern-day Edward R. Murrow, which tells you everything you need to know about the scale of his self-deception and conceit.

The divorce between Keith Olbermann and MSNBC is no surprise. Mr. Olbermann is a notoriously difficult personality; he left on bad terms with ESPN, FOX sports, and now, for a second time, MSNBC.

Olbermann proved to be a ratings draw for MSNBC and helped it secure a solid second place among cable news networks — far behind FOX but still ahead of CNN. Yet higher ratings came at a high cost. Olbermann’s presence stained the journalistic reputation of not only MSNBC but also NBC News. After all, it was the home for, and gave a platform to, an individual who embodied liberalism at its most enraged, most extreme, and most irresponsible. Moreover, for a time Olbermann was not simply a commentator for MSNBC; he was also (with Chris Matthews) an anchor for its political coverage. Having Olbermann as one of the stars in NBC’s journalistic galaxy revealed its biases and also made them more pronounced.

One other thing is worth calling attention to — Olbermann’s statement, in his final broadcast, that Tim Russert was Olbermann’s “greatest protector and most indefatigable cheerleader.”

Since Tim died in 2008, it’s impossible to know whether he would agree with Olbermann’s characterization. But count me a skeptic.

We know Russert was himself an outstanding journalist, a man of impressive fairness who cared deeply about NBC’s reputation. It has also been widely reported that one of Russert’s best friends, Tom Brokaw, felt that Olbermann was doing significant damage to MSNBC. (“After Russert died and Brokaw appointed himself the custodian of the Russert legend, he began beating on Steve Capus and Jeff Zucker and Jeff Immelt that MSNBC was an embarrassment,” one source familiar with the inner workings of the newsroom has said.)

Is it possible that Russert saw in Olbermann what no other serious person did? Could Russert have actually considered Olbermann a jewel in the NBC News crown? Perhaps. But it would take a lot more for me to believe Russert was an “indefatigable cheerleader” for Olbermann than simply Olbermann’s claim that this was the case. After all, Olbermann fashioned himself as not simply a journalist but a modern-day Edward R. Murrow, which tells you everything you need to know about the scale of his self-deception and conceit.

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Liberals’ Civility Test

A week after President Obama’s stirring remarks at the Tucson memorial service comes an important Civility Test for liberals.

ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports that Democratic Representative Steve Cohen went to the well of the House and compared what Republicans are saying on health care to the work of the infamous Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

“They say it’s a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels,” Cohen said. “You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and eventually, people believe it. Like ‘blood libel.’ That’s the same kind of thing. The Germans said enough about the Jews and the people believed it and you had the Holocaust. You tell a lie over and over again. We heard on this floor, government takeover of health care.”

In our post-Tucson world, I’m eager to see people like E.J. Dionne Jr., Dana Milbank, and Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post; George Packer of the New Yorker; James Fallows of the Atlantic; Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, and the editorial page of the New York Times; Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, and Ed Schultz of MSNBC, and scores of other commentators and reporters all across America both publicize and condemn Representative Cohen’s slander.

Each of them will have plenty of opportunities to do so. I hope they take advantage of it. I hope, too, that reporters ask White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs what his reaction is. And I trust President Obama, who spoke so eloquently last week about the importance of civility in our national life, has something to say about this ugly episode as well. If the president were to repudiate Mr. Cohen quickly and publicly, it would be good for him, good for politics, and good for the nation.

But if the president and his liberal allies remain silent or criticize Cohen in the gentlest way possible, it’s only reasonable to conclude that their expressions of concern about incivility in public discourse are partisan rather than genuine, that what they care about isn’t public discourse but gamesmanship, not restoring civility but gaining power.

I’m sure conservatives will face similar tests in the months ahead — and they should be held to the same standard.

For now, though — in light of the libel by Representative Cohen — it is liberals who have the opportunity to take a stand on the matter of civility in public discourse, and in the process, to clarify their intentions and demonstrate the seriousness of their commitments.

A week after President Obama’s stirring remarks at the Tucson memorial service comes an important Civility Test for liberals.

ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports that Democratic Representative Steve Cohen went to the well of the House and compared what Republicans are saying on health care to the work of the infamous Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

“They say it’s a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels,” Cohen said. “You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and eventually, people believe it. Like ‘blood libel.’ That’s the same kind of thing. The Germans said enough about the Jews and the people believed it and you had the Holocaust. You tell a lie over and over again. We heard on this floor, government takeover of health care.”

In our post-Tucson world, I’m eager to see people like E.J. Dionne Jr., Dana Milbank, and Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post; George Packer of the New Yorker; James Fallows of the Atlantic; Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, and the editorial page of the New York Times; Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, and Ed Schultz of MSNBC, and scores of other commentators and reporters all across America both publicize and condemn Representative Cohen’s slander.

Each of them will have plenty of opportunities to do so. I hope they take advantage of it. I hope, too, that reporters ask White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs what his reaction is. And I trust President Obama, who spoke so eloquently last week about the importance of civility in our national life, has something to say about this ugly episode as well. If the president were to repudiate Mr. Cohen quickly and publicly, it would be good for him, good for politics, and good for the nation.

But if the president and his liberal allies remain silent or criticize Cohen in the gentlest way possible, it’s only reasonable to conclude that their expressions of concern about incivility in public discourse are partisan rather than genuine, that what they care about isn’t public discourse but gamesmanship, not restoring civility but gaining power.

I’m sure conservatives will face similar tests in the months ahead — and they should be held to the same standard.

For now, though — in light of the libel by Representative Cohen — it is liberals who have the opportunity to take a stand on the matter of civility in public discourse, and in the process, to clarify their intentions and demonstrate the seriousness of their commitments.

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Will Rewriting History Silence Conservatives?

Chris Matthews writes in the Washington Post about the friendship between Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. Matthews wants us to believe that those were the Good Old Days, years characterized by civility and comity among political opponents, an era when high-minded disagreements were stated in the most irenic way possible.

In short, a time when after-hours lions and lambs laid down beside each other.

Steven Hayward does us a public service by reminding us of what things were really like, with O’Neill saying, among other things, that “evil is in the White House at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.”

To Hayward’s examples I would add a January 30, 1984, Associated Press story, which reported this: “Ronald Reagan has been a divider, not a uniter. He has divided our country between rich and poor, between the hopeful and the hopeless, between the comfortable and the miserable. He has not been fair and the people know it. The American people will reject four more years of danger, four more years of pain,’ [Thomas P.] O’Neill said.”

Ronald Reagan was, in fact, a deeply hated figure by liberals when he was president.

The effort to pretty up the past is not simply evidence of nostalgia or selective memories. It is an effort by liberals to portray this current moment in our history, when conservatives have, for the first time, a wide array of media outlets at their disposal, as a period of unprecedented incivility. The unstated argument goes like this: for the first time in modern history, conservatives dominate a few media precincts (cable news and talk radio). It is also a period of vitriolic public discourse, unmatched in the annals of American history. We’ll leave it to you, the American voters, to connect the dots.

In fact, liberals are inventing a false correlation in order to assert a false causation.

And it’s an easy enough one to disprove. Those who lived through the 1980s merely need to dust off their own memories or read contemporaneous news accounts from that period (at the New York Times, the predecessor of Frank Rich and Paul Krugman was Anthony Lewis). An older generation can do the same thing for the 1970s, when Richard Nixon was a reviled figure by the left; and the 1960s, when there were riots in the streets and on American campuses and students chanted, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

This is simply part of an ongoing effort by liberals to disfigure American history in order to advance their post-Tucson fairy tale. It’s really quite regrettable — and, because it’s untrue, I rather doubt it will work.

Chris Matthews writes in the Washington Post about the friendship between Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. Matthews wants us to believe that those were the Good Old Days, years characterized by civility and comity among political opponents, an era when high-minded disagreements were stated in the most irenic way possible.

In short, a time when after-hours lions and lambs laid down beside each other.

Steven Hayward does us a public service by reminding us of what things were really like, with O’Neill saying, among other things, that “evil is in the White House at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.”

To Hayward’s examples I would add a January 30, 1984, Associated Press story, which reported this: “Ronald Reagan has been a divider, not a uniter. He has divided our country between rich and poor, between the hopeful and the hopeless, between the comfortable and the miserable. He has not been fair and the people know it. The American people will reject four more years of danger, four more years of pain,’ [Thomas P.] O’Neill said.”

Ronald Reagan was, in fact, a deeply hated figure by liberals when he was president.

The effort to pretty up the past is not simply evidence of nostalgia or selective memories. It is an effort by liberals to portray this current moment in our history, when conservatives have, for the first time, a wide array of media outlets at their disposal, as a period of unprecedented incivility. The unstated argument goes like this: for the first time in modern history, conservatives dominate a few media precincts (cable news and talk radio). It is also a period of vitriolic public discourse, unmatched in the annals of American history. We’ll leave it to you, the American voters, to connect the dots.

In fact, liberals are inventing a false correlation in order to assert a false causation.

And it’s an easy enough one to disprove. Those who lived through the 1980s merely need to dust off their own memories or read contemporaneous news accounts from that period (at the New York Times, the predecessor of Frank Rich and Paul Krugman was Anthony Lewis). An older generation can do the same thing for the 1970s, when Richard Nixon was a reviled figure by the left; and the 1960s, when there were riots in the streets and on American campuses and students chanted, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

This is simply part of an ongoing effort by liberals to disfigure American history in order to advance their post-Tucson fairy tale. It’s really quite regrettable — and, because it’s untrue, I rather doubt it will work.

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Iowahawk Does It Again

The Internet’s greatest humorist offers up CSI: Tucson, starring Paul Krugman, Chris Matthews, and Rachel Maddow, with special guest forensic OB-GYN Andrew Sullivan.

The Internet’s greatest humorist offers up CSI: Tucson, starring Paul Krugman, Chris Matthews, and Rachel Maddow, with special guest forensic OB-GYN Andrew Sullivan.

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Conway Blows Himself Up

Howard Fineman is not exactly a conservative shill. But it is apparent that both he and a slew of Democrats are aghast at Jack Conway’s attack on Rand Paul’s religion. (But the prize for indignant liberal goes to Chris Matthews.) Fineman writes:

Democrats in Kentucky and elsewhere seem ready to bail — perhaps wholesale — on Democrat Jack Conway for his “mocking Christianity” attack on Dr. Rand Paul.

“I wouldn’t have done it,” Rep. John Yarmuth, the popular Louisville Democrat who is also a member of the House leadership, told The Huffington Post. “And it looks like it’s backfiring.” …

Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri criticized the ad theme, and other Democrats have privately done so, but open criticism from the politically savvy Yarmuth — on the ballot in Kentucky with Conway — is a sign that the ad is rapidly coming to be regarded as a one-step-too-far move in a year in which nothing seems to be over the line.

The ad is so distasteful that you wonder what in the world Conway and his campaign advisers were thinking. And because it comes from the party that can’t get enough of finger-wagging at us for “religious tolerance,” it makes it virtually impossible for Democrats to defend. What makes it doubly bizarre is that Paul is not without his vulnerabilities, but now the entire “he’s a wacko” attack is undermined. It’s Conway who seems like he’s from a parallel political universe.

This is why politics is so much fun. The ability of candidates and parties to annihilate themselves provides constant amusement, and it reminds us that politics is as much about human fallibility as anything else.

Howard Fineman is not exactly a conservative shill. But it is apparent that both he and a slew of Democrats are aghast at Jack Conway’s attack on Rand Paul’s religion. (But the prize for indignant liberal goes to Chris Matthews.) Fineman writes:

Democrats in Kentucky and elsewhere seem ready to bail — perhaps wholesale — on Democrat Jack Conway for his “mocking Christianity” attack on Dr. Rand Paul.

“I wouldn’t have done it,” Rep. John Yarmuth, the popular Louisville Democrat who is also a member of the House leadership, told The Huffington Post. “And it looks like it’s backfiring.” …

Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri criticized the ad theme, and other Democrats have privately done so, but open criticism from the politically savvy Yarmuth — on the ballot in Kentucky with Conway — is a sign that the ad is rapidly coming to be regarded as a one-step-too-far move in a year in which nothing seems to be over the line.

The ad is so distasteful that you wonder what in the world Conway and his campaign advisers were thinking. And because it comes from the party that can’t get enough of finger-wagging at us for “religious tolerance,” it makes it virtually impossible for Democrats to defend. What makes it doubly bizarre is that Paul is not without his vulnerabilities, but now the entire “he’s a wacko” attack is undermined. It’s Conway who seems like he’s from a parallel political universe.

This is why politics is so much fun. The ability of candidates and parties to annihilate themselves provides constant amusement, and it reminds us that politics is as much about human fallibility as anything else.

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Lessons from Tony Blair’s Memoir

In his excellent memoir, A Journey: My Political Life, Tony Blair writes about his electoral victory in 1997:

We were very quickly appreciating the daunting revelation of the gap between saying and doing. In Opposition, the gap is nothing because “saying” is all you can do; in government, where “doing” is what it’s all about, the gap is suddenly revealed as a chasm of bureaucracy, frustration and disappointment … I was afraid because, at that instant, suddenly I thought of myself no longer as the up-and-coming, the challenger, the prophet, but the owner of the responsibility, the person not explaining why things were wrong but taking the decisions to put them right.

Blair’s words touch on a truth which those of us who have served in government, and especially in different administrations and in the White House, can attest:

A president’s capacity to control and influence events is often more limited than it’s imagined. It’s not unusual for presidential directives to be ignored or undermined by the bureaucracy. Thousands of personnel decisions, some seemingly insignificant, can come back to bite you. An administration is held responsible for what happens on its watch, whether or not that’s justified. Urgent, complex problems demand a response even if the information needed to act on them is incomplete. The political culture is unforgiving. And all presidents and their aides, like all people, are flawed and fallible.

When you’re out of power and in the opposition, these truths are quickly tossed aside or simply forgotten. Governing seems much easier when all one is doing is critiquing others in columns and blogs, in speeches and on television. Position papers are simpler to write than policies are to enact. This tendency is particularly pronounced among political commentators, many of whom have no first-hand experience at what it means to govern.

The appropriate role of the opposition party, as well as of the commentariat, is to hold those in power accountable. Some presidential decisions deserve criticism – at times scathing. So to argue that there should be a moratorium on expressing disapprobation would be unwise as well as unrealistic.

What is required, however, is perspective — the realization that being chief executive is more challenging than being a commentator on Hardball with Chris Matthews. And from time to time, it’s worth showing understanding and even some sympathy toward those who have, in Blair’s words, gone from “scaling the walls of the citadel, to sitting in the ruler’s palace in charge of all we surveyed.”

The Obama administration, which came to office after having set expectations at stratospheric levels, is now learning the wisdom of Blair’s words. There is some rough justice in seeing brought low by events a president bestowed with an unusual degree of vanity and who has been so unfair and unforgiving in his critique of others. Still, the truth is that Republicans, once they begin to take the reins of power again in November, will experience something similar. What Henry Kissinger called the “moment of charmed innocence” and the “exhilaration of imminent authority” is soon buffeted by events. And so all us, myself included, need to temper our judgments with the realization that explaining why things are wrong will always be a far easier task than putting them right.

In his excellent memoir, A Journey: My Political Life, Tony Blair writes about his electoral victory in 1997:

We were very quickly appreciating the daunting revelation of the gap between saying and doing. In Opposition, the gap is nothing because “saying” is all you can do; in government, where “doing” is what it’s all about, the gap is suddenly revealed as a chasm of bureaucracy, frustration and disappointment … I was afraid because, at that instant, suddenly I thought of myself no longer as the up-and-coming, the challenger, the prophet, but the owner of the responsibility, the person not explaining why things were wrong but taking the decisions to put them right.

Blair’s words touch on a truth which those of us who have served in government, and especially in different administrations and in the White House, can attest:

A president’s capacity to control and influence events is often more limited than it’s imagined. It’s not unusual for presidential directives to be ignored or undermined by the bureaucracy. Thousands of personnel decisions, some seemingly insignificant, can come back to bite you. An administration is held responsible for what happens on its watch, whether or not that’s justified. Urgent, complex problems demand a response even if the information needed to act on them is incomplete. The political culture is unforgiving. And all presidents and their aides, like all people, are flawed and fallible.

When you’re out of power and in the opposition, these truths are quickly tossed aside or simply forgotten. Governing seems much easier when all one is doing is critiquing others in columns and blogs, in speeches and on television. Position papers are simpler to write than policies are to enact. This tendency is particularly pronounced among political commentators, many of whom have no first-hand experience at what it means to govern.

The appropriate role of the opposition party, as well as of the commentariat, is to hold those in power accountable. Some presidential decisions deserve criticism – at times scathing. So to argue that there should be a moratorium on expressing disapprobation would be unwise as well as unrealistic.

What is required, however, is perspective — the realization that being chief executive is more challenging than being a commentator on Hardball with Chris Matthews. And from time to time, it’s worth showing understanding and even some sympathy toward those who have, in Blair’s words, gone from “scaling the walls of the citadel, to sitting in the ruler’s palace in charge of all we surveyed.”

The Obama administration, which came to office after having set expectations at stratospheric levels, is now learning the wisdom of Blair’s words. There is some rough justice in seeing brought low by events a president bestowed with an unusual degree of vanity and who has been so unfair and unforgiving in his critique of others. Still, the truth is that Republicans, once they begin to take the reins of power again in November, will experience something similar. What Henry Kissinger called the “moment of charmed innocence” and the “exhilaration of imminent authority” is soon buffeted by events. And so all us, myself included, need to temper our judgments with the realization that explaining why things are wrong will always be a far easier task than putting them right.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Seriously? “Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she’s ‘not nervous at all’ about the possibility that Democrats could lose their House majority after the November elections. She says she feels ‘very confident about where we are’ when it comes to the election. Still, the California Democrat says her party isn’t taking anything for granted.”

Seriously? Not even Chris Matthews thinks Pelosi is right.

Seriously? Eleanor Clift sounds like she’s thrown in the towel on Speaker Pelosi as well: “Two freshman Democrats from Virginia, Tom Perriello and Gerry Connolly, swept into office on the wave of enthusiasm generated by Barack Obama, are now struggling to stay afloat in a sea of discontent about the president. OK, that’s a bit melodramatic, but listening to these lawmakers and what they’re up against in defending their seats is to wonder where all the magic has gone, and what can be done to recapture enough stardust to hold on to the Democratic majorities that are the bulwark of the Obama presidency.”

Seriously? John Kerry wants “Obama to resume his efforts to start a dialogue with Iran. In an interview on CNN’s ‘Fareed Zakaria GPS’ show Sunday, Kerry said a good place to begin with the Iranians would be discussions about the way forward in Afghanistan and that those talks could lead to discussions on other vital topics, such as Iran’s nuclear program. … There are reasons that [the Iranians] would want a stable government there. And I think that we should — you know, diplomacy is the art of playing to everybody’s interests. And everybody has some interests with respect to this outcome.”

Seriously? (snuggling up to Lindsey Graham): “Sen. Jon Kyl, the second-ranking member of the Senate Republican leadership, voiced support Sunday for hearings on whether to deny citizenship to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.”

Seriously? Obama says he’s not getting enough credit for saving us from “the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.” (Maybe that’s because it’s not the worst downturn since the Great Depression.)

Seriously? ABC headline: “Pelosi and Gates Differ on Expectations for July 2011 Troop Withdrawal.” Yeah, when the president isn’t definitive, everyone fills in the blanks for themselves. That worked to get Obama elected, but it makes for a poor commander in chief.

Seriously? “Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she’s ‘not nervous at all’ about the possibility that Democrats could lose their House majority after the November elections. She says she feels ‘very confident about where we are’ when it comes to the election. Still, the California Democrat says her party isn’t taking anything for granted.”

Seriously? Not even Chris Matthews thinks Pelosi is right.

Seriously? Eleanor Clift sounds like she’s thrown in the towel on Speaker Pelosi as well: “Two freshman Democrats from Virginia, Tom Perriello and Gerry Connolly, swept into office on the wave of enthusiasm generated by Barack Obama, are now struggling to stay afloat in a sea of discontent about the president. OK, that’s a bit melodramatic, but listening to these lawmakers and what they’re up against in defending their seats is to wonder where all the magic has gone, and what can be done to recapture enough stardust to hold on to the Democratic majorities that are the bulwark of the Obama presidency.”

Seriously? John Kerry wants “Obama to resume his efforts to start a dialogue with Iran. In an interview on CNN’s ‘Fareed Zakaria GPS’ show Sunday, Kerry said a good place to begin with the Iranians would be discussions about the way forward in Afghanistan and that those talks could lead to discussions on other vital topics, such as Iran’s nuclear program. … There are reasons that [the Iranians] would want a stable government there. And I think that we should — you know, diplomacy is the art of playing to everybody’s interests. And everybody has some interests with respect to this outcome.”

Seriously? (snuggling up to Lindsey Graham): “Sen. Jon Kyl, the second-ranking member of the Senate Republican leadership, voiced support Sunday for hearings on whether to deny citizenship to the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants.”

Seriously? Obama says he’s not getting enough credit for saving us from “the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.” (Maybe that’s because it’s not the worst downturn since the Great Depression.)

Seriously? ABC headline: “Pelosi and Gates Differ on Expectations for July 2011 Troop Withdrawal.” Yeah, when the president isn’t definitive, everyone fills in the blanks for themselves. That worked to get Obama elected, but it makes for a poor commander in chief.

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Fox Dominates Cable News Ratings

According to the Huffington Post, Fox News continued its complete domination of cable-news ratings in July. The network averaged 1.85 million viewers in primetime for the month — more than CNN, MSNBC, and HLN combined. The top 11 rated programs, each with a total of more than a million viewers, belong to Fox News (three programs topped two million viewers). As a point of comparison, no other program on any other cable network was able to draw as many as a million viewers (Hardball with Chris Matthews, for example, was able to draw only a little more than half a million watchers).

The dominance of Fox News is an extraordinary media phenomenon. Roger Ailes is a genius at his profession. And the success of Fox News continues to cause liberals to vent and fume, pout and lash out, whine and act irrationally. Sometimes breaking up a quasi-monopoly will do that to people.

In any event, it’s time for liberals to make their own inner peace with a Fox-dominated cable-news world. If they don’t, they will continue to go around the bend.

According to the Huffington Post, Fox News continued its complete domination of cable-news ratings in July. The network averaged 1.85 million viewers in primetime for the month — more than CNN, MSNBC, and HLN combined. The top 11 rated programs, each with a total of more than a million viewers, belong to Fox News (three programs topped two million viewers). As a point of comparison, no other program on any other cable network was able to draw as many as a million viewers (Hardball with Chris Matthews, for example, was able to draw only a little more than half a million watchers).

The dominance of Fox News is an extraordinary media phenomenon. Roger Ailes is a genius at his profession. And the success of Fox News continues to cause liberals to vent and fume, pout and lash out, whine and act irrationally. Sometimes breaking up a quasi-monopoly will do that to people.

In any event, it’s time for liberals to make their own inner peace with a Fox-dominated cable-news world. If they don’t, they will continue to go around the bend.

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Unmasked in Plain Sight

Peter Wehner and Jennifer Rubin have thoroughly dissected the lameness of Obama’s speech last night on the oil spill. I agree with their takes, but was also struck by the reaction of the people in the Frank Luntz citizen panel featured by Sean Hannity in his Fox show after the speech. I expected them to find the speech weak, but I was surprised to hear so many argue that Obama’s rhetoric had focused on getting cap-and-trade legislation passed rather than on responding pragmatically to the oil spill.

This surprised me because Obama was actually oblique and nonspecific in his agenda-related references. Bill O’Reilly, in his discussions with Sarah Palin and Monica Crowley right after the speech, pointed out to them that Obama did not, in fact, press for the cap-and-trade legislation. He merely adduced the oil spill as a catalyst for reducing America’s dependence on oil and developing a sustainable energy policy. I suspect this absence of explicit policy references is what’s so particularly trying to the president’s supporters on the left. When Keith Olbermann, Howard Fineman, and Chris Matthews speak of Obama’s failing to project leadership, they mean Obama is allowing this crisis to go to waste.

But Frank Luntz’s panelists saw it differently. As far as most of them were concerned, Obama is not letting the crisis go to waste at all. Regardless of what he said, what they heard was that the president is more focused on passing cap-and-trade than on controlling the consequences of the oil spill.

If Luntz’s panelists are truly representative, as he labors to ensure they are, then there seems to be a decisive loss for Obama of the benefit of public doubt. The MSNBC pundits, for their part, were hoping to see Obama masterfully unite rhetoric, storytelling, and leadership to justify the carbon-tax program — justify it so thoroughly and inspirationally that its opponents would be confounded. It disappointed them not to get such a performance, but the absence of it was meaningless to the perceptions of the Luntz panelists. They held themselves undeceived: whatever he says, Obama is pushing for cap-and-trade.

This is a case in which the prosaic public mind is probably more acute than the perceptions of many in the punditry. Obama never achieved a soaring persuasiveness or any appearance of moral leadership in wrangling Congress to pass ObamaCare either. The American public spent painful months watching his detached, scheming Oval Office issue perfunctory sound bites by day while bribing and arm-twisting by night. It was a “Chicago machine” performance, devoid of even the superficial romance of true believers’ passion.

There is nothing today that justifies interpreting the president’s vagueness last night as a sign of moderation or judicious jury’s-still-out indecision. Frank Luntz’s panelists probably have Obama pegged. He’s pushing cap-and-trade. He may simply have seen no reason to provoke a backlash by making a more overt case on Tuesday evening. Doing so could well have been a tactical error, one that would have interfered later with ramming cap-and-trade through by holding congressmen at political gunpoint.

Peter Wehner and Jennifer Rubin have thoroughly dissected the lameness of Obama’s speech last night on the oil spill. I agree with their takes, but was also struck by the reaction of the people in the Frank Luntz citizen panel featured by Sean Hannity in his Fox show after the speech. I expected them to find the speech weak, but I was surprised to hear so many argue that Obama’s rhetoric had focused on getting cap-and-trade legislation passed rather than on responding pragmatically to the oil spill.

This surprised me because Obama was actually oblique and nonspecific in his agenda-related references. Bill O’Reilly, in his discussions with Sarah Palin and Monica Crowley right after the speech, pointed out to them that Obama did not, in fact, press for the cap-and-trade legislation. He merely adduced the oil spill as a catalyst for reducing America’s dependence on oil and developing a sustainable energy policy. I suspect this absence of explicit policy references is what’s so particularly trying to the president’s supporters on the left. When Keith Olbermann, Howard Fineman, and Chris Matthews speak of Obama’s failing to project leadership, they mean Obama is allowing this crisis to go to waste.

But Frank Luntz’s panelists saw it differently. As far as most of them were concerned, Obama is not letting the crisis go to waste at all. Regardless of what he said, what they heard was that the president is more focused on passing cap-and-trade than on controlling the consequences of the oil spill.

If Luntz’s panelists are truly representative, as he labors to ensure they are, then there seems to be a decisive loss for Obama of the benefit of public doubt. The MSNBC pundits, for their part, were hoping to see Obama masterfully unite rhetoric, storytelling, and leadership to justify the carbon-tax program — justify it so thoroughly and inspirationally that its opponents would be confounded. It disappointed them not to get such a performance, but the absence of it was meaningless to the perceptions of the Luntz panelists. They held themselves undeceived: whatever he says, Obama is pushing for cap-and-trade.

This is a case in which the prosaic public mind is probably more acute than the perceptions of many in the punditry. Obama never achieved a soaring persuasiveness or any appearance of moral leadership in wrangling Congress to pass ObamaCare either. The American public spent painful months watching his detached, scheming Oval Office issue perfunctory sound bites by day while bribing and arm-twisting by night. It was a “Chicago machine” performance, devoid of even the superficial romance of true believers’ passion.

There is nothing today that justifies interpreting the president’s vagueness last night as a sign of moderation or judicious jury’s-still-out indecision. Frank Luntz’s panelists probably have Obama pegged. He’s pushing cap-and-trade. He may simply have seen no reason to provoke a backlash by making a more overt case on Tuesday evening. Doing so could well have been a tactical error, one that would have interfered later with ramming cap-and-trade through by holding congressmen at political gunpoint.

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The Liberal Tipping Point Away from Obama

Jen and Pete, you both point out the grave disappointment expressed last night about Barack Obama’s speech on the part of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, and Howard Fineman. This is a significant development, because it indicates this is a liberal tipping point — both tactical and emotional — away from Barack Obama.

The bad polling news for Democrats and Obama, the apparent refusal of the economy to turn itself around dramatically enough to stave off a reckoning in the November elections, the worrisome headlines from Afghanistan, and the increasing public confusion about the response to the oil spill are now taking their toll on the finger-in-the-wind brigade. I’m referring to that breed of media and political professionals whose enthusiasm for the politicians they support and admire is conditioned in part on how the politicians are doing. The finger-in-the-wind brigade is made up of fair-weather friends. When they feel the political breezes shifting, they shift as well — from passionate support to analytical distance, then to careful criticism, then confused dismay, and eventually to outright contempt. This happened to George W. Bush in 2005 among the finger-in-the-wind brigade on the conservative side, and it’s now happening in 2010 on the liberal side.

In their various expressions of dismay and worry and even contempt, the members of the fair-weather brigade are holding Obama to a peculiar standard. They seem to want him to transmute the oil spill into a huge moral drama with BP or capitalism or deregulation or the carbon-based economy itself as the villain and Obama himself as the crusading muckraker who will take the bad guys down. Obama himself would like to do nothing more. That’s why, in just three days’ time, he (a) likened the oil spill to 9/11, (b) compared the cleanup to the American response to World War II, and (c) said that if we could put a man on the moon, we could fix the whole oil problem. He wants to figure out how to make this a “game changer” for him and for his left-liberal agenda.

The problem is, it can’t be. The accident was an accident, and the cleanup after the accident is one of those godawful, uninspiring, unthrilling, and highly confusing tasks that inevitably follow any accident. Nobody seems quite to have known what to do and when, and there were and are conflicting crosscurrents involving the potential environmental damage from the cleanup itself that cannot be wished or willed away through strong “leadership.” What’s happening is a catastrophe, but it’s the result of something very, very big that cannot be turned into a cause Obama can fight —  decades’ worth of policy decisions based on the desire to extract billions of gallons of oil invisibly, without public complaint, so that no one would have to see a rig or smell the work the way everybody in the New York metropolitan used to have to roll up his windows and put on the air conditioner going past exit 12 on the New Jersey Turnpike when Standard Oil refineries were still active there. The temptation to believe in semi-magical oil extraction proved so great that Obama himself found it irresistible this year.

But if the standard to which they are holding Obama is impossible, that’s because it’s hoist-by-his-own-petard time for Obama, as brought to you by Euripides. Anyone who greets a primary victory as Obama did in 2008 by saying that history would record that “this was the moment when the oceans began to recede” is just asking for it. And “it” may be upon him.

Jen and Pete, you both point out the grave disappointment expressed last night about Barack Obama’s speech on the part of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, and Howard Fineman. This is a significant development, because it indicates this is a liberal tipping point — both tactical and emotional — away from Barack Obama.

The bad polling news for Democrats and Obama, the apparent refusal of the economy to turn itself around dramatically enough to stave off a reckoning in the November elections, the worrisome headlines from Afghanistan, and the increasing public confusion about the response to the oil spill are now taking their toll on the finger-in-the-wind brigade. I’m referring to that breed of media and political professionals whose enthusiasm for the politicians they support and admire is conditioned in part on how the politicians are doing. The finger-in-the-wind brigade is made up of fair-weather friends. When they feel the political breezes shifting, they shift as well — from passionate support to analytical distance, then to careful criticism, then confused dismay, and eventually to outright contempt. This happened to George W. Bush in 2005 among the finger-in-the-wind brigade on the conservative side, and it’s now happening in 2010 on the liberal side.

In their various expressions of dismay and worry and even contempt, the members of the fair-weather brigade are holding Obama to a peculiar standard. They seem to want him to transmute the oil spill into a huge moral drama with BP or capitalism or deregulation or the carbon-based economy itself as the villain and Obama himself as the crusading muckraker who will take the bad guys down. Obama himself would like to do nothing more. That’s why, in just three days’ time, he (a) likened the oil spill to 9/11, (b) compared the cleanup to the American response to World War II, and (c) said that if we could put a man on the moon, we could fix the whole oil problem. He wants to figure out how to make this a “game changer” for him and for his left-liberal agenda.

The problem is, it can’t be. The accident was an accident, and the cleanup after the accident is one of those godawful, uninspiring, unthrilling, and highly confusing tasks that inevitably follow any accident. Nobody seems quite to have known what to do and when, and there were and are conflicting crosscurrents involving the potential environmental damage from the cleanup itself that cannot be wished or willed away through strong “leadership.” What’s happening is a catastrophe, but it’s the result of something very, very big that cannot be turned into a cause Obama can fight —  decades’ worth of policy decisions based on the desire to extract billions of gallons of oil invisibly, without public complaint, so that no one would have to see a rig or smell the work the way everybody in the New York metropolitan used to have to roll up his windows and put on the air conditioner going past exit 12 on the New Jersey Turnpike when Standard Oil refineries were still active there. The temptation to believe in semi-magical oil extraction proved so great that Obama himself found it irresistible this year.

But if the standard to which they are holding Obama is impossible, that’s because it’s hoist-by-his-own-petard time for Obama, as brought to you by Euripides. Anyone who greets a primary victory as Obama did in 2008 by saying that history would record that “this was the moment when the oceans began to recede” is just asking for it. And “it” may be upon him.

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The Unmasking of Barack Obama (Continued)

I guess the thrill up the leg is gone. If you’re Barack Obama and, as Jennifer points out, your speech is panned by Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, and Howard Fineman — three Obama acolytes in the press — then it’s reasonable to assume that the speech can be judged a failure. And last night’s Oval Office address was certainly that.

President Obama was thin on policies. He focused on inputs instead of outcomes. The words were flat. And it contained one of the worst sections from an Oval Office address ever:

All of these approaches [on energy policy] have merit, and deserve a fair hearing in the months ahead. But the one approach I will not accept is inaction. The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is too big and too difficult to meet. You see, the same thing was said about our ability to produce enough planes and tanks in World War II. The same thing was said about our ability to harness the science and technology to land a man safely on the surface of the moon. And yet, time and again, we have refused to settle for the paltry limits of conventional wisdom. Instead, what has defined us as a nation since our founding is our capacity to shape our destiny — our determination to fight for the America we want for our children. Even if we’re unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don’t yet know precisely how to get there. We know we’ll get there.

It is a faith in the future that sustains us as a people. It is that same faith that sustains our neighbors in the Gulf right now.

This is clueless nonsense. For one thing, the reference to the moon landing is hackneyed. The reference to not accepting inaction is meaningless in the context of what is unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico right now. And the concession that “we’re unsure exactly what that [destiny] looks like” and “we don’t yet know precisely how to get there” is devastating. President Obama is invoking pseudo-inspirational rhetoric that is disconnected from reality and from a road map.

Barack Obama is clearly more interested in the theater of the presidency than he is in governing. He is cut out to be a legislator and a commentator, not a chief executive. And when he spoke about seizing the moment and embarking on a national mission, as if he were trying to rise above the environmental catastrophe he looks powerless to stop, there was something slightly pathetic about it. He was trying to recapture the magic from a campaign that was long ago and far away. He is now being humbled by events and his own limitations. And he doesn’t know what to do about it.

The unmasking of Barack Obama continues. It is not a pretty thing to witness.

I guess the thrill up the leg is gone. If you’re Barack Obama and, as Jennifer points out, your speech is panned by Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, and Howard Fineman — three Obama acolytes in the press — then it’s reasonable to assume that the speech can be judged a failure. And last night’s Oval Office address was certainly that.

President Obama was thin on policies. He focused on inputs instead of outcomes. The words were flat. And it contained one of the worst sections from an Oval Office address ever:

All of these approaches [on energy policy] have merit, and deserve a fair hearing in the months ahead. But the one approach I will not accept is inaction. The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is too big and too difficult to meet. You see, the same thing was said about our ability to produce enough planes and tanks in World War II. The same thing was said about our ability to harness the science and technology to land a man safely on the surface of the moon. And yet, time and again, we have refused to settle for the paltry limits of conventional wisdom. Instead, what has defined us as a nation since our founding is our capacity to shape our destiny — our determination to fight for the America we want for our children. Even if we’re unsure exactly what that looks like. Even if we don’t yet know precisely how to get there. We know we’ll get there.

It is a faith in the future that sustains us as a people. It is that same faith that sustains our neighbors in the Gulf right now.

This is clueless nonsense. For one thing, the reference to the moon landing is hackneyed. The reference to not accepting inaction is meaningless in the context of what is unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico right now. And the concession that “we’re unsure exactly what that [destiny] looks like” and “we don’t yet know precisely how to get there” is devastating. President Obama is invoking pseudo-inspirational rhetoric that is disconnected from reality and from a road map.

Barack Obama is clearly more interested in the theater of the presidency than he is in governing. He is cut out to be a legislator and a commentator, not a chief executive. And when he spoke about seizing the moment and embarking on a national mission, as if he were trying to rise above the environmental catastrophe he looks powerless to stop, there was something slightly pathetic about it. He was trying to recapture the magic from a campaign that was long ago and far away. He is now being humbled by events and his own limitations. And he doesn’t know what to do about it.

The unmasking of Barack Obama continues. It is not a pretty thing to witness.

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RE: Obama’s Boring Speech

Things have gotten so bad for Obama that MSNBC pundits sound like me. The troika of Keith Olbermann, Howard Fineman, and Chris Matthews, ripping Obama’s Oval Office speech with the bitterness of spurned lovers, complain he didn’t do much or say much or project much leadership. And indeed, with his hands folded on that really big and empty desk, you got the impression not that Obama was in charge of that office but that he didn’t do much real work there.

Salon’s Joan Walsh was similarly dismissive. (“I was underwhelmed by President Obama’s first Oval Office speech, as I expected to be. From the moment he began, hands folded on his desk like a well-behaved student, the imagery and energy was off, inadequate to the visual, horror-movie scope of the Gulf oil disaster.”) Maureen Dowd remains infuriated with the hapless president. (“How can a man who was a dazzling enough politician to become the first black president at age 47 suddenly become so obdurately self-destructive about politics?”) Hmm. Because he’s in over his head? Because all he’s ever done is promote himself? Even Politico — the Daily Variety of D.C., which has few harsh words for the town’s stars — acknowledged that “this wasn’t one of Obama’s best speeches” and observed “it wasn’t entirely clear where Obama would go from here to achieve this ‘national mission.'”

This was  certainly the liberal media’s big chance to write the “Comeback Kid” story on the oil spill, as they tried to do after every equally ineffective health-care address (“Game changer!” we heard after nothing at all was changed). Instead, they informed the president that he’s no FDR. (Howard Fineman: “It was Obama who compared the Gulf disaster to World War Two, and it was, unfortunately, Obama who was unable to approach let alone match the specificity, combativeness and passion of Franklin Roosevelt.”) Have they suddenly become more savvy or recovered their objectivity? Perhaps they see it all crumbling — the generic polling, the NPR poll, and the president’s ratings slide all confirm that Obama and his party are heading for a drubbing.

Not unlike what the White House did to Creigh Deeds: rather than admit to the failure of liberal ideas, the easiest solution is to blame the candidate — in this case, the perpetual candidate who resides in the White House. So just as readily as they scrambled onto the Obama bandwagon, they are scurrying off. The MSNBC gang and liberal columnists look now to empathize with and retain the loyalty of their liberal audience, which is frustrated that the “sort of a God” has proved inept.

The same “Run for your lives!” mentality will soon take hold of the Democrats on the ballot. Whether they aim to reconnect with their base (as Bill Halter tried to do) or dash to the center of the political spectrum, they will flee from association with the president for whom they walked the plank on vote after vote. I suspect they will have as hard a time retaining voters as MSNBC, Salon, and the New York Times will in keeping their target audience and readership. The Democratic base is depressed — for good reason — and probably won’t be much interested in voting, watching gobs of cable news, or reading endless recriminations from aggrieved columnists as the liberal media tracks the descent of the Obama presidency.

Things have gotten so bad for Obama that MSNBC pundits sound like me. The troika of Keith Olbermann, Howard Fineman, and Chris Matthews, ripping Obama’s Oval Office speech with the bitterness of spurned lovers, complain he didn’t do much or say much or project much leadership. And indeed, with his hands folded on that really big and empty desk, you got the impression not that Obama was in charge of that office but that he didn’t do much real work there.

Salon’s Joan Walsh was similarly dismissive. (“I was underwhelmed by President Obama’s first Oval Office speech, as I expected to be. From the moment he began, hands folded on his desk like a well-behaved student, the imagery and energy was off, inadequate to the visual, horror-movie scope of the Gulf oil disaster.”) Maureen Dowd remains infuriated with the hapless president. (“How can a man who was a dazzling enough politician to become the first black president at age 47 suddenly become so obdurately self-destructive about politics?”) Hmm. Because he’s in over his head? Because all he’s ever done is promote himself? Even Politico — the Daily Variety of D.C., which has few harsh words for the town’s stars — acknowledged that “this wasn’t one of Obama’s best speeches” and observed “it wasn’t entirely clear where Obama would go from here to achieve this ‘national mission.'”

This was  certainly the liberal media’s big chance to write the “Comeback Kid” story on the oil spill, as they tried to do after every equally ineffective health-care address (“Game changer!” we heard after nothing at all was changed). Instead, they informed the president that he’s no FDR. (Howard Fineman: “It was Obama who compared the Gulf disaster to World War Two, and it was, unfortunately, Obama who was unable to approach let alone match the specificity, combativeness and passion of Franklin Roosevelt.”) Have they suddenly become more savvy or recovered their objectivity? Perhaps they see it all crumbling — the generic polling, the NPR poll, and the president’s ratings slide all confirm that Obama and his party are heading for a drubbing.

Not unlike what the White House did to Creigh Deeds: rather than admit to the failure of liberal ideas, the easiest solution is to blame the candidate — in this case, the perpetual candidate who resides in the White House. So just as readily as they scrambled onto the Obama bandwagon, they are scurrying off. The MSNBC gang and liberal columnists look now to empathize with and retain the loyalty of their liberal audience, which is frustrated that the “sort of a God” has proved inept.

The same “Run for your lives!” mentality will soon take hold of the Democrats on the ballot. Whether they aim to reconnect with their base (as Bill Halter tried to do) or dash to the center of the political spectrum, they will flee from association with the president for whom they walked the plank on vote after vote. I suspect they will have as hard a time retaining voters as MSNBC, Salon, and the New York Times will in keeping their target audience and readership. The Democratic base is depressed — for good reason — and probably won’t be much interested in voting, watching gobs of cable news, or reading endless recriminations from aggrieved columnists as the liberal media tracks the descent of the Obama presidency.

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The Erratic President

Now Obama looks like a fool and a liar. When confronted by Matt Lauer about why he hadn’t yet met with BP’s CEO, you could see the wheels clicking — excuse, excuse, what’s the excuse? — and Obama with a straight face said it would do no good to talk to the CEO, because he was just going to get spin from Tony Hayward (“[H]e’s going to say all the right things to me. I’m not interested in words, I’m interested in action.”) Even Chris Matthews was appalled.

So within days, Obama announces — he’s going to meet with the BP Chariman! Oh good grief. So forget the part about not needing to speak with BP. That was just a … um … er … hmm … lame excuse he cooked up on the spot.

There is a reason why the public is upset with Obama. It’s not merely a function of the unrealistic expectation that the president can solve all problems. The president looks fickle, confused, and erratic. Let’s have a drilling ban. No, let’s lift it and make BP pay for all the people we threw out of work! It becomes alarming with each passing day as we see how out of his depth the commander in chief (oh yes, he commands the armed forces too) is.

Harvard Law Review and a crease in the pants don’t signal readiness to be president. The voters have found out the hard way the price of electing someone who thought governing was just like campaigning and who had never run a city, a state, a military unit, or a profit-making firm.

Now Obama looks like a fool and a liar. When confronted by Matt Lauer about why he hadn’t yet met with BP’s CEO, you could see the wheels clicking — excuse, excuse, what’s the excuse? — and Obama with a straight face said it would do no good to talk to the CEO, because he was just going to get spin from Tony Hayward (“[H]e’s going to say all the right things to me. I’m not interested in words, I’m interested in action.”) Even Chris Matthews was appalled.

So within days, Obama announces — he’s going to meet with the BP Chariman! Oh good grief. So forget the part about not needing to speak with BP. That was just a … um … er … hmm … lame excuse he cooked up on the spot.

There is a reason why the public is upset with Obama. It’s not merely a function of the unrealistic expectation that the president can solve all problems. The president looks fickle, confused, and erratic. Let’s have a drilling ban. No, let’s lift it and make BP pay for all the people we threw out of work! It becomes alarming with each passing day as we see how out of his depth the commander in chief (oh yes, he commands the armed forces too) is.

Harvard Law Review and a crease in the pants don’t signal readiness to be president. The voters have found out the hard way the price of electing someone who thought governing was just like campaigning and who had never run a city, a state, a military unit, or a profit-making firm.

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Maybe His Worst Interview Ever

It is not only that Obama’s “so I know whose a** to kick” language was crude and revealed an unseemly desperation (as Pete pointed out), reinforcing the perception that he doesn’t command respect, let alone fear, from foreign or domestic opponents; it is also not true. Allahpundit points out that Obama never talked to BP’s CEO:

The One’s logic, such as it is, is that it’s not worth talking to Tony Hayward because he’ll only end up giving him the runaround — a curious position coming from a guy who campaigned on the virtues of “dialogue” and who’s been locked in halting negotiations with Iran for fully 16 months. Even Lauer is openly incredulous. Captain Kickass has nothing to say to a guy who potentially holds the fate of his presidency in his hands? Even after yesterday’s hair-raising Times piece claiming that BP’s effort to cut the leaking riser may have actually increased the flow of oil many times over? I thought this was supposed to be the new, improved, “engaged” Hopenchange.

Even Chris Matthews says the “public is probably stunned” that Obama hasn’t talked to the BP CEO. It is a sorry spectacle (both the interview and Obama’s post-spill performance), revealing both the president’s personal immaturity and his lack of managerial acumen. He’s not responsible for the spill, but he is responsible for his own conduct in managing the disaster. On that, even his allies give him a failing grade.

It is not only that Obama’s “so I know whose a** to kick” language was crude and revealed an unseemly desperation (as Pete pointed out), reinforcing the perception that he doesn’t command respect, let alone fear, from foreign or domestic opponents; it is also not true. Allahpundit points out that Obama never talked to BP’s CEO:

The One’s logic, such as it is, is that it’s not worth talking to Tony Hayward because he’ll only end up giving him the runaround — a curious position coming from a guy who campaigned on the virtues of “dialogue” and who’s been locked in halting negotiations with Iran for fully 16 months. Even Lauer is openly incredulous. Captain Kickass has nothing to say to a guy who potentially holds the fate of his presidency in his hands? Even after yesterday’s hair-raising Times piece claiming that BP’s effort to cut the leaking riser may have actually increased the flow of oil many times over? I thought this was supposed to be the new, improved, “engaged” Hopenchange.

Even Chris Matthews says the “public is probably stunned” that Obama hasn’t talked to the BP CEO. It is a sorry spectacle (both the interview and Obama’s post-spill performance), revealing both the president’s personal immaturity and his lack of managerial acumen. He’s not responsible for the spill, but he is responsible for his own conduct in managing the disaster. On that, even his allies give him a failing grade.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Do the Kurds understand Israel better than the Obama administration does? Cliff May: “Many Kurds also have empathy for — and even feel an affinity with — Israelis and Jews. Unusual as this is within the ‘Muslim world,’ it makes sense when you think about it: Like Kurds, Jews are an ancient Middle Eastern people. Like Kurds, Jews have been targeted for genocide. Like Kurds, Israelis face an uncertain future among neighbors who range from merely hostile to openly exterminationist.” Falah Mustafa Bakir, head of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Department of Foreign Relations, adds: “We can’t be hating them because Arabs hate them. We think it is in the interest of Iraq to have relations with Israel. And the day after the Israelis open an embassy in Baghdad, we will invite them to open a consulate here.”

Do Republicans have more Blue Senate seats in play than any election in recent memory? Seems that way: “Businessman Ron Johnson, endorsed at last weekend’s state Republican Convention, is now running virtually even against incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold in Wisconsin’s race for the U.S. Senate.”

Do evangelicals show more devotion to and knowledge of Israel than many American Jews? “The evangelical may not be able to identify Saint Anthony, Christopher, or Demetrius of Thessalonik, but we know—and revere—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. To paraphrase an old Willie Nelson song, our heroes have always been Hebrews. Indeed, it is almost impossible to overestimate the influence of the Old Testament on the evangelical imagination. … Our theonomic justifications for Zionism are offensive to those who believe all political views much be secularized and denatured of religious influence. That, of course, is their problem and not ours. While it might not be polite to admit in liberal cosmopolitan company, there is nothing illogical or unreasonable in believing that the tribe of Judah has a historical right and providential claim to the land of Israel.”

Does Obama duck more tough questions than any president in recent memory? Obama at Thursday’s press conference: “‘There will be an official response shortly on the Sestak issue which I hope will answer your questions’ — and added that ‘shortly’ meant in the very near future.” Why isn’t the president able to give an official response?

Does Chris Matthews’s newfound criticism of Obama (e.g., “passing the hot potato” on the Sestak job offer) suggest more liberal defections from the Obama cult? Perhaps, or maybe it reminds you of LBJ losing Walter Cronkite. Well, I guess Cronkite had millions of viewers and Matthews doesn’t.

Does Rand Paul’s plunge in the polls signal to GOP excuse mongers that there’s more to lose than gain with Paul and that it’s time to look for Plan B?

Does Joe Lieberman’s hint that he might back Linda McMahon suggest that more iconoclastic endorsements might be under consideration? I bet Joe Sestak — the un-Lieberman on most every foreign-policy issue — might be a bit nervous.

Do the Kurds understand Israel better than the Obama administration does? Cliff May: “Many Kurds also have empathy for — and even feel an affinity with — Israelis and Jews. Unusual as this is within the ‘Muslim world,’ it makes sense when you think about it: Like Kurds, Jews are an ancient Middle Eastern people. Like Kurds, Jews have been targeted for genocide. Like Kurds, Israelis face an uncertain future among neighbors who range from merely hostile to openly exterminationist.” Falah Mustafa Bakir, head of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Department of Foreign Relations, adds: “We can’t be hating them because Arabs hate them. We think it is in the interest of Iraq to have relations with Israel. And the day after the Israelis open an embassy in Baghdad, we will invite them to open a consulate here.”

Do Republicans have more Blue Senate seats in play than any election in recent memory? Seems that way: “Businessman Ron Johnson, endorsed at last weekend’s state Republican Convention, is now running virtually even against incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold in Wisconsin’s race for the U.S. Senate.”

Do evangelicals show more devotion to and knowledge of Israel than many American Jews? “The evangelical may not be able to identify Saint Anthony, Christopher, or Demetrius of Thessalonik, but we know—and revere—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. To paraphrase an old Willie Nelson song, our heroes have always been Hebrews. Indeed, it is almost impossible to overestimate the influence of the Old Testament on the evangelical imagination. … Our theonomic justifications for Zionism are offensive to those who believe all political views much be secularized and denatured of religious influence. That, of course, is their problem and not ours. While it might not be polite to admit in liberal cosmopolitan company, there is nothing illogical or unreasonable in believing that the tribe of Judah has a historical right and providential claim to the land of Israel.”

Does Obama duck more tough questions than any president in recent memory? Obama at Thursday’s press conference: “‘There will be an official response shortly on the Sestak issue which I hope will answer your questions’ — and added that ‘shortly’ meant in the very near future.” Why isn’t the president able to give an official response?

Does Chris Matthews’s newfound criticism of Obama (e.g., “passing the hot potato” on the Sestak job offer) suggest more liberal defections from the Obama cult? Perhaps, or maybe it reminds you of LBJ losing Walter Cronkite. Well, I guess Cronkite had millions of viewers and Matthews doesn’t.

Does Rand Paul’s plunge in the polls signal to GOP excuse mongers that there’s more to lose than gain with Paul and that it’s time to look for Plan B?

Does Joe Lieberman’s hint that he might back Linda McMahon suggest that more iconoclastic endorsements might be under consideration? I bet Joe Sestak — the un-Lieberman on most every foreign-policy issue — might be a bit nervous.

Read Less




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