Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mike McCurry

RE: Time to Clean House

Dana Milbank reminds me that there’s another White House aide who deserves to be shown the door: the ever-snide Robert Gibbs. Milbank explains:

Gibbs acts as though he’s playing himself in the movie version of his job. In this imaginary film, he is the smart-alecky press secretary, offering zippy comebacks and cracking jokes to make his questioners look ridiculous. It’s no great feat to make reporters look bad, but this act also sends a televised image of a cocksure White House to ordinary Americans watching at home.

This is the most visible manifestation of a larger problem the Obama White House has. Many Obama loyalists from the 2008 race still seem, after a year on the job, to be having trouble exiting campaign mode. They sometimes appear to be running a taxpayer-funded rapid-response operation.

Sometimes? We’ve been treated to attacks from Gibbs on Fox, Gallup, radio talk-show hosts, and CNBC reporters. As Milbank describes, he waves off reporters’ legitimate inquiries with the back of his hand — the perfect metaphor for the contempt with which this White House treats critics. A case in point of the abject rudeness that Gibbs displays:

The press secretary drummed a bah-dum-bum on the lectern. [CBS's Chip] Reid ignored the percussion and asked whether the “groundswell of support for a Republican in the blue state of Massachusetts for a candidate who’s running against the president’s agenda” meant that “the White House has simply lost touch with the American people.”

Gibbs gave another dismissive wave and cited a CBS News poll that wasn’t about Massachusetts.

“Good diversion,” Reid replied.

“I hate to quote CBS to CBS,” Gibbs continued with a grin.

Funny, huh? No, not really. The Obama team has brought its style of Chicago politics — nontransparent, corrupt, undemocratic, and bullying — to Washington. It makes no effort to conceal it; instead it showcases it every day from the White House press room. Gibbs in that regard is the perfect face for the Obama White House — arrogant and just plain boorish.

So if Obama is looking to turn over a new leaf — and it’s not sure that he is — or even if he wants to present a more appealing image to the voters, he’d do well to dump Gibbs. There have been some pretty good Democratic press secretaries (Mike McCurry among the best), so they should be able to come up with another mouthpiece. The message is a different problem, but the least they can do is find a less obnoxious messenger.

Dana Milbank reminds me that there’s another White House aide who deserves to be shown the door: the ever-snide Robert Gibbs. Milbank explains:

Gibbs acts as though he’s playing himself in the movie version of his job. In this imaginary film, he is the smart-alecky press secretary, offering zippy comebacks and cracking jokes to make his questioners look ridiculous. It’s no great feat to make reporters look bad, but this act also sends a televised image of a cocksure White House to ordinary Americans watching at home.

This is the most visible manifestation of a larger problem the Obama White House has. Many Obama loyalists from the 2008 race still seem, after a year on the job, to be having trouble exiting campaign mode. They sometimes appear to be running a taxpayer-funded rapid-response operation.

Sometimes? We’ve been treated to attacks from Gibbs on Fox, Gallup, radio talk-show hosts, and CNBC reporters. As Milbank describes, he waves off reporters’ legitimate inquiries with the back of his hand — the perfect metaphor for the contempt with which this White House treats critics. A case in point of the abject rudeness that Gibbs displays:

The press secretary drummed a bah-dum-bum on the lectern. [CBS's Chip] Reid ignored the percussion and asked whether the “groundswell of support for a Republican in the blue state of Massachusetts for a candidate who’s running against the president’s agenda” meant that “the White House has simply lost touch with the American people.”

Gibbs gave another dismissive wave and cited a CBS News poll that wasn’t about Massachusetts.

“Good diversion,” Reid replied.

“I hate to quote CBS to CBS,” Gibbs continued with a grin.

Funny, huh? No, not really. The Obama team has brought its style of Chicago politics — nontransparent, corrupt, undemocratic, and bullying — to Washington. It makes no effort to conceal it; instead it showcases it every day from the White House press room. Gibbs in that regard is the perfect face for the Obama White House — arrogant and just plain boorish.

So if Obama is looking to turn over a new leaf — and it’s not sure that he is — or even if he wants to present a more appealing image to the voters, he’d do well to dump Gibbs. There have been some pretty good Democratic press secretaries (Mike McCurry among the best), so they should be able to come up with another mouthpiece. The message is a different problem, but the least they can do is find a less obnoxious messenger.

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The Presidency Is Not a Debating Society

Politico reports:

The general election presidential debates can elect a candidate or send one home. So, it was standing room only at Café Milano as politicos gathered to watch the transfer of power from long-time Commission on Presidential Debates Democratic Co-Chairman Paul Kirk to former Clinton White House press secretary Mike McCurry.“We’ve got to make [the debates] more relevant so that young people enjoy watching them; that’s what we’re going to be working on between now and 2012,” McCurry told POLITICO Monday.

I’ve got a better idea: get rid of the debates. They not only aren’t relevant to young voters; they really aren’t relevant to the job of being president. Like well-prepped standardized test takers, most politicians can get through one of these things after the practice rounds, the coaches, and a healthy amount of memorization. But the ability to get off one-liners, repeat pabulum on cue, and answer any question with the same prearranged answers isn’t really the sort of thing that makes for great leadership or effective presidents.

Moreover, the debates perpetuate the myth that verbal acuity is the most prized quality in a president. It doesn’t hurt, but is it more important that executive prowess, a well-grounded appreciation of America’s role in the world, and a basic understanding of market economics? We’ve spent the past year learning that the answer is an emphatic no.

But the debates have become rituals of campaigns, as indispensable as the convention balloon drop and the suspense surrounding the selection of the VP. So I really don’t think they’re going to disappear entirely. But I think the angst about how to get more voters to watch is pointless. (Debates already get big TV audiences.) We’d do better to think long and hard about why we’ve let the media mavens and political consultants convince us that this is an effective way to assess presidential candidates.

Politico reports:

The general election presidential debates can elect a candidate or send one home. So, it was standing room only at Café Milano as politicos gathered to watch the transfer of power from long-time Commission on Presidential Debates Democratic Co-Chairman Paul Kirk to former Clinton White House press secretary Mike McCurry.“We’ve got to make [the debates] more relevant so that young people enjoy watching them; that’s what we’re going to be working on between now and 2012,” McCurry told POLITICO Monday.

I’ve got a better idea: get rid of the debates. They not only aren’t relevant to young voters; they really aren’t relevant to the job of being president. Like well-prepped standardized test takers, most politicians can get through one of these things after the practice rounds, the coaches, and a healthy amount of memorization. But the ability to get off one-liners, repeat pabulum on cue, and answer any question with the same prearranged answers isn’t really the sort of thing that makes for great leadership or effective presidents.

Moreover, the debates perpetuate the myth that verbal acuity is the most prized quality in a president. It doesn’t hurt, but is it more important that executive prowess, a well-grounded appreciation of America’s role in the world, and a basic understanding of market economics? We’ve spent the past year learning that the answer is an emphatic no.

But the debates have become rituals of campaigns, as indispensable as the convention balloon drop and the suspense surrounding the selection of the VP. So I really don’t think they’re going to disappear entirely. But I think the angst about how to get more voters to watch is pointless. (Debates already get big TV audiences.) We’d do better to think long and hard about why we’ve let the media mavens and political consultants convince us that this is an effective way to assess presidential candidates.

Read Less




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