Saturday, March 14, 2009

Acid recriminations: The media's new narrative against Obama, pushed by David Broder and the WaPo

By Michael J.W. Stickings

On its front page today, The Washington Post chides President Obama for "[reminding] the public at every turn that he is facing problems 'inherited' from the Bush administration, using increasingly bracing language to describe the challenges his administration is up against." This, the Post stresses, goes against what he said in his Inaugural Address -- as well as throughout much of the campaign, which featured similar post-partisan rhetoric -- in which he called for "an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics." In the Post's view, the "recriminations" are back, which is to say, all that pre-Obama partisanism is back, and it's Obama's fault.

Also in the Post today, as if to drive the anti-Obama point home, David Broder argues that Obama's honeymoon is over. He doesn't blame Obama as directly as the front-page story, but he focuses his attention on Democrats in Congress, as if the Democrats are the problem, falls in line behind soft Obama critics David Ignatius of the Post and David Brooks of the Times, and notes that there are some who think that Obama "has bitten off more than he can chew," a view that Broder, a long-time member of a media establishment that holds Republicans to a far easier standard than Democrats, a centrist who leans right, seems to share.

Broder is a waste of time. He's one of the most predictable pundits in a world where most pundits are appallingly predictable. That he's taking a line against Obama comes as no surprise. The punditocracy, at both the Post and the Times, and elsewhere, has decided on the new narrative, that Obama is already an embattled president, that his (Republican) critics are more or less right, and Broder is nothing if not the personification of the conventional wisdom of the mainstream punditocracy.

As for the front-page nonsense, I think Steve Benen, as usual, is right: "The problem, if I'm reading the article right, isn't that the president is saying anything untrue. Rather, we're dealing with a dynamic in which one president hands off a catastrophe -- several catastrophes, actually -- to a successor, and the successor isn't supposed to talk about it. Wilson [the article's author] chides Obama [yes, I see that Steve and I have chosen the same verb] for using 'acid' reminders, offering 'partisan' defenses, sounding 'petty.' To highlight his point, Wilson pointed to the president saying recently that 'we've inherited a terrible mess.' That doesn't sound especially 'acid,' 'partisan,' or 'petty' to me." Nor to me.

But I do think that Steve is under-representing the point of the article. It isn't just that Obama shouldn't talk about what is true, namely, that Obama inherited the mess from Bush, but that Obama isn't living up to his own rhetoric, that Obama is to blame for the return of a climate of "recriminations" in Washington.

And while I agree with Steve that "[t]he point of articles like these seems to be freeing Bush of accountability and responsibility for his devastating failures," I would add that another point is to free Republicans of accountability and responsibility both for their rhetoric and their actions thus far in Obama's presidency. Consider, after all, that it is Republicans who have been so deeply partisan, so deeply divisive, so deeply obstructionist. Obama tried to work with Republicans on the stimulus package, but what did he get? Every single Republican in the House voted against it, while only three moderate Republicans in the Senate voted for it, three (Collins, Snowe, and Specter) who find themselves alienated in their own party. Meanwhile, Dear Leader Rush and the rest of the conservative GOP base have been hurling smears at Obama ("socialist!" "communist!"), admitting that they want Obama (and hence efforts to revive the economy) to fail, and tossing around anti-Obama conspiracy theories (that he wasn't born in the U.S., for example). And yet it is Obama who gets criticized on the front page of the Post for saying that he inherited a mess? Crazy.

And just more of the same from a media establishment -- with Broder and the Post right at the center, a media establishment that the right claims is liberal but that is really just corporate, myopic, and gullible -- that swallows Republican talking points whole and that already has it in for Obama.

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