Monday, November 30, 2009

Our Failed Media

The lead Politico piece of the day highlights "7 stories Barack Obama doesn't want told." The idea, apparently, is to identify seven media narratives that have the potential to catch on -- especially if they're picked up and repeatedly tirelessly by outlets like Politico -- and undermine President Obama's standing.

It's not an especially enlightening list, and most of the seven are pretty predictable -- the president needs more fiscal discipline; he's too thoughtful and appreciative of nuance; his White House is too mean ("the Chicago Way"); his White House isn't mean enough ("pushover"); he's elevated Speaker Pelosi too much; and he's arrogant.

Of particular interest, though, was John Harris' observation about the president may not be enough of an "American exceptionalist."

Politicians of both parties have embraced the idea that this country -- because of its power and/or the hand of Providence -- should be a singular force in the world. It would be hugely unwelcome for Obama if the perception took root that he is comfortable with a relative decline in U.S. influence or position in the world.

On this score, the reviews of Obama's recent Asia trip were harsh.

His peculiar bow to the emperor of Japan was symbolic. But his lots-of-velvet, not-much-iron approach to China had substantive implications.

I don't doubt that a variety of pundits find all of this very compelling. It's not.

For one thing, the bow wasn't especially "peculiar," and no one outside beltway newsrooms seems to care. For another, the "reviews" of the Asia trip may have been "harsh," but the reality of the trip was far more encouraging. Just as important, the bulk of the Obama agenda seems focused on helping the United States regain its influence and position as the global leader -- which is the opposite of being "comfortable with a relative decline."

As Greg Sargent explained, Harris' assumptions about exceptionalism seem especially off-base.

There's been a general unwillingness [among some political reporters] to acknowledge how vastly the landscape of national security politics has shifted in the wake of Bush's catastrophic foreign policy experiments and the electorate's resounding rejection from 2006 onward of his vision of swaggering unilateralism. Multiple polls have shown that majorities support Obama's engagement of hostile foreign leaders.... The electorate even supported Obama's decision to journey to Berlin and promise a new era of engagement, which was widely ridiculed as an "apology."

Harris notes that Obama should fear a narrative holding that he is "comfortable with a relative decline in U.S. influence," but this formulation, too, is revealing. Obama in 2008 explicitly rejected the notion that pragmatic global engagement, and the willingness to compromise with other countries in order to tackle common challenges, is tantamount to risking a "decline in U.S. influence." He won resoundingly. Indeed, he was elected after insisting that it's in America's interests to carve out a new type of global leadership role built on a rejection of that world view.

Quite right. In fact, in April, the president was specifically asked about whether he subscribes "to the school of 'American exceptionalism' that sees America as uniquely qualified to lead the world." Obama offered what struck me as the perfect response: "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I'm enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world.... I see no contradiction between believing that America has a continued extraordinary role in leading the world towards peace and prosperity and recognizing that that leadership is incumbent, depends on, our ability to create partnerships because we create partnerships because we can't solve these problems alone."

It's not how the right perceives American exceptionalism, and it's not how the wired-for-Republicans media perceives American exceptionalism, but it's a thoughtful, nuanced, mature approach to the issue.

That this might be a problematic "narrative" is absurd.

C&L: Heh. Howard Dean Calls David Broder Inside the Beltway Gossip Columnist, Villager Head Explodes

This is an instant classic. Scarborough asks Howard Dean what he thinks of David Broder's attack on Harry Reid.

See, Broder wrote a column that was, of course, harshly critical of the healthcare bills. (Wars? Go faster! Health care! Wait a minute there, young 'uns!)

Harry Reid (D-Nev.) replied that the Senate shouldn't "focus on a man who has been retired for many years and writes a column once in a while."

Dean launched into a spirited defense of Reid and dismissed Broder, calling him "sanctimonious." He compared the classic "inside the Beltway columnist" to a gossip columnist.

PBS's Martin Savidge, clearly a Very Serious Person, was so upset, he was practically sputtering, and retorted that Broder "a very serious writer." Dean said the Beltway was incestuous and talking to the same so-called "experts" all the time was like writing a gossip column.

Savidge responded indignantly, "We call it good journalism." Yep, just like it was good journalism when Broder was riding Obama for not taking a running leap into the Afghan war.

Classic Villager think. Take a look, it's a textbook example.

Benen: TORA BORA...

Towards the end of the 2004 presidential campaign, John Kerry tried to raise public awareness of an issue Americans hadn't heard much about. In December 2001, the U.S. had pinned down Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora, but the Bush administration decided not to send additional troops.

George W. Bush, just two weeks before Election Day, was incensed by the criticism, and tried to characterize this as attacks on the military. "Now my opponent is throwing out the wild claim that he knows where bin Laden was in the fall of 2001 -- and that our military had a chance to get him in Tora Bora," the then-president said. "This is an unjustified and harsh criticism of our military commanders in the field."

It was an odd thing to say. Far from being a "wild claim," the Bush administration itself came to the same conclusion Kerry did -- two years beforehand.

Five years later, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Kerry now chairs, has completed a thorough analysis of the national security failure, documenting for history exactly what transpired.

The report, based in part on a little-noticed 2007 history of the Tora Bora episode by the military's Special Operations Command, asserts that the consequences of not sending American troops in 2001 to block Mr. bin Laden's escape into Pakistan are still being felt.

The report blames the lapse for "laying the foundation for today's protracted Afghan insurgency and inflaming the internal strife now endangering Pakistan." [...]

The showdown at Tora Bora, a mountainous area dotted with caves in eastern Afghanistan, pitted a modest force of American Special Operations and C.I.A. officers, along with allied Afghan fighters, against a force of about 1,000 Qaeda fighters led by Mr. bin Laden. [...]

The new report suggests that a larger troop commitment to Afghanistan might have resulted in the demise not only of Mr. bin Laden and his deputy but also of Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban. Mullah Omar, who also fled to Pakistan in 2001, has overseen the resurgence of the Taliban.

Like several previous accounts, the committee's report blames Gen. Tommy R. Franks, then the top American commander, and Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, for not putting a large number of American troops there lest they fuel resentment among Afghans.

This is not to say that success at Tora Bora would have eliminated the threat posed by al Qaeda, but the fiasco allowed the terrorist network's top leaders to escape and continue with their efforts.

The events at Tora Bora was largely ignored by major media outlets -- perhaps because they were too embarrassing to the administration soon after 9/11 -- but for the record, Kerry was right, and Bush was wrong.

C&L: Matthews Finds Another Reason to Fawn Over Bush's Top Gun Moment

Just doing my best here to help Digby achieve her life's work.

I plan to make it my life's work to remind Chris Matthews of these little exchanges. It was the day that Matthews revealed that he and the other media whores were not just shilling for the GOP for professional reasons, but that they actually had a barely contained (and inexplicable) sexual attraction to George W. Bush.

Chris Matthews finds another excuse to praise W for his flight suit appearance on the USS Lincoln.

Matthews: Before we break, President Obama’s taken flack for his war time decision making—a little too much hand wringing some critics say—not enough snap to it. But no such knocks on the way the Commander in Chief gives his salute. The editor of Smithsonian Magazine, a former Marine himself recently decreed that Obama’s salute at Dover Air Force Base was impeccable in every way. He said it’s spot on as a mastery of standards as set by the armed services themselves.

Presidents have long taken salutes from the troops that attend them but Ronald Reagan, the movie star who made training films during his service in WWII was the first to actually return those salutes and boy did he get it right. Check out the sweep of his arm there. And then there was George H. W. Bush, the WWII fighter pilot, who kept up Reagan’s tradition. Bush’s salute as you can see was less dramatic than Reagan’s but did have a snap to it.

Bill Clinton who was as a candidate was best known for his youthful opposition to a war caused some flack for his solute which was, well, it was a bit uncertain when he first took office but after a while, he got it down pat.

As for George W. Bush, who could forget this moment on the deck of the U.S.S. Lincoln? That beats even Reagan when it comes to Commander in Chief performance art. But getting back to our current president, it does seem that the president’s salute isn’t the only one he’s mastered.

Remember Mr. Spock’s Vulcan salute in Star Trek? Obama showed that off at a black tie dinner earlier this year. Live long and prosper.

Matthews does these sort of segments week after week on his Sunday bobblehead show and I assume he thinks he's being either cute or funny. Generally they're neither with this week's addition being no exception.

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