Sunday, December 18, 2016

Obama On Our Worthless Press

Say what you want about Obama — and I share all of the standard leftist gripes about his presidency, i.e., he’s too cozy with Wall Street and corporate America, he’s too centrist, he’s too accommodating with Republicans, he’s too fond of the surveillance state, etc. — but there is one thing about him that I’ve always admired and that we’re going to be missing very soon, his temperament.

Unlike a disturbingly large number of his countrymen, particularly in the press and the Republican party, Barack Obama is a mature adult. He doesn’t engage in juvenile Twitter wars or dwell on them at unseemly length, unlike a certain president-elect and many Very Serious Pundits. He’s calm and rational. He doesn’t make hasty and emotional decisions. He weighs evidence, ponders outcomes, and isn’t swayed by narrow partisan biases. In short, he thinks. He has, if nothing else, the temperament of a statesman.

Obama is the only president of my lifetime who didn’t fill me with violent nausea two years into his first term. On the contrary, I still personally like the man after eight years. I’m also a diehard Michelle Obama fan (she’s tougher than Barack, and word has it she’s much more liberal). I’d gladly vote for her if she ran for president, but she’s far too competent for the dim and venal mediocrities who run the Democratic party and far too dignified for so low an occupation as politics, which, as Gore Vidal pointed out, is a compound word consisting of poli, which is Greek for many, and tics, which are blood sucking insects.

I bring this up because Obama seems blessedly immune to the anti-Russian hysteria that is now engulfing the Kool Kids in Washington. Once again, unverified assertions from anonymous official sources have them all hot and bothered and eager for a Tough Response. It was up to the President on Friday to clarify for these illustrious journalists that, no, Russia did not tamper with the election. They hacked into the Democrat’s emails and leaked them to the public. They didn’t directly interfere with the election itself. Votes were’t changed or suppressed. The integrity of the electoral process was not compromised. It remains as pure and sacred as the Supreme Court and the Diebold corporation left it.

By contemporary ethical standards this barely qualifies as a ratfuck. Your average Wall Streeter commits graver felonies before lunch every day. It is not a threat to our democracy, and it certainly doesn’t justify ratcheting up tensions between the U.S. and Russia.

But as every Hillary supporter is now crying, these leaks disadvantaged Clinton and threw the election to Trump. Maybe so, maybe not, but Obama made an interesting comment about this during his last press conference:
And the truth is, is that there was nobody here who didn’t have some sense of what kind of effect it might have. I’m finding it a little curious that everybody is suddenly acting surprised that this looked like it was disadvantaging Hillary Clinton because you guys wrote about it every day. Every single leak. About every little juicy tidbit of political gossip — including John Podesta’s risotto recipe. This was an obsession that dominated the news coverage.

So I do think it’s worth us reflecting how it is that a presidential election of such importance, of such moment, with so many big issues at stake and such a contrast between the candidates, came to be dominated by a bunch of these leaks. What is it about our political system that made us vulnerable to these kinds of potential manipulations — which, as I’ve said publicly before, were not particularly sophisticated.
If the media had been doing its job and covering the actual policy differences between the two candidates, the leaks wouldn’t have mattered. If they did  hurt Hillary, a shallow and incompetent press has only itself to blame.

For the record, I don’t think the leaks had anything to do with Clinton’s defeat. Niether Putin nor Comey nor Bernie Sanders nor the fucking tooth fairy prevented Hillary from going to Wisconsin during the election. She was a bad candidate who ran a bad campaign. I do, however, agree with the larger point Obama is making: the press is vapid and consumed with trivia. Had it done its job, the public would have had more relevant information about the candidates and a clearer perspective about what was at stake in the election. If there is any group outside of the Clinton campaign and the DNC who is responsible for the catastrophe that has befallen us, it is the mainstream political media.

No comments: