Maureen Dowd of the New York Times is the feckless face of dying corporate liberalism in media.
The election and subsequent inauguration of Barack Obama in 2008 ushered in a new era for news journalism that can be described as an "ethical vacuum". Under President George W. Bush journalists had dutifully, although often in exaggerated fashion fought to keep his administration accountable for such issues as the 2008 financial meltdown, the response to Hurricane Katrina, and entering the Iraq War. To be clear, the media did not cover Bush fairly but at least they fulfilled the mission of a free press providing a critical window on the state.
Under Barack Obama that pretense was abandoned. It can be excused that in the early Obama era he deserved at least the courtesy of being given a fair shake that every administration ought to get when coming to power. That's not what happened. Even before the inauguration the euphoria over the election of the first black president triggered a memorabilia craze that included counterfeit coins and medallions.
Free journalism doesn't mean it's not dumb journalism.
Of course, political supporters can be forgiven for having nerdy moments of fandom for their icons. Members of the press are expected to balance their sympathies and opinions with their obligation to present events in the most accurate way possible. How do newspapers and other media get around this? They feature among actual news reports an editorial page. In that territory they are able to sprinkle the most comically absurd nonsense and pass it off with the response "it's just an opinion bro; we're allowed to present them too".
To which the reply should be: "Sure, you can present any opinion you want, but the more illogical and unsubstantiated you get the less you can complain when critics lampoon your organization for both its bias, shameless cheer-leading of its darling politicians and celebrities, and hyperventilating about those that you oppose". In March for example the Washington Post ran an Op-Ed by Elizabeth Bruenig that claimed "It's time to give socialism a try". Her piece was only nine paragraphs long as befitted someone with a word limit in a publish-to-print publication, but only two of them dealt at all with any of her views on actual socialism. The rest of it was anxious worrying over the weakness of establishment liberalism. And even within those paragraphs there was virtually no detail about why capitalism itself was failing and there was a need for a "new" system.
After she was lampooned for days over her inane first try, Bruenig was forced to write a follow-up called "Let's Have a Good Faith Argument about Socialism". In it she claimed that all of the right-wing pundits that laughed at her ridiculously airheaded first try were acting in "bad faith" because they assumed she was referring to totalitarian socialist nations while preemptively discounting the Nordic countries as "not socialist" in order to defang her argument. But the fact is that in her first piece Bruenig was so non-specific and unfocused that one could have legitimately attacked her from any angle. She proceeded in the second article to try to bring up the relative prosperity of the thriving Nordic states, but once again she misses a key point: The Nordic states have retreated from socialism since the 1980s and continue to do so. Indeed in 2013 Norway decided to partially privatize their state oil conglomerate SDØE. Does that sound like a commitment to socialism in a country where the petroleum industry accounts for almost half of its export economy?
Barry's little helper
Political bias and blatant partisanship are only the first rung on the ladder of complicity by establishment media. In fact, one could say that it was this same media that helped enthrone Obama to begin with. In John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's Game Change, one of the most cited accounts of the 2008 election using insider accounts, New York Times opinion columnist Maureen Dowd's role in boosting Obama was revealed in startling detail (p. 86). During a February 20, 2007 party of Hollywood and Journ-O-Wood bigwigs at the house of music mogul David Geffen. With Dowd present, Geffen showed Obama a printout of a column to be released the next day by Dowd quoting him attacking the Clintons as liars.
This episode helped show that Hillary Clinton, previously though of as presumptive nominee even then almost two years away from the presidential election, had plenty of people among her erstwhile supporters eager for someone more trustworthy. Dowd and Geffen's collaboration that day helped launch the Obama '08 campaign by bringing together high powered donors and industry insiders that added to his grassroots donor momentum, and he would never look back. Dowd in turn would become one of the most shameless members of Obama's most sycophantic praise chorus for the eight years of his presidency.
In January 2013, Dowd predicted on MSNBC's Morning Joe program that ""you guys are going to be here and you're going to be discussing Obama's memoir, which he will have written, and it's going to be the most brilliant political memoir outside of Ulysses Grant". Well, we're now halfway through 2018, yes that's more than five years after and not only is Obama set for his memoir but he's getting a $60 million advance for it and some Netflix programs.
Bear in mind that Dowd's declaration at the time was not based on a specific Obama accomplishment, nor on anything that was in the offing, it happened in the aftermath of his second inauguration. Many who had been underwhelmed by his first term were hopeful for some big moves in round two. Unfortunately, the next four years would include the rise of ISIS, racial tensions in the wake of the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown shootings, and showdowns with Russia over Ukraine. Obama's last year in power seemed to be one that demonstrated that while he may have been symbolically one of the most charismatic and photogenic people to ever sit in the Oval Office, in terms of substance he was a pathetic failure who left the country more divided and dysfunctional than ever.
Indeed, his accepted successor was his most bitter rival from 2008 Hillary Clinton, and she was running on a platform to fix his most famous domestic policy "accomplishment", Obamacare. Nobody was sure what that fix was, but the fact that the law had been passed and had been a total failure at preventing the rise of health insurance premiums was obvious to most Americans concerned with the issue.
Worse than that was Obama's schizophrenic immigration agenda that simultaneously deported record numbers of illegal immigrants while also encouraging unaccompanied minors to enter the country under the Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order.
Yet this weekend Dowd's column featured the headline "Obama - Just Too Good for Us". In this reflective piece on the state of the Obama legacy going on two years after leaving office, Dowd attributes to him only two main faults:
- That he did not leave a successor worthy of carrying on his fight: "Where were the next Barack Obamas? Obama had never been about party building. He was the man alone in the arena."
- That he had backed the most "elitist candidate", Hillary Clinton. Bear in mind that defeating Clinton in 2008 was Dowd's main motivation for supporting Obama back. Dowd had been one of the Clintons' most die-hard liberal critics during the Lewinsky scandal.
But most disturbing was dissection of some quotes from Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes concerning the evening of the 2016 election of the President's remarks to aides:
“What if we were wrong?”
But in his next breath, the president made it clear that what he meant was: What if we were wrong in being so right? What if we were too good for these people?
“Maybe we pushed too far,” the president continued. “Maybe people just want to fall back into their tribe.”
So really, he’s not acknowledging any flaws but simply wondering if we were even more benighted than he thought. He’s saying that, sadly, we were not enlightened enough for the momentous changes wrought by the smartest people in the world — or even evolved enough for the first African-American president.
“Sometimes I wonder whether I was 10 or 20 years too early,” Obama mused to aides.
We just weren’t ready for his amazing awesomeness.
Maureen Dowd in a sour faced moment comes forward to claim that Joe Biden was pushed aside by Barack Obama in favour of Hillary Clinton.
In this passage, Dowd shows herself, Rhodes, and Obama for who they really are: Believers that their place in leadership is almost a matter of divine right and not a matter of public trust. This is a characteristic of Obama evident throughout much of his presidency: A deluded sense of self-importance that caused him to believe that the world would reorder itself in the spirit of his vision whether he took action to accomplish his goals or not.
- It didn't matter that the fundamental model of the Affordable Care Act was doomed to failure and was essentially throwing money at insurance companies to create a subsidized exchange, it would work because Obama did it.
- The pull-out of US combat troops from Iraq would bring lasting peace to the region regardless of whether they were leaving a competent Iraqi government in their wake because Obama did it.
- Russia and China would respond to America's foreign policy reset without taking advantage of America's "lead from behind" strategy, again because Obama did it.
It's not just Dowd but other Obama supporters that believe that he was the worthy leader of a worthless nation, notwithstanding the fact that the same electorate that elected Donald Trump had also elected him two times by overwhelming margins. They believe that the Obama Administration's mandate was ironclad for eternity irrespective of whether his policies succeeded or not. Indeed, in The Final Year filmmaker Greg Baker showcases an Obama Administration that was in autopilot until that shocking night of November 8 when America in their eyes let them down by not endorsing a third term under Hillary Clinton. The most pathetic quote is this one from then Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes:
“The irony of the Obama years is going to be that he was advocating an inclusive global view rooted in common humanity and international order amidst this roiling ocean of growing nationalism and authoritarianism.”
The famous photo of Raúl Castro holding Barack Obama's drooping arm aloft
It's almost comical to hear from Rhodes this type of self-important nonsense. He was one of the central actors in driving Obama to engage in limp-wristed diplomatic efforts toward Cuba and Iran that are still ruled by totalitarian regimes. It was also under his watch that one of America's greatest allies, the Philippines, explicitly rejected his domineering and overbearing moralization by electing one of these authoritarians, Rodrigo Duterte. This was as a result of Obama's failure to adequately support them during a dispute with China in the South China Sea.
It was Obama's indecisive approach to the Syria conflict that drove even the Washington Post and The Guardian to claim that his presidency would be defined by his failure to face down Bashar al-Assad. While this does not mean that he should explicitly have intervened there militarily, it is clear today that his incoherent and ambiguous policies with regards to the civil war there helped it spiral completely out of control and trigger a refugee crisis.
Narrative over needs
Maureen Dowd celebrating friend Sarah Jessica Parker's shoe store opening in Washington, DC in December 2016. Dowd personifies the journalist class that lives the elite life of celebrity leisure while pretending the country she never visits is going to hell.
In Game Change the authors documented the rise of Obama's 2008 campaign by including a description of one of his two greatest campaign strategists, David Axelrod:
"In the trade, Axelrod was known for being interested less in policy than in softer qualities of character and biography. His central gift was a grasp of the power of narrative - his ability to weave his candidate's beliefs and background into an emotionally compelling bundle." (p. 26-27)
It seems that over ten years later, the Democratic power-brokers that hold the keys to the palace of establishment media and party politics remain obsessed with the power of narrative. The needs of the country in terms of economic and foreign policy are subordinated to the necessity of maintaining that narrative even if there is no office for it to occupy. Maureen Dowd continues to cling to the Obama of 2008 that she, Axelrod, and Geffen cultivated as if he is still this pristine messiah figure that can redeem the sins of a country they condemn in the most moralistic of terms. In 2013 Dowd must have thought that with Hillary Clinton leaving the State Department the second Obama term would fulfill all of the visions of greatness of the Obama Administration that she had poured into her columns. She believed that the Obama-Clinton administration could be hermetically separated from the next four years. She continues to this day to preen and dote over him as if she's some sort of surrogate mother or wife to a person who is
What Dowd misses is that the general public, unlike her, are aware that once a president chooses a Secretary of State that person is the most visible representative to the world of the nation apart from the president. Clinton's indiscretions such as Benghazi, Uranium One, the email scandal, FBI hi-jinks and the like cannot be placed into a biohazard bag and labelled "Hillary's fault", because the entire administration was complicit by its actions or at least its silence in some of the worst abuses of power in the history of American government. Dowd's response to this was that Joe Biden would have been the right antidote to Trump, but once again neglects to mention any policy accomplishments. Dowd also leaves out the part where Obama and the DNC allowed the Clintonian Empire to seize control of their machinery to the point where DNC interim chair Donna Brazile claimed they were running a cult. It doesn't matter. After eight years of watching Dowd's wunderkind stumble about and fuck up everywhere Americans were not about to vote in an older, whiter, bitchier version of Obama in Hillary.
They voted for Trump, and she deserved it.
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