Is President Obama the fair, ethical, unifying, anti-partisan president of all the people that he promised to be in 2008, or is he a Machiavellian, undercover Chicago pol, willing and ready to use divisiveness and deceit to enhance his power, silence critics and advance his agenda? During the past two years, there has been ample evidence supporting both descriptions, but his address in Arizona Wednesday could settle the issue. If the President emulates his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, using the massacre in Arizona as a political wedge the way Clinton used the Oklahoma City bombing—if he adopts the philosophy of former Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emmanuel that one should never waste a crisis—then we will know the dispiriting truth about Barack Obama.
This morning, several commentators have speculated that the President will not politicize this most non-political of tragedies, despite getting strong signals from the Obama-philic news media that they would be happy to assist him. I hope they are right, but I have doubts. This most incompetently-advised of all presidents is sure to be receiving plenty of reminders about how the Dick Morris strategy for turning the Oklahoma City bombing into partisan gain worked like a charm. On April 27, 1995, right after McVeigh’s fatal attack, Morris presented Clinton with a plan based on his polling, which he included in the paperback version of his memoir, “Behind the Oval Office.” The April 27 agenda began:
AFTERMATH OF OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBING
A. Temporary gain: boost in ratings–here today, gone tomorrow
B. More permanent gain: Improvements in character/personality attributes–remedies weakness, incompetence, ineffectiveness found in recent poll
C. Permanent possible gain: sets up Extremist Issue vs. Republicans
In January of 2011, the media and others have already teed up this ball for Obama, should he be opportunistic enough to strike it.
Yesterday, long after any efforts to link Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, and harsh partisan rhetoric to the shootings should have retreated in embarrassment, the theme continued. In a jaw-dropping interview with Megyn Kelly on Fox News, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who set off the finger-pointing with his inflammatory remarks over the weekend, refused to back off of his accusation that Rep. Giffords’ shooting was somehow primed by intemperate political discourse, even after acknowledging that there was no indication that this was true, and that Jared Loughner was mad as a hatter. Dupnik was the personification of the old line, “My mind’s made up; don’t confuse me with facts.” But the media was hardly any better. On MSNBC’s “Hardball,” for example, Chris Matthews continued to show the year-old Sarah Palin map of targeted House seats, with Giffords’s district in the cross-hairs. Since there is absolutely no indication that Loughner paid any attention to Palin, and a great deal of evidence that he was driven to violence by factors having nothing to do with politics, how can this be justified, except as a dishonest and unfair attempt to get the public to associate Palin with five murders and 20 shootings? It seems to be working, too: on “TMZ”, a reader poll yesterday asked if Sarah Palin shared blame for the shootings. 45% answered “yes”. Gee…I wonder where they got that idea?
The network news anchors’ handling of the story was uniformly disgraceful, broadcast journalism at its worst:
- “It was, by all accounts, a lone and very disturbed man who shot that gun on Saturday,” ABC’s Diane Sawyer began, “but nonetheless, as we all know, a lot of people began asking questions for different reasons. Is this a moment we can talk about what is civility and respect in America?”
No, it isn’t—because the shooting had absolutely nothing to do with civility and respect. Any time is a good time to talk about civility and respect, except when the timing is manipulated to make vigorous debate appear to be an accessory to murder.
- From Tucson, CBS’s shameless Katie Couric set up the story this way: “We may never know for sure what drove Jared Loughner to open fire here last Saturday, but some, on both ends of the political spectrum, say the vitriolic rhetoric we hear every day was a factor.”
Yes, and some say that Dick Cheney was behind 9/11, and some others say that Barack Obama was born in Nigeria…and all of these “some” have exactly as much legitimacy and relevance as the “some” who say that “vitriolic rhetoric” is what caused a madman obsessed with mind-control to start shooting. You know who the “some” are, Katie? You, and other unprofessional, biased journalists trying to turn a massacre into public anger at conservatives.
- Over at NBC, anchor Brian Williams queried: “Has political speech in this country become too charged, too toxic, and did it play a role in this tragedy?”
Since the obvious answer to the second question is “no”, why ask the first question—unless Williams was trying to suggest that the answer to the second question was “yes”?
- To me, the most disingenuous comment of all was NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who dealt this bit of intellectual dishonesty: “Whether or not there is any connection between Saturday’s shooting and angry rhetoric, it has certainly reignited the debate over political speech between right and left.”
And why is that, Andrea? It is because you and your colleagues, in a naked display of partisan reporting, chose to create a connection that did not exist.
It fell to ABC’s Jake Tapper to complete the media’s total distortion of the Tucson shooting into an indictment of Palin, the Tea Party, Rush Limbaugh, and the rest. “One acquaintance from 2007 said the shooter was liberal and his obsession with Giffords pre-dates Sarah Palin’s much criticized map of congressional targets for defeat, including Giffords, by three years,” Tapper said. “So, from the right, come charges of political opportunism by the left.” “From the right?” Perfect: now criticism of the media’s atrociously biased and incompetent reporting is labeled “partisan,” giving the Washington Post, New York Times, and others leave to dismiss it as “a conservative media story.”
It is not a conservative news story. Every fair journalist, commentator, public figure and citizen should be outraged over the attempt to politicize a completely non-political tragedy. Every fair journalist, commentator, public figure and citizen should resent the effort to use the Tucson shooting to attack the Tea Party, Sarah Palin and talk radio, whether they agree with them or not. So far, only Senator Dick Durbin, media critic Howard Kurtz and a hand-full of others have been distinguished themselves on the left.
Will Obama join them in his speech tomorrow? That may be too much to ask, though it would certainly show him to be a true statesman. If he confines his remarks to the event itself, its senselessness, and the importance of all Americans standing united against violence, whatever its motivation, that will be enough.
If however, President Obama mentions tolerance, civility, the need to “turn down the rhetoric,” or any other themes based purely on the media-fabricated connection between conservative criticism of Democratic policies and a Mein Kampf-reading registered Independent who had lost his mind, we will know that Obama is following his White House’s own Oklahoma City game plan, and that will settle any lingering questions about his integrity, fairness, judgment, courage and character.
Let us hope that he passes the test.
UPDATE: Not only did the President not support the dishonest and partisan blame-casting, but specifically rejected it. He not only passed his ethics test; he aced it.