The debate over Michelle Obama’s ill-advised foray into hashtag diplomacy–itself a misbegotten creature whose birth we will live to regret, if we don’t already–has turned nasty and stupid, and, of course, partisan, with the media, so incapable of objective analysis now that it hurts even to watch it pretend, rushing to defend the First Lady who walked right into this spinning blade, and should have known better.
Some observations and conclusions:
- When the First Lady, any of them, presumes to wade into policy matters with the force of her husband’s office behind her, he is presumed to approve. When the policy matter involves international diplomacy, which, we hope, is carefully planned, whatever action or statement the First lady makes is indistinguishable from a Presidential action. Would the President of the United States appear anything other than weak and ridiculous if his response to any international crisis was to hold a sign in a photograph for Twiiter and make a frownie-face? No. Therefore, it was damaging to the President, the office and the nation for Michelle to tweet the same, but with her in his place, out to the world.
- Two analogies, one real and one hypothetical, come to mind. In his short term of office, President Gerald Ford’s major domestic problem was exploding inflation, and he obviously had no idea what to do about it. His “program,” essentially, consisted of publicizing the mantra “Whip Inflation Now!,” most prominently embodied with the infamous “WIN” buttons. Ford was widely ridiculed by this exercise in futile gesture and magical thinking. He deserved it. Michelle’s stunt—it is a stunt—is redolent of Ford’s buttons.
The hypothetical: Imagine if the U.S. and the world’s (disgraceful and ) general policy of contrived ignorance of the Holocaust prior to our entering World War II was addressed by FDR having his “legs,” Eleanor, pose for a photo as she held up a sign reading “Save the Jews”…and frowning.
- Michelle Obama’s photo would not have provoked anything near the negative response it did if her husband’s response to foreign violence and crises generally, notably in Syria and the Ukraine, but also Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, had not been so consistently dithering, feckless, blustering, weak and ineffective. Coming from the home of a strong, respected and feared leader willing to project American power, the photo and sign would have been regarded as, at worse, a gaffe. In this context, it is a self-indictment, verging on the pathetic, even frightening.
- Conservative critics, notably Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, made the gaffe worse, and expanded the incident into a teeny ethics train wreck, by leading the charge to condemn it and doing so in nasty, mocking terms. This allowed media lackeys and the progressive brigade to change the subject, as they have learned to do by necessity since the Administration keeps embarrassing itself. Now the issue became conservative meanness, because these monsters don’t even care about 200 kidnapped girls, and can only ridicule someone who really cares. Since Limbaugh and Coulter are perhaps the favorite boogeypersons of the Left, and because they mainly deal in barbed rhetoric as a matter of style, they made it easy for foes to obscure the real issue: the juvenile, foundering, inept performance of the Obama administration in international diplomacy. Coulter and Limbaugh were not, of course, ridiculing the good intentions of Michelle’s act, but the futility of it, and what it says to the world about American power under this, very weak, President. They allowed their message to be distorted, however, and that was irresponsible on their part.
- Meanwhile, the progressive media, like Media Matters, furiously condemned criticism of Michelle on the ground that the photo was not all that the Administration was doing to “bring back our girls,” and quoted officials like Secretary of State John Kerry saying that the as yet unspecified number of personnel sent to Nigeria “‘are going to be working in concert with President Goodluck Jonathan’s government to do everything that we possibly can to return these girls to their families’.” Apparently, the media regards the U.S. public as endlessly naive and gullible. Virtually everything Kerry touches turns to U.S. defeat and humiliation. Few blessed with a frontal lobe believe that the personnel are being sent for anything other than show: the U.S. tried to find that Malaysian airline, too. If Michelle’s hashtag diplomacy overshadows what the U.S. is supposedly doing of substance, what does that say? Either it was a mistake, or the administration is bungling its international image. If the girls aren’t rescued, it will be Michelle’s photo that everyone will remember.
- The news media would perform its job and a public service if it would educate the public, who are instantly charmed, like kittens with a ball of yarn, with any words or symbolic deeds from our leaders that show their hearts are large and warm, about how international diplomacy is won or lost based on matters like respect, credibility, image, and projection of power, and how grandstanding for the Nigerian girls can make the world a more dangerous place. The news media would also be responsible journalists if it had the integrity and courage to ask questions about why 200 girls in Nigeria are the focus of so much attention while other countries are experiencing outright slaughters as the U.S. issues empty threats and toothless sanctions.
Caring may be an ethical value, but in the context of leadership, caring without courage, competence and action is useless. If the American people could only learn that, some good could come out the hashtag diplomacy foolishness. It is the Obamas, however, so the Orwellian lessons being pushed by most of the media is that bad is good, dumb is wise, weakness is strength, and a First Lady posing for a photo that looks like an out-take from Sesame Street is the way to stop brutal terrorists in Nigeria.