Add Commentary's John Podhoretz to the growing list of conservative writers who, in the wake of Obama's easy re-election win, are voicing concern about the Republican Party's approach and are worried that players within the conservative movement are damaging its chances to effectively counter the Democratic president. But also add John Podhoretz to the list of conservatives who refuse to type the phrase "Fox News" when detailing who's to blame for the GOP's tarnished reputation.
This has become something of a conservative formula in recent months: Bemoan the state of the GOP, denounce its messaging failures, and urge introspection and the courage to change course.
Missing from the equation? Singling out any of the culprits, any of the national media voices, to blame for Republican woes.
Podhoretz, for instance, claims that the contradictory caricature of the president created by Obama's critics, that he's a lightweight in over his head who's also a ruthless power-hunger pol, "has done perhaps irreparable harm to the central conservative cause of the present moment." By spending the last five years falsely portraying Obama, and often doing it an outlandish manner via "excessive alarmism," his most fevered opponents have made themselves appear "foolish" and easy to dismiss, Podhoretz wrote. It's time for "serious arguments," he counseled, even though they "may not sell gold coins as quickly."
But who's guilty of selling gold coins off alarmist attacks on Obama? Podhoretz never actually says, although its obvious Fox News has been central in promulgating the bizarre, cartoonish depiction of Obama that the writer claims has diminished conservatives in recent years.
President Obama's reelection has prompted more than a few conservative pundits and journalists to look inward and contemplate the weaknesses of the right-wing media model that obsesses over partisan minutia, eagerly chases phantom scandals, nosedives down ideological rabbit holes, and excludes dissenting voices. It's an interesting discussion, but it's hampered by the fact that the same people calling for change are themselves backsliding into the behaviors they want to correct.
Commentary editor and columnist John Podhoretz offers a pure distillation of this recidivist phenomenon. "Time To Get Serious," writes Podhoretz for the April issue of Commentary, arguing that after 6 years of treating Obama as alternately a "lightweight" political incompetent and a power-mad would-be dictator, and with nothing but two electoral drubbings to show for it, conservatives have to "come to grips" with Obama's political skill:
It's not just the comforting delusion that he's a golf-mad dilettante, but also the reverse-negative image of that delusion--that Obama is a not-so-secret Marxist Kenyan with dictatorial ambitions and a nearly limitless appetite for power. That caricature makes it far too easy for Obama to laugh off the legitimate criticisms of the kind of political leader he really is: a conventional post-1960s left-liberal with limited interest in the private sector and the gut sense that government must and should do more, whatever "more" might mean at any given moment.
Podhoretz's very next paragraph, however, shows that he's not quite ready to take his own advice, as he casts the Obama presidency as a vehicle for "disaster" at home and "nihilistic chaos" globally -- precisely the sort of extremist caricature he says isn't helpful for conservatives:
The notion that Obama is a dangerous extremist helps him, because it makes him seem reasonable and his critics foolish. It also helps those who peddle it, because it makes them notorious and helps them sell their wares. But it has done perhaps irreparable harm to the central conservative cause of the present moment -- making the case that Obama's social-democratic statism is setting the United States on a course for disaster and that his anti-exceptionalist foreign policy is setting the world on a course for nihilistic chaos. Those are serious arguments, befitting a serious antagonist. They may not sell gold coins as quickly and as well as excessive alarmism, but they have the inestimable advantage of being true.
Daniel Larison of the American Conservative observes:
Of course, warning about global "nihilistic chaos" being unleashed by an "anti-exceptionalist foreign policy" is just another example of excessive alarmism that produces the same effects as the attacks Podhoretz wants conservatives to reject. No one outside the bubble of movement conservatives and hard-liners believes that Obama's foreign policy is "anti-exceptionalist" in any sense, much less in the tendentious way that it is being applied here.
It's actually gotten worse as the right-wing media now regularly unleash smear campaigns and pretend they're calling out the supposedly liberal media; nasty, drive-by smear campaigns built on obvious, provable lies.
It's an ugly trend. Just ask CBS' Norah O'Donnell and the New York Times' Jennifer Preston. Preston was maligned late last week by Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller in the form of a Neil Munro 'article' that alleged Preston was somehow advising the White House about its Twitter strategy regarding the debt ceiling debate.
The claim, based on Munro's (purposefully?) absurd misreading of Preston's tweets, was almost comical in its foolishness. (She never offered the White House any advice.) As the Washington Post's Eric Wemple noted, the Daily Caller attack was nothing more than an indefensible "cheap shot." Preston, who often covers social media for the Times, was simply doing her job by asking which hashtag to follow after the president urged people to tweet their thoughts on the debt debate to their representatives.
Nonetheless, the smear excited the GOP Noise Machine as the usual suspects (i.e. the ones allergic to fair play) eagerly pushed the non-story, which then prompted further attacks against Preston online.
We saw the same kind of cheap shot aimed at CBS's Norah O'Donnell yesterday. Like the ugly Daily Caller ambush, the sloppy O'Donnell smear was also utterly fabricated.
At Commentary, Seth Mandel implausibly claimed O'Donnell had harangued White House spokesman Jay Carney during a briefing about the debt deal, complaining "we" got "nothing" out of the negotiations. In other words, Mandel pretended O'Donnell, speaking on behalf of the liberal media, was mad about the debt negotiations. (Not progressive enough!)
Right, except the video of the exchange makes it perfectly clear O'Donnell said this [emphasis added]:
I hear Democrats saying you gave them everything they wanted and we got nothing!
This is pure sophistry. And trying to defend it is pointless.
Writing for conservative Commentary magazine, Peter Wehner issues a stern warning about Glenn Beck [emphasis added]:
It's hard to tell how much of what Beck says is sincere and how much is for show. Whatever the case, and even taking into account the entire MSNBC lineup, Glenn Beck has become the most disturbing personality on cable television. One cannot watch him for any length of time without being struck by his affinity for conspiracies and for portraying himself as the great decoder of events.
All this is quite troublesome in its own right. But what ought to worry conservatives in particular is that Beck not only has the unusual capacity to discredit virtually every cause he takes up; he also confirms the worst caricatures of the right.
Wehner also notes that it's "only a matter of time" before Beck "blows apart professionally."
Right-wing media seized on Fox News and Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) reports and claimed that in December "five Muslim soldiers" were "arrested for trying to poison the food supply at Fort Jackson," often while fearmongering about a "jihadist" plot against the base or speculating that the delay in reporting on the allegations was due to a "Fort Jackson cover-up." The right wing has made these claims despite the fact that military officials have said "there is currently no credible evidence to substantiate the allegations."
Linda Chavez compares President Obama's statement about the Ft. Hood shootings to his predecessor's deer-in-the-headlights decision to keep reading a children's book during the 9/11 attacks:
Before he got to the issue on everyone's mind - namely the deaths of Americans in uniform - the president gave a "shout-out" to government bureaucrats gathered for a previously scheduled conference at the Interior Department, complete with appreciative chuckles. He treated the event like a pep rally rather than a tragic occasion with a wider audience than those gathered in the room. I wonder how many media outlets will compare Obama's performance to President Bush's "Pet Goat" moment on 9/11. I won't hold my breath.
I'm always amused when right-wingers take a break from angrily accusing everyone else of "forgetting the horrors of 9/11" and instead grossly understate what happened happened that day in order to try to score cheap political points.
Anyway: on September 11, 2001, George Bush was told the nation was under attack, and responded by reading a children's book.
Now, one might reasonably argue that the best thing for Bush to do during a crisis was, in fact, to keep himself busy reading My Pet Goat rather than screwing up important decisions. But in any case, that is not even remotely like anything that happened yesterday.
Some prominent media conservatives have harshly criticized President Obama's speech in Cairo, while others offered praise for Obama's address.
Discussing the fact that Sen. Barack Obama reportedly asked for orange juice instead of coffee during an April 10 campaign stop at an Indiana diner, Abe Greenwald wrote in a post on the Commentary blog "contentions": "It's not that Obama seemed to hold himself above the coffee drinkers. It's that he seemed to lag behind them. He's still on the fruit juice while the adults are sipping bitter and bracing coffee."