From the December 18 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
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I'm a little late to the party, but the attempt by Politico's John Harris to throw a bunch of anti-Obama themes agains the wall in hopes of something gaining traction probably can't be scrutinized too much. And while there are individual absurdities contained in the article, the real problem is much broader than the bogus examples Harris uses.
Sure, there are questionable and overly-simplistic assertions; this is, after all, Politico.
Like Harris' claim about "The flight of independents away from Democrats last summer," which ignores the question of the extent to which this is a result of existent independents shifting away from Democrats, as opposed to the pool of Democrats becoming more conservative as a result of the ever-decreasing number of people willing to call themselves Republicans.
Or his linkage of "fiscal discipline" with "spending reductions that would cramp his own agenda and that of congressional Democrats," despite the fact that a significant part of that agenda -- health care reform, which Harris portrays as inconsistent with fiscal discipline -- would actually reduce the deficit.
Then there's the hilarious disclaimer on the entry about the Obama White House being "dominated by brass-knuckled pols": "This is a storyline that's likely taken root more firmly in Washington than around the country." Hilarious because that could aptly describe much of Harris' piece. Are we really supposed to believe, for example, that all across America people are lamenting Barack Obama's failure to be an "American exceptionalist"? Please.
And the utter inanity of describing the White House's "delight in public battles with Rush Limbaugh" as "Chicago-style politics." For decades, "Chicago-style politics" has referred (fairly or not) to things like voter fraud and corruption. Now John Harris waters it down to criticizing a loud-mouth hate-radio host? Was George H. W. Bush engaging in "Chicago-style politics" when he denounced "sleazy" questions from CNN? Was his son doing so when he told people not to believe what they saw on CBS news? Of course not; such a description would have been nothing short of stupid. But now Politico applies it to similarly mundane actions by the Obama White House. Why? Because he's from Chicago, I guess. So anything he does is "Chicago-style politics," if you're desperate to make him look bad.
And there's this: "If you are going to be known as a fighter, you might as well reap the benefits. But some of the same insider circles that are starting to view Obama as a bully are also starting to whisper that he's a patsy. It seems a bit contradictory, to be sure." Yeah, to be sure. Thank you, Politico, for explaining to us that Barack Obama is both damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. Really insightful stuff. Harris acknowledges "In truth, most of these episodes do not amount to much," so I won't bother responding to them.
But none of that is the real problem with Harris' piece. The real problem is simple: Why? You could write an article about storylines that could be damaging to any politician at any time -- particularly if you get to include, as Harris did, potential storylines. (And you could probably find less inane explanations than these for most politicians.) Why Barack Obama, why now?
Absent a reason -- and none is given -- the Politico article isn't analysis and it isn't information; it's a hit piece. It's an attempt to crystalize negative sentiment among Washington insiders, if not Americans.
There are people whose job it is to wake up in the morning and list things bad things about Barack Obama, for no reason other than making Obama look bad. Their paychecks say "REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE" on them, and they do not pretend to be journalists. Then there are Politico reporters -- though it is at times awfully difficult to tell the difference.
UPDATE: I see that Politico's Ben Smith reflexively calls Harris' piece "smart" (probably a smart move, given that Harris is editor-in-chief.) But then Smith subtly undermines his boss's work: "It probably doesn't hurt the White House that many of these narratives contradict one another." Yeah, probably not.
The Politico's Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei wrote that unnamed "Bush advisers are considering ways to call attention to scientists' announcement, which the White House believes was lost in Thanksgiving week, about discoveries that could lead to the creation of stem cells without embryos -- a vindication, in the view of Bush's aides, of his reservations about approving broader federal funding of embryonic stem cell research." But Allen and VandeHei did not note that the senior author of the paper that announced that discovery, James Thomson, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that the research "[f]ar from vindicat[es] the current U.S. policy of withholding federal funds."