Are you better off than you were four years ago? For a generation, that question has come to define presidential re-election campaigns. It's a question that requires an accounting not only of where we are as a country today, but also of where we were as a country four years ago.
More specifically, it's a question that goes directly to the issue of what President Obama did with the economy he inherited from George W. Bush.
It's a question that helps explain why media conservatives spent so much of 2011 gilding that Bush economy.
In June, former Reagan speechwriter and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan proposed a campaign slogan for Republicans running against Obama: "He made it worse." The pitch was economic in nature, arguing that Obama "inherited financial collapse, deficits and debt" and that he proceeded to "make them all worse."
Noonan's slogan could not stand up to scrutiny: economists agree that deficits are necessary during a recession, and Obama's policies are widely acknowledged to have lowered unemployment and boosted GDP. So it's no surprise that the right-wing media quickly embraced the slogan while simultaneously waging what became a 12-month assault on economic history to misrepresent the economy Obama inherited.
In June, Gretchen Carlson gave voice to the economic "argument" that media conservatives waged throughout the year:
CARLSON: How long can you continue to say that the hard hit recession of 2007 moving into 2008 is something that they inherited?
Let that marinate a bit. Despite acknowledging that the recession hit in 2007 -- more than a year before Obama took office -- Carlson posited that a point in time will arrive when we can all stop saying that Obama inherited a recession. That point in time does not exist: It will never not be true that Obama took office during a deep recession. Never.
But Fox disregarded the facts in leading a relentless campaign to deflect attention from the great recession Obama inherited.
We've detailed how the right-wing media is preparing to blame President Obama should the congressional super committee fail to reach a deal to decrease the federal deficit, and right-wingers are continuing to bolster that narrative.
The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan laid out such a blame-Obama agenda on the November 20 edition of ABC's This Week:
NOONAN: Look, the super committee is over, it has broken down, nothing is going to happen here. ... Look, it broke down over classic Democrats/Republicans, spending/taxes. We know what the issues were. Some people tried to make compromise; it didn't work. It didn't work mostly, in my view, contra Rahm Emanuel, because the president never got involved in this. He never pushed it forward. He could have had a big psychological effect. There were moments where they came close. The president stiffed his own defense secretary, who said sequestering essentially will hollow out what we are trying to do here.
Noonan's complaint feeds the right-wing narrative that Obama wants the super committee to fail -- which is contradicted by the fact that Obama has repeatedly called upon the super committee to "get the job done" and reach a deal. It also ignores the fact that Republicans have refused to compromise and have instead proposed massive tax giveaways for the wealthiest Americans and even more massive cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, education, and other programs Americans rely on.
As the super committee deadline draws near, look for Noonan and others in the right-wing media to keep up the blame-Obama drumbeat.
It's hard to tell which task Fox News and the rest of the far-right media are more obsessed with these days, smearing the Occupy Wall Street protest with endless name-calling, or rewriting the history of the Tea Party to make it appear so much more serious and civil than Occupy Wall Street.
The latest whitewash attempt came last night when Monica Crowley, sitting in for Bill O'Reilly, complained the Tea Party had been smeared "for nonexistent offenses. The racism that didn't exist, the signs that didn't exist."
Guest Bernie Goldberg replied that "if there was one sign at a Tea Party rally that was racist, it would get on the air. I guess I don't have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is suggesting that it was typical of the whole movement."
Crowley insisted there were no racists signs at Tea Party rallies.
If you don't recall what Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan concluded back in November of 2009, when Democrats won a special election and turned a historically red district blue in upstate New York, let me refresh your memory:
The congressional race in upstate New York was too messy, too local, and too full of jumbly facts to yield a theme that coheres.
At the time, the fledgling Tea Party focused intently on the New York race, poured money into the contest and announced the race would be a national referendum. Republicans then lost the seat for the first time in more than 150 years. After the ballots were counted, Noonan concluded the Congressional special election didn't signify much of anything, and that it certainly did not tell us anything about Obama's standing.
Fast-forward to today and Noonan is sure that this week's Congressional special election in Brooklyn, N.Y., where a Republican won in a traditionally Democratic district, was deeply meaningful and had all kinds of national implications.
Noonan can't lose with that approach.
Poor Peggy Noonan. The Wall Street Journal's knee-jerk partisan columnist has completely surrendered to Obama Derangement Syndrome and turned her weekly Journal effort into plotting out ways to express her irrational contempt for the president.
This week she calls Obama a "loser." Last week he was a "boring" "walking headache" and Noonan suggested he just "shut up."
Remember, of course, that Noonan was part of the conservative media movement that for years played defense for George W. Bush and demanded (demanded!) the office of the presidency always be treated with the utmost respect. Anything less was patently un-American. (Noonan also disdains incivility, or so we're told.)
But now with a Democrat in the White House that respect has evaporated and has been replaced with a type of absurd personal disdain that seems to be driving Noonan to utter distraction as she searches for way to express her scorn for Barack Obama.
What's curious is that unlike some media ideologues who relentlessly ridicule Obama's policies, Noonan, a Beltway media favorite, seems to be fixated on the personal in a way that defies rational punditry.
What's also embarrassing is that her juvenile bout of name-calling comes during the debt debate in which she's been trying to depict Republicans as the grown-ups and the ones trying to solve the nation's problems. (If Obama would just get out of the way!) But as Thursday's late-night non-vote on Speaker of the House John Boehner's bill indicated, that doesn't seem to match reality.
And actually, if you go back to last week's condescending column, Noonan was sure the Senate's so-called Gang of Six had figured out the debt logjam, and if Obama would just stop his arrogant grandstanding the bipartisan Gang of Six could find a way out of this crisis.
Turns out it was Republican Boehner, under pressure from far-right members of his caucus, who last week walked away from the Gang of Six deal. But Noonan's now silent on that point.
This week Noonan makes no mention that it was conservatives who torpedoed the Gang of Six plan she touted as the most promising compromise. (i.e. "It's good, it represents progress, build from it. ") Instead, Noonan simply doubles down with the Obama name-calling.
Question: Who's the real loser here?
Right-wing media have seized on a line from a Peggy Noonan column -- "he made it worse" -- and have begun repeating the false message that President Obama's policies have worsened the economy. In reality, there is broad agreement among economists that the stimulus boosted growth and employment, and most of the deficit is attributable to Bush policies and the recession.
As Media Matters has noted, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote on May 6 that President Obama's decision not to release photos of Osama bin Laden's body was evidence of Obama "displaying both a tin ear and a chronic tendency to misunderstand his own country."
On Morning Joe today, Noonan had an opportunity to directly discuss this point when co-host Mika Brzezinski asked her panel of guests: "To show or not to show the photos -- I think to be able to have a few, key select people see them is going to just have to be enough. We understand the ramifications of releasing those to the world. Does anyone here disagree with that? Anybody?"
Here's Noonan's response:
NOONAN: Well, I have a feeling that once you've shown a few key people the photos, the photos are going to get out there. The descriptions will start. And then these are things that exist in a digital sphere, these photos. They will be getting out there. I think probably the decision not to come forward with more of the evidence surrounding the killer of Osama will launch a thousand FOIA suits.
Proving again that in the age of Obama, some conservative pundits just can't resist giving comfort to fringy conspiracy theorists, the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan over the weekend blamed the president for stoking the nutty fires that burn around the story of Osama bin Laden's death. Rather than condemning the kind of connect-the-invisible-dots nonsense that now consumes the far-right fever swamp, Noonan opts to blame the victim, Obama.
Coming in the wake of recent birther debacle, it seems Obama's partisan press critics didn't learn a thing about the dangers of hyping a deluded conspiracy theory. (Paging Donald Trump….) More distressing in terms of Noonan's column is how she casually tries to mainstream the conspiracy madness that's infected the conservative movement by suggesting everybody does it.
They don't. But Obama haters sure do.
In a May 5 Wall Street Journal column headlined, "Show the Proof, Mr. President," Peggy Noonan criticized President Obama over his decision not to release photos of Osama bin Laden's body, claiming that it is evidence of Obama's "chronic tendency to misunderstand his own country" and that Obama is "letting a triumph turn into a conspiracy theory."
From Noonan's column:
However, and with our president there is always a however, he has spent almost every moment since his Sunday night speech displaying both a tin ear and a chronic tendency to misunderstand his own country. His refusal to release more evidence that Osama is dead is allowing a great story to dissolve into a mystery. He is letting a triumph turn into a conspiracy theory.
Here is the fact of the age: People believe nothing. They think everything is spin and lies. The minute a government says A is true, half the people on Earth know A is a lie. And when people believe nothing, as we know, they will believe anything. We faked the moon landing, there was a second gunman in Dallas, the World Trade Center was blown up in a U.S.-Zionist conspiracy, Hitler grew old in Argentina.
There will always be people who believe conspiracy theories, and with the Internet there will be more. They are impervious to evidence. But people who care about the truth need to be armed with evidence to refute them.
Mr. Obama misunderstands all this. He tells Steve Croft Sunday on Sixty Minutes that showing photos of the dead Osama would be to "spike the football." "We don't trot this stuff out as trophies." Trophies? Who does he think we are?
It's not about pride, it's about proof. "We got him, shot him and immediately threw him in the sea" is not enough. The U.S. government should release all the evidence it has that does not compromise security.
In the wake of Obama's State of the Union Address last week, there have been some rather childish games played by his media critics who turned SOTU reaction photos into failed attempts of gotcha. Even more distressing, the partisan attacks weren't plotted by online pests but by columnists for two of the largest newspapers in America.
First, the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan did not like Obama's SOTU last week, although the former Reagan speechwriter claimed she really, really wanted to. (Whatever you say, Peggy.) But how could Noonan support her claim that Obama's "unserious" speech feel flat when poll after poll showed viewers pretty much loved Obama's national address?
Noonan's play was to announce members of Congress were bored by the speech:
Response in the chamber was so muted as to be almost Xanax-like. Did you see how bored and unengaged they looked?
And to prove that the chamber response was "muted," the WSJ published this photo to accompany Noonan's column:
Get it? While listening to an hour-long policy speech, some members of Congress kind of looked bored. That's the proof Noonan presented to back up her claim that Obama fell flat. That, despite the fact that overwhelming majorities of viewers told pollsters they liked the speech.
Meanwhile, matching Noonan's failed attempt at a game of photo gotcha was former Laura Bush flak, Andrew Malcolm at the Los Angeles Times, who was eager to suggest Obama's speech put at last one prominent audience member to sleep. To prove his point, Malcolm published this photo of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
The caption claimed Ginsberg was in "VERY DEEP THOUGHTZ." Ha-ha! Get it? She snoozed through Obama's SOTU, was the clear implication.
But did she? Malcolm has no idea. Instead, the photo he trotted out captured a split-second image from an hour-long speech. And during that hour-long speech is it possible Ginsburg cast her eyes downward? Of course it is. But the chronically un-serious Malcolm wanted to pretend Ginsburg fell asleep even though he couldn't find a photo to prove his juvenile point. So instead he published a photo of her looking down and pretended that proved his pointless point.
Honestly, if Noonan and Malcolm had anything serious to say about the SOTU they should have said it. Playing games with crowd reaction photos however, is probably the least serious way to critique a policy address.
As her latest Wall Street Journal column attests, Peggy Noonan, the loyal GOP writer, cannot be bothered with facts or common sense when arguing her points. In this case it's being in favor of extending the Bush tax cuts for the very rich. Noonan also cannot be bothered with polling. Apparently she just knows the way Americans feel; and doesn't need silly surveys to tell her that:
Here is a reading on the psychology of higher national taxes at this particular moment. The American people know, and have made clear they know, that the great issue is spending.
According to Noonan, spending, and indirectly the deficit, represent "the great issue." The American people know that, says Noonan.
Except that, apparently they don't actually think that.
Fact: A handful of recent polls (CBS, CNN, Pew Research Center) indicate that in terms of the top priority facing the country today, managing the deficit averages a response rate of about 10 percent. It's certainly not a top priority and it's not "the great issue." But Noonan wants to pretend it is, so she ignores the polling and makes her own grand pronouncements.
And that's what she does here, arguing Obama should extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone, including the very rich:
He should confound everyone, and give a headache to his foes, by bowing to the spirit of 2010 and accepting the Bush tax cuts, top to bottom. It would be electrifying. It would seem responsive, and impress the center.
How that would impress "the center" if the American center is opposed to the GOP plan to extend Bush tax cuts for the very rich, Noonan never explains. Again, she just knows.
Meanwhile, behold the other argument Noonan makes for continuing deep tax cuts for the nation's most wealthy:
If we instead refuse to raise taxes right now, we will be setting a stage in which cuts in federal spending are the only path. Cutting spending will seem inevitable, like something that will actually happen. This will give rise to hope. There's a way out! We can do it!
Let's just take a moment to marvel at Noonan's loopy logic and ponder what it means for a political and media movement when one of its supposedly serious thinkers traffics in nonsense like this.
The Wall Street Journal columnist in the past has been very clear that civility is a must in our public discourse. The partisan Republican writer routinely condemned what she thought were out-of-bounds liberal attacks on the Bush administration; attacks, we were told, that crossed all kinds of lines and that came from the president's unhinged critics who were trying to stifle free speech.
But gee, during the Obama years, when her right-wing media colleagues have shredded all guidelines for decency in terms of their attack on the Oval Office, Noonan has remained (mostly) mum. Noonan plays dumb on an epic scale about the complete, and purposeful lack of respect that now drives the far-right media. Noonan's reluctant to call out the hate mongers on the right who now treat the POTUS as a punk and a dog.
Apparently for Noonan, when Democrats are in the Oval Office civility isn't so important. Rather, raw anger is to be celebrated as a true expression of democracy by "concerned" citizens. The hypocrisy is hard to miss. (In fact, last year Noonan lectured Democrats that they were the ones being "unhelpfully divisive and provocative.")
But luckily for Noonan, Limbaugh has provided the columnist with the perfect opportunity to be intellectual honest, because yesterday the AM talker unleashed a schoolyard taunt, calling Obama, among other things, a "jackass." Clearly Noonan won't stand for that kind of incivility, right?
Because remember that back in March, Noonan issued this warning:
[O]ne immediate thing can be done right now, and that is: lower the temperature. Any way you can, and everybody. Just lower it.
Does calling the President of the United States a "jackass" help lower the temperature? If not, will Noonan finally stand up and say so?
In her Wall Street Journal column, Peggy Noonan falsely claimed that EPA administrator Lisa Jackson "went to a New York fund-raiser in the middle of the [Gulf oil spill] disaster." In fact, Jackson canceled her appearance at the fundraiser, which she had reportedly scheduled weeks before the oil spill.
From Noonan's March 18 Wall Street Journal column:
Now for the Slaughter
On the road to Demon Pass, our leader encounters a Baier.
Thursday's decision followed the most revealing and important broadcast interview of Barack Obama ever. It revealed his primary weakness in speaking of health care, which is a tendency to dodge, obfuscate and mislead. He grows testy when challenged. It revealed what the president doesn't want revealed, which is that he doesn't want to reveal much about his plan. This furtiveness is not helpful in a time of high public anxiety. At any rate, the interview was what such interviews rarely are, a public service. That it occurred at a high-stakes time, with so much on the line, only made it more electric.
I'm speaking of the interview Wednesday on Fox News Channel's "Special Report With Bret Baier." Fox is owned by News Corp., which also owns this newspaper, so one should probably take pains to demonstrate that one is attempting to speak with disinterest and impartiality, in pursuit of which let me note that Glenn Beck has long appeared to be insane.
That having been said, the Baier interview was something, and right from the beginning. Mr. Baier's first question was whether the president supports the so-called Slaughter rule, alternatively known as "deem and pass," which would avoid a straight up-or-down House vote on the Senate bill. (Tunku Varadarajan in the Daily Beast cleverly notes that it sounds like "demon pass," which it does. Maybe that's the juncture we're at.) Mr. Obama, in his response, made the usual case for ObamaCare. Mr. Baier pressed him. The president said, "The vote that's taken in the House will be a vote for health-care reform." We shouldn't, he added, concern ourselves with "the procedural issues."
Peggy Noonan falsely claimed that "Congress' own budget office is saying" that the health care reform bill "is gonna have a very bad effect on the American economy." In fact, Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Elmendorf has said the CBO has not yet evaluated "the broad economic effects" of the bill.