As Republican objections to President Obama's Cabinet picks continue to pile up in the new year, we're watching a strange collision of two favorite media trends inside the Beltway, both of which bolster Republicans.
The first is that Obama hasn't done enough to change the tone in Washington, D.C.; that he hasn't torn down the capitol's stark partisan divide. The second is that, the radical obstructionism Obama faces while trying to change the tone is no big deal. That the monumental obstacles Republicans construct, like opposing Obama's Cabinet picks, represents politics as usual and everybody does it.
It's not and they don't.
In fact, the Hagel story, in which Obama made an effort to change the tone in Washington, D.C. by including a Republican in his Cabinet, only to have the goodwill gesture trampled by Republicans, perfectly captures the skewed way the news media depict modern day politics. And the way journalists who beseech Obama to change the tone give him no credit when he tries.
Instead, we're told Obama is courting controversy, he's picking a fight, because he's doing what newly elected presidents have done for centuries in this country, he's selecting respected, well-qualified individuals whom he trusts to serve in his Cabinet. Writing for Bloomberg, Francis Wilkinson suggested that by nominating a Republican, Obama had intensified the Beltway's "polarization."
If this seems unusual, that's because it is. What's also unusual is that the Beltway press mostly refuses to acknowledge the strange obstructionist ways being adopted by the GOP as these dogged cabinet fights continue to roll out.
As New York's Jonathan Chait noted this week:
The basic assumption is no longer that the president needs only to appoint people who are broadly qualified and not wildly more radical than himself. It's that the cabinet represents a kind of middle ground between the president and the opposing party.
Chait's right. Republicans and their extended right-media attack machine led by Bill Kristol have successfully changed the rules for Cabinet nominees. And the Beltway press has let it happen without an ounce of pushback and, more importantly, without informing news consumers that a radical shift has taken place.
Media figures have smeared President Obama's nominee for secretary of defense, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), by misrepresenting Hagel's support for sanctions against Iran and his support for Israel. The media have also cast doubt on the bipartisan support for Hagel's nomination.
Fox News contributor Bill Kristol has recently headed a relentless attack campaign against former Sen. Chuck Hagel after President Obama nominated Hagel to be the next defense secretary. However, Kristol used to speak favorably towards Hagel, only changing his opinion when Hagel voted in favor of a withdrawal timeline for the Iraq War in 2007.
Kristol's opposition to Hagel was on full display today when he took to Fox's America's Newsroom to smear the nominee as anti-Israel.
However, as Think Progress noted, back in 2000, Kristol spoke in favor of Hagel, at one point describing him as an "impressive and attractive first-term senator" with a "decent shot" at becoming the VP for George W. Bush.
What changed? As The New York Times reported on March 28, 2007, Hagel shocked both Republicans and Democrats by voting in favor of a military spending bill that included a withdrawal date for troops in Iraq -- something Republicans were emphatically against. From the Times:
By a vote of 50 to 48, with a few crucial votes shifting in favor of the Democratic position, the Senate rejected a Republican effort to strip from the military spending bill any mention of a withdrawal date. The legislation will now move forward with a provision to begin a gradual withdrawal of American troops from Iraq within 120 days of the measure's enactment, with a nonbinding goal of pulling out by March 31, 2008.
The outcome of the Senate vote took both parties by surprise. Republicans were stung by the defection of Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who has not supported a timetable for withdrawal before although he is his party's most outspoken critic of the war in Congress.
"There will not be a military solution to Iraq," Mr. Hagel declared. "Iraq belongs to the 25 million Iraqis who live there. It doesn't belong to the United States. Iraq is not a prize to be won or lost."
Watch as Kristol turned on the former Senator he once called "impressive and attractive," instead describing him as "irresponsible," during the March 27, 2007, edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
Fox and right-wing media figures defended Republican House Speaker John Boehner's decision to cancel a vote on an aid package for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Following sharp bipartisan criticism over that decision, Boehner agreed to a vote this week.
From the December 9 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
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From the November 30 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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Heading into the third and final presidential debate of the election season, conservatives in the media are bestowing upon Mitt Romney tidbits of advice about how to best Barack Obama on what is considered a strong suit for the president: foreign policy. The consensus seems to be that the key to victory is to embrace George W. Bush's foreign policy without actually doing so, while at the same time being exactly like Ronald Reagan.
For example, here's the Wall Street Journal editorial board explaining how Romney can be Bush without actually being Bush:
We don't expect Mr. Romney to offer an explicit defense of the Bush Doctrine, never mind that its core tenets -- keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of rogue regimes and promoting liberal democracy in places like Egypt -- are ones Mr. Obama rhetorically endorses. Nor do we anticipate that Mr. Romney will retreat from the protectionist rhetoric he's been peddling on China, though it would be nice to hear him recognize that the biggest "currency manipulator" in the world today is the U.S. Federal Reserve.
But Mr. Romney can help himself by offering a serious critique of Mr. Obama's foreign policy that doesn't descend to clichés (e.g., "I won't ever apologize for America"), and by laying out a vision that answers the needs of both the national interest and the self-interest of everyday Americans.
Mr. Romney should also give full credit where it's due, not least because some graciousness would be a refreshing contrast to Mr. Obama's abrasive partisanship in an area where Americans yearn for consensus. That means not only commending the President for the bin Laden raid, but also for the areas in which the Administration has adopted the policies of its predecessor: the reauthorization of the Patriot Act; the use of military tribunals; the intensification of drone strikes; the (admittedly reluctant) non-closure of Guantanamo. All that should cause some indigestion among Mr. Obama's friends at MSNBC.
Good to know that the Journal has joined the ranks of the sane in dismissing talk of Obama "apologizing for America" as toothless nonsense. It should be noted, however, that they have a fair bit of in-house policing to do on that front. The Journal goes on to explain the importance of being Reagan-y:
Ronald Reagan understood that before he could defeat the Soviet Union he had to show again the superiority of the American model of economic freedom. The U.S. military will inexorably and rapidly shrink without growth of 3% or more. This theme is right in Mr. Romney's wheelhouse.
Maybe now Bill Kristol knows how Barack Obama feels.
Like Obama, the long-time conservative commentator has become a (temporary) punching bag for the more radical elements of the far-right press. Kristol's sin? Acknowledging that Romney's "47 percent" comments made behind closed doors to wealthy donors were "stupid and arrogant."
Over the weekend, Breitbart.com condemned Kristol as a "pinhead" and suggested a wounded ego was the reason The Weekly Standard editor took issue with Romney's donor comments.
Last week, Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin lashed out at Kristol and denounced him as a "windbag" in "meltdown mode." For Malkin, insulting nearly half the electorate and deriding them as lazy and irresponsible was the perfect campaign pitch for Romney to make. Because according to Malkin, this campaign is all about "about America's makers versus America's takers." (Fox News also loved the "47 percent" attack line.)
That's clearly how the fanatical far-right media see the looming November election. Yet Kristol's critique of Romney's comments was self-evident: "It's worth recalling that a good chunk of the 47 percent who don't pay income taxes are Romney supporters."
The fact that Malkin and others castigate Kristol only shows how fanatically they take the oath of loyalty during the campaign season. (And how name-calling is their first response to a debate.)
There's also an alternate universe narrative being pushed in the fevered swamps of the right-wing blogosphere at places like Breitbart.com. It preaches to readers that Romney's campaign is in great shape and that polls suggesting otherwise should be dismissed as bogus because the sampling is all wrong. (Biased!)
The suggestion that Romney's campaign is struggling is all a liberal media creation, goes the Breitbart line. The problem is when conservatives like Kristol puncture the bubble that Malkin and Breitbart bloggers hold so dear. In response, Kristol must be denounced as a fool.
And the family feud rages on.
Mitt Romney's nomination acceptance speech contained numerous falsehoods that originated in the right-wing media. Right-wing media have also echoed some of Romney's other dubious claims that were part of the speech.
From the August 11 edition of Fox & Friends Saturday:
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From the August 11 edition of Fox & Friends Saturday:
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Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak threw cold water on the right-wing media narrative that President Obama is anti-Israel, praising Obama for doing "more" for Israeli security than any other U.S. president.
In an interview with Wolf Blitzer that aired yesterday on CNN's The Situation Room, Barak responded to a question about the state of the current U.S.-Israeli relationship by saying, "I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing, in regard to our security, more than anything that I can remember in the past."
BLITZER: You've studied U.S.-Israeli relations over many years. How would you describe the relationship today?
BARAK: I think that from my point of view as defense minister they are extremely good, extremely deep and profound. I can see long years, administrations of both sides of the political aisle deeply supporting the state of Israel, and I believe that reflects the profound feelings among the American people. But I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing, in regard to our security, more than anything that I can remember in the past.
BLITZER: More than any other president? LBJ, Bill Clinton, or George W. Bush?
BARAK: Yeah, in terms of the support for our security, the cooperation of our intelligence, the sharing of thoughts in a very open way even when there are differences, which are not simple sometimes, I found their support for our defense very stable.
Barak's praise for Obama on Israeli security flies in the face of the right-wing media's false narrative that Obama is hostile to Israel, a narrative that goes as far back as 2008. These bogus attacks include claims that Obama and members of his administration are anti-Semitic and that Obama may use military force against Israel.
Just yesterday, conservative media figures added to this narrative by remarking that Obama, as president, hasn't visited Israel.
During an appearance on Fox News' Special Report, Fox contributor and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol praised Romney's recent visit to Israel while noting that "President Obama has not been in Israel as president of the United States." Fox's Sean Hannity similarly said that it is an "alarming fact that after nearly four years in office, President Obama has yet to visit our closest ally in the Middle East in what is now a very troubling time."
In fact, Obama visited Israel as a candidate, just like Mitt Romney, and it is not unusual for a president to not make a trip to Israel during a first term. Furthermore, none of the previous three Republican presidents made trips to Israel at this point in their presidencies, and neither Ronald Reagan nor George H.W. Bush traveled to Israel as president at all.
From the July 15 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
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Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, along with Jamie Fly, the Executive Director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, has written an article urging Congress to authorize military force against Iran's nuclear program.
Kristol and Fly dismissed diplomacy and sanctions as effective means of deterring Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons, arguing instead that "[t]he real and credible threat of force is probably the last hope of persuading the Iranian regime to back down." They added: "So: Isn't it time for the president to ask Congress for an Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iran's nuclear program?"
Kristol and Fly continued by arguing that if Obama doesn't ask for an Authorization for Use of Military Force, Congress should take action itself. "Instead of running away from it, administration officials could be putting the military option front and center and ensuring it is seen as viable," they wrote. "And if the administration flinches, Congress could consider passing such an authorization anyway."
From Kristol and Fly's article, headlined "No Iranian Nukes":
President Obama says a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. The real and credible threat of force is probably the last hope of persuading the Iranian regime to back down. So: Isn't it time for the president to ask Congress for an Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iran's nuclear program?
Instead of running away from it, administration officials could be putting the military option front and center and ensuring it is seen as viable. And if the administration flinches, Congress could consider passing such an authorization anyway. While any commander in chief has the constitutional authority to take urgent action to protect Americans and their interests, such legislation would give weight to the president's commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It would strengthen the president's hand. It would show Tehran that America's policy of preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon is a credible one. Bipartisan support for such an authorization would remove the issue as much as possible from the turmoil of election year politics. And the authorization could also make clear that the United States would come to Israel's aid in the event that it decides it needs to take action.
We don't expect the Obama administration to request an Authorization for Use of Military Force. But Congress can act without such a request. By doing so, it would serve the nation's interest, and, indeed, the administration's, if the administration means what it says.
Surely it is time for a concentration of congressional opinion and force capable of lifting our efforts to the level of emergency. The Obama administration may be committed to leading from behind, but Congress can choose to lead from the front.
Conservative media figures have mocked President Obama's concerns about continuing job losses in the public sector but experts say the job cuts are more severe than in other recoveries in recent decades and threaten the recovering economy.