Con­gress serves a cold diss

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Jonah Gold­berg The Na­tional Re­view

“Con­gress’ over­whelm­ing re­buke of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama on a bill al­low­ing 9/11 vic­tims to sue the gov­ern­ment of Saudi Ara­bia — and the bit­ter fin­ger-point­ing that fol­lowed — was a fit­ting coda to the dys­func­tional re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Obama White House and Capi­tol Hill.” Thus be­gan a Politico ar­ti­cle by Se­ung Min Kim posted yes­ter­day. But it was the head­line — which she prob­a­bly did not write — that re­ally com­pleted the pic­ture: “Con­gress disses Obama one last time.” That word, “disses,” is just too per­fect. For eight years the press has treated Obama like the pro­tag­o­nist in some stage play, per­son­al­iz­ing his pol­icy strug­gles as a heroic ef­fort of one no­ble man fight­ing an army of par­ti­sans, racists and plu­to­crats. Even the word “diss” — with its hip, slightly edgy con­no­ta­tion — taps into the Cult of Obama, which sees any set­back for the pres­i­dent as a per­sonal, of­ten il­le­git­i­mate af­front to his dig­nity. For the record, the vote against Obama’s veto was 97-1 in the Se­nate and 348-77 in the House. Were all of those Democrats try­ing to “dis” the pres­i­dent? Is diss­ing one of the con­gres­sional pow­ers listed in Ar­ti­cle I, Sec­tion 8, of the Con­sti­tu­tion? Or do we need an amend­ment to the Bill of Rights stat­ing that “Con­gress shall make no law diss­ing the first African-Amer­i­can pres­i­dent”? As I’ve noted be­fore, the best ex­pla­na­tion for what I’m talk­ing about was writ­ten by the in­flu­en­tial anony­mous blog­ger Ace of Spades, in a 2013 post ti­tled “The MacGuffiniza­tion of Amer­i­can Pol­i­tics.” In film lingo, a MacGuf­fin is any­thing the hero de­sires. It doesn’t mat­ter what it is. It can be the blue­prints to a se­cret Nazi weapon, the for­mula for a cure to male pat­tern bald­ness or vir­tu­ally any­thing else. In “Pulp Fic­tion,” for ex­am­ple, we never learn what’s in­side the brief­case. In any story, all the au­di­ence needs to care about is that the hero cares about get­ting some­thing. Through­out Obama’s pres­i­dency he has been the hero, and his agenda has been the MacGuf­fin. “This is a movie,” Ace wrote. “And Barack Obama is the Hero. And the Repub­li­cans are the Vil­lains. And pol­icy ques­tions — and Obama’s myr­iad fail­ures as an ex­ec­u­tive — are sim­ply in­ci­den­tal. They are MacGuffins only, of no im­por­tance what­so­ever, ex­cept to the ex­tent they pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for Drama as the Hero fights in fa­vor of them.”

Ace adds: “It doesn’t mat­ter why the Hero Barack Obama wants the Lost Ark of Sen­si­ble Gun Con­trol, or the Shankara Stones of Com­pre­hen­sive Im­mi­gra­tion Re­form, or the Demo­cratic Holy Grail of Af­ford­able Health Care. Th­ese are very mi­nor de­tails and only mat­ter to the ex­tent the Hero ex­erts him­self to achieve them.” I should add that on the ac­tual pol­icy ques­tion, I agree with Obama about the Jus­tice Against Spon­sors of Ter­ror­ism Act (JASTA). I think it’s a bad idea, pushed by trial lawyers. But in “Pol­i­tics: The Movie,” lame duck Obama is out­ranked by the hero-vic­tims of 9/11 in pur­suit of their MacGuf­fin. Alas, Obama didn’t get script re­vi­sions. “It’s a dan­ger­ous prece­dent, and it’s an ex­am­ple of why some­times you have to do what’s hard, Obama said this week. “And, frankly, I wish Con­gress here had done what’s hard.” This Olympian dis­dain for the mo­tives of his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents has played well for Obama in the past. Which is why his scold­ing about hard work is so ironic. Obama has al­ways seen work­ing with Con­gress as be­neath him. I know that the open­ing chap­ter of Obama’s his­toric pres­i­dency was all about how he was bit­terly op­posed by wildeyed par­ti­sans from Day One. But, oh, this dra­matic li­cense. Obama sought no in­put from Repub­li­cans on the stim­u­lus and then was shocked when they op­posed it. Oba­macare, too, was rammed down the throats of Repub­li­cans, though by that point they had locked into their op­po­si­tion thanks in part from learn­ing that op­pos­ing him on the stim­u­lus was to their po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage. As the Politico story makes clear, the White House was MIA on JASTA. “There’s been zero in­volve­ment from the White House. Zero,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told Politico, form­ing a “zero” with his fin­gers to em­pha­size his point. “When you have a veto like this, it takes in­volve­ment, con­struc­tive in­volve­ment. I mean, there’s noth­ing.” Asked why the White House stayed on the side­lines, Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal, D-Conn., re­sponded: “I have no idea. I don’t know enough about the way the White House works.”

Why would even a Demo­cratic sen­a­tor know such a thing? That’s never been part of the movie.

Jonah Gold­berg is syn­di­cated by Tri­bune Me­dia Ser­vices. Read­ers may write to him via email at a gold­bergcol­umn@gmail.com.

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