Obama’s Third World get-the-press rant

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - Opin­ion by Wes­ley Pru­den

Throw­ing rot­ten eggs at “them lyin’ news­pa­pers” has al­ways been great sport in Amer­ica, and some­times even ef­fec­tive pol­i­tics. But it has to be done with wit and hu­mor, which may be above Barack Obama’s pay grade.

Thomas Jef­fer­son de­spised news­pa­pers, with con­sid­er­able jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. They printed li­bels and slan­ders about him that per­sist to the present day. Yet he fa­mously said that if he had to choose be­tween gov­ern­ment without news­pa­pers and news­pa­pers without gov­ern­ment, he would cheer­fully choose to live in a land with news­pa­pers (even not very good ones) and no gov­ern­ment.

Harry Tru­man threat­ened to de­mol­ish the man­hood of a news­pa­per mu­sic critic who crit­i­cized his daugh­ter’s singing. Richard Nixon com­piled an en­e­mies list, promi­nently in­clud­ing news­pa­per­men. I made Bill Clin­ton’s en­e­mies list and dined out on it for weeks. Ge­orge W. Bush con­fessed, no doubt ac­cu­rately, that he never read news­pa­pers.

The pres­i­dent’s me­dia en­vi­ron­ment is “tar­get rich,” but as any bom­bardier could tell you, there’s more to scor­ing a bull’s-eye than open­ing the bomb-bay doors. In a fit of pique, John F. Kennedy can­celed the White House sub­scrip­tion to the New York Her­ald-Tri­bune (may it R.I.P.) be­cause he thought it rel­ished sto­ries about Demo­cratic zits and cov­ered up Repub­li­can pim­ples. The ban didn’t last; the White House soon sub­scribed again, and JFK poked a lit­tle fun at his over-the-top pique.

Politi­cians who ac­tu­ally get their re­venge on press tor­men­tors do so with rapier thrusts of whimsy and clever in­sult. An early 20th-cen­tury gov­er­nor and U.S. se­na­tor from Arkansas (from whom Mr. Clin­ton took point­ers) de­lighted in sharp thrust-and-parry with the Arkansas Gazette (may it R.I.P.), the state’s lead­ing news­pa­per.

“My wife and I have a lit­tle boy, and we have great am­bi­tions for him,” he would tell audiences gath­ered on court­house lawns at the foot of the mon­u­ment to the Con­fed­er­ate sol­dier. “If it turns out that he’s as in­tel­li­gent as we think he is, we hope to make a Bap­tist preacher of him. If he has just av­er­age in­tel­li­gence, that’s all right, we’ll send him to law school. But if it turns out he’s the vil­lage idiot, we’ll just send him down to Lit­tle Rock to edit the morn­ing news­pa­per.”

Good fun. But some­thing more sin­is­ter is afoot in Mr. Obama’s care­fully plot­ted cam­paign to de­stroy his per­ceived en­e­mies in the press, tele­vi­sion and even busi­ness. Rush Lim­baugh is only the face of the op­po­si­tion, and the ul­ti­mate tar­get of the White House scheme is to marginal­ize and de­stroy the Repub­li­can Party first, and then every­one else un­will­ing to get in the lock­step pa­rade to­ward the hazy dream of Utopia.

Mr. Obama and his White House can’t seem to get their brains around the fact that the elec­tion of ‘08 is over, and he won. A can­di­date feeds on red meat, but a pres­i­dent is the pres­i­dent of every­one, and must set a dif­fer­ent ta­ble. Mr. Obama cam­paigned with prom­ises of a pos­tra­cial, post-par­ti­san, post-ran­cor ad­min­is­tra­tion, and mil­lions of Amer­i­cans re­sponded with en­thu­si­asm. The can­di­date who said he took in­spi­ra­tion from Abra­ham Lin­coln of Illi­nois now acts as if he takes in­spi­ra­tion from the dis­tin­guished states­men of the Third World, where press op­po­si­tion to the leader is usu­ally a bloody no-no.

The re­mark­able White House at­tempt to de­fine which news or­gani- za­tion is le­git­i­mate and which is not be­gan in Au­gust, as Mr. Obama’s poll num­bers be­gan a dra­matic slide. Sud­denly the man who yearns to be the per­ma­nent pres­i­dent of the Stu­dent Body, loved by all and adored by the co-eds and their ma­mas, is ren­dered hu­man af­ter all. Anita Dunn, the di­rec­tor of White House com­mu­ni­ca­tions, says that when the ad­min­is­tra­tion be­gan plan­ning for au­tumn (with im­por­tant gu­ber­na­to­rial races in New Jer­sey and Vir­ginia), the pres­i­dent “needed to be more ag­gres­sive in defin­ing what the choices are, and in pro­tect­ing and push­ing for­ward our agenda.”

Rush Lim­baugh, Matt Drudge and Fox News are big enough to take care of them­selves, but the im­pli­ca­tions of what the Oba­ma­nauts are try­ing to do are scary, in­deed. Brisk and even bru­tal op­po­si­tion is some­thing ev­ery pres­i­dent must en­dure; it’s a pity that Mr. Obama skipped school the day the class stud­ied Amer­i­can his­tory. The can­di­date in­sists that the crit­ics who scoff that he isn’t re­ally the mes­siah, but an­other Chicago politi­cian, are just be­ing cyn­i­cal. This week Ms. Dunn in­sisted that the Obama im­age is in­tact. “He’s who he has al­ways been.” So we are learn­ing, to wide­spread sor­row.

Wes­ley Pru­den is ed­i­tor emer­i­tus of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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