The Politics of Exactitude...when applied to President Obama

7.2k 32 66 11 4 Colorado Springs, CO

Wed Feb 04, 2015 19:08:09PM

President Obama delivering the 2011 State of the Union AddressBy: Pete Souza
Obama said... Obama promised... Obama lied... Obama should have... Blame Obama... If only Obama would... Obama is a wuss... Obama overshot... I'm so disappointed in Obama... Obama is the lesser of two evils... If you have been following news pundits, their guests, journalists and politicians over the past six years, both those on the left and right, there's a good chance you would have heard or read one or more of those phrases above attached to something President Obama said or did, especially if things didn't quite work out exactly as planned. Much of it is associated with what I would call the "politics of exactitude", that is, at least in the case of Obama, expecting him to be all knowledgeable, a walking encyclopedia of sorts, and perfectly clairvoyant to exactly articulate and forecast years into the future an outcome of his proposed actions. They also focus on subtle differences in his words and read into them something sinister other than what Obama intended in answering some off-the-cuff question.

Certainly much of it is done for political gain, and I can understand the Republican politics of why President Obama has been so deeply scrutinized for "gotchas" from the day he was born in Hawaii. However, what is harder for me to understand and accept is the disillusionment of Obama by my liberal progressive friends when Obama has not been able to deliver on their expectations or has had to compromise with Republicans to get something closing Gitmo. Then, you might hear, "Oh, I'm so disappointed in Obama," while totally ignoring that there are hostile Republicans intent on stopping Obama's agenda and advancing their own agenda.

The longevity of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan admittedly have tarnished Obama in the eyes of the antiwar liberals, and getting out of these wars has proven to be far more complex and difficult then he might have envisioned as a candidate for president. But did he deliberately lie? No...his intentions have always been good. His decisions are based on the best intelligence and opinions of our military and diplomatic staff rather than blind adherence to a campaign goal. Sometimes the options given to him vary from bad and worse, and even then things don't always work out as planned.

In budgets, Obama's actions have often required compromises that for many do not pass the smell test. Some blame Obama for not being tough enough by giving in too quickly...calling him a wuss. The word, "compromise", however, is not a four letter word. It is a necessity for government to function. And despite the best efforts of Republican saboteurs to shutdown the government to extract their "no compromise" demands, Obama has weathered through these battles, not always winning what he wanted, but certainly not losing either.

In elections, both Democrats and Republicans are very good at combing a candidate's past for things he/she might have said or done that contradicts their current stand or actions on issues, and then blow it out of proportion for political gain. The word "flip flop" is often used to describe a change of position...or in the case of Obama, maybe a compromise or change necessitated by recent events . Both McCain and Romney were notorious flip floppers, moving with the direction of the political winds of the state or city they were campaigning in at the time, but the mainstream media, particularly Fox News, seldom called them out for it, displaying a convenient case of amnesia in forgetting what the candidate said just a few months before. Fox News has largely controlled the narrative on the public debate on issues, sensationalizing the headline that is then picked up by other media sources as well for "serious discussion". With respect to what Obama said or did, that narrative is often couched as a lie, no matter how trivial to the bigger picture.

An example of this is the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, where Mitt Romney and Republicans along with their pundits on Fox News spent months slamming Obama for not calling the attack on our Libyan consulate a "terrorist attack". The words that Obama used in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, were "act of terror".

“We want to send a message all around the world — anybody who would do us harm: No act of terror will dim the light of the values that we proudly shine on the rest of the world, and no act of violence will shake the resolve of the United States of America.”

Does it matter one iota? Mitt Romney unsuccessfully tried to score points on this talking point in the presidential debate, but thanks to the moderator, Candy Crowley, that ploy was tanked, much to the chagrin of Republicans. Nevertheless, the issue didn't die in that debate, as it was a part of a major investigation by the GOP House of a possible scandal and cover up by the Obama administration, with investigators often appearing on Fox News. In the following months subtle points of the Benghazi timeline were made into headlines by politicians and media obsessed with the story.

The reductio ad absurdum on this issue has to go to the Washington Post Fact Checker, who in a lengthy analysis of the subtle differences between the phrases, "act of terror", "act of terrorism" and "terror attack", proclaimed that "words have consequences" and therefore accused Obama of "obfuscating" the question when asked if he had meant an "act of terror" or an "act of terrorism". The Obama administration's contention that this talking point was a "distinction without much difference" was dismissed by the WP, and with a sense of journalistic righteousness, they drove home their point by assigning Obama's defense of his statements ("act of terror" versus "act of terrorism") a maximum four Pinocchio's, which by their definition is a "whopper" of a lie. Really! Would anyone listening to Obama speak at the Rose Garden that day or afterwards, have immediately discerned the difference between "act of terror" and "act of terrorism"? If this had been anybody but Obama, would it have merited their worst possible lie rating? For this I award the Washington Post four smiley faces for the reductio ad absurdum.

I highlight this one example of the length to which fact checkers, backed by a repertoire of libraries and historical video tapes, will go to scrutinize Obama's every word for anything different from what he said before, while sometimes conveniently ignoring the context and time period in which the statements were made. The Washington Post with their "Pinocchios" and Politifact with their "Truth Meter" have a laundry list of many mundane and innocuous things Obama said at one time and that warrant "four Pinocchios" or a "false" on the truth meter. Taken in the aggregate without critical thought or analysis of their importance, one might be led to believe that Obama must be the greatest liar of all time. While they certainly provide fodder for the Obama haters, it is hard to see that they add anything constructive to the dialogue; rather they detract from discussion of the more substantive issues at hand. On that point, does anyone know what the two year GOP House Investigative Study on Benghazi concluded in the release of their report January? You might be forgiven if you asked, what report? Well the report was released and after those past two years of recriminations and investigations, the Republican-led House intelligence committee found no wrongdoing by the Obama administration in the lead-up and response to the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. Is that really newsy news? Okay let's then jump forward to what's capturing the news headlines now.

Yesterday in reference to Obama's statement that "everyone should be vaccinated against measles", the Washington Post and Vox thought they had uncovered a "gotcha" in a transcript from April 2008 during the Democratic primary campaign, in which Obama was asked a question about the reasons for the rise of autism. The transcript of his answer at the time follows:

"We've seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it's connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it." -- Barack Obama, Pennsylvania Rally, April 21, 2008.

As I first read this statement alone without the context of the whole question, I might certainly get the impression that Obama at one time was dubious about vaccinations, and essentially was in agreement with Rand Paul on this issue. However, there are two points here. First in looking at the actual video tape, when Obama said "this person included" he was pointing his finger to the person in the audience that had asked the question. In the context of the video tape, he was obviously not referring to himself as "this person included". The second point is that when Obama said the "the science right now is inconclusive", he was referring to what was causing the rise in autism rates and didn't make any intentional links between vaccinations and autism. While he could have articulated his point a little more clearly, he is answering a question from the audience and not reading from a prepared script. Anyone reading the transcript of the discussion, however, would have known that Obama fully supported vaccinations. It's the kind of lazy journalism that happens when words from years back are cherry picked looking for the next scoop, but the scoopers not taking the time to look at the full context of the discussion . Most major media have since retracted their stories on this issue.

Of course this is nothing new in the world of "Obama under the microscope". From the first day President Obama took office, Republicans were planning ways that they could obstruct or sabotage his every move and proposal, a strategy that led to Congress garnering the infamous title of the "least productive in history", but also successfully casting a big shadow over the Obama presidency. I've heard the expression, "Obama can't seem to work with this Congress to get things done". Yet, many of the Tea Party Republicans were elected to Congress on a "no compromise" pledge, and have become ideological in their mission, "if Obama's for it, we're against it", losing all sight of what might be good for America. And when progress on an issue like jobs creation is slow, "blame Obama" but not the Congress that failed to bring his various job initiatives up for a vote.

Not only Congress, but five politically motivated members of the Supreme Court have also played the Republican game by gutting campaign finance laws allowing the super rich to contribute to campaigns with impunity; by throwing out established civil rights laws allowing states to engage in voter suppression and gerrymandering; by allowing corporations like Hobby Lobby to claim a religious exemption on the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act; and by allowing red states to deny several millions from getting the health care benefits of the Medicaid expansion provision in the Affordable Care Act. The mainstream media often couch these events as "another defeat for Obama", which is perceived as a negative reflection on Obama by those not knowing the political background and the motives of the saboteurs, in this case the ideologically driven members of the Supreme Court, where their 5-4 rulings on important issues occur with regularity. The blame is squarely on Obama because the Supreme Court ruled against him. More fodder to feed the "lawless" claims by the right wingers on Obama's actions.

We must acknowledge that the mainstream media are not in the business to present a balanced and objective analysis of a news event although they like to sell themselves that way. They are corporations that profit on ratings, and to get those ratings they have to sensationalize and "dumb down" the news to appeal to an audience that doesn't care for the nuances of the debate, but rather prefer easy to understand sound bites, especially zingers and catchy phrases that they can repeat to the colleagues and friends over a beer. And in the race to be first, they often lead in with a header, "breaking news" or an "exclusive report." It seems like almost everything is breaking news anymore, and in their rush to make the exclusive report, sometimes real facts and stories are lost in the race to get out the door first.

I am writing this from my perspective of a long time follower and supporter of Barack Obama the candidate and the president, and some might accuse me of having a one sided slanted view. Both sides do it they say, and I will certainly not argue that point. But it is not 50:50 fair and balanced...far from it. During the Bush presidency, us lefties often took delight in highlighting "Bushisms", words, phrases, and sentences that Bush often mangled when trying to articulate an issue unscripted. After a while, the pundits just accepted those Bushisms as a part of his persona: "Oh that's George" as Chris Matthews once responded with a smile to something Bush articulated badly. Few maliciousness journalistic opinions were directed his way, and in fact with the media's help, much of the public looked at Bush more affectionately because of his Bushisms..."he's one of us". But the same pass has not been extended to Obama whose every word, gaff or misspoke is scrutinized for a "gotcha" to be highlighted as somehow unworthy of a president of the United States. Could it be because he is the first African American president...not one of us?

President Obama's presidency has been a success if one steps back and looks at where he started six years ago. Many of his initiatives and accomplishments are unheralded in the media, and he may not be given much credit for them in defining his legacy. I have to ask the question though. Does anyone know what happened in his recent important trip to Saudi Arabia other than Michelle not wearing a head scarf or certain Saudis not shaking her hand? I rest my case.

3 Recommendations

You must be logged in to add a comment. You may signup for a free account to get started or login to your existing account.
Say NO to Jeb
Say NO to JebNo More Bushes in the White House!

2448 days ago
Replies (0)
Well, after so many verbal gaffes and otherwise, I think it became clear to everyone that "W" Bush was a total idiot, and the flubs came so often it became too much trouble to cover them. In Obama's case, clearly he is a very intelligent and well-spoken man, so when he has a verbal gaffe, it is much more "newsworthy". There really haven't been that many, in his case.
2456 days ago
Replies (6)
I've always wondered if this is just a byproduct of the rise of 24/7 news channels and the constant need to have a scandal to sensationalize or if this is something more sinister.

Your point about mainstream media being a business is spot on. There are very few objective news organizations anymore. I watch PBS NewsHour whenever I can, but even they are largely dependent on billionaire donors who they are loathe to seriously investigate. Even worse, they sometimes skew their reporting to make sure their billionaire donors don't get upset.

I agree with much of your post, especially the final paragraph. I have a feeling history will judge Obama very fondly. The dichotomy between what he has accomplished and the vitriol spewed at him on a daily basis is telling. He has accomplished nearly everything he set out to do in 2008 outside of one thing: toning down the rhetoric in DC. He may have been naive to think he could ever have accomplish that, but he did give it a good try.
"I've always wondered..." I think you are spot-on with attributing this, at least in part, to 24/7 news and the 'entertainification' (for lack of a better word) of our news. Instead of simply conveying facts, events, and images, we are inundated in analysis and subjective criticism (it doesn't even have to be partisan--the subjective evaluation of which facts are most important or deserve further analysis obscures all news coverage today) as though this were a sophomore English class tackling Steinbeck. At least in sports coverage, the talking heads don't influence what is actually happening in the game. Politically, the influence of "analysis" is all too real. I have no doubt a Republican President following Obama would be subjected to the same style of baseless scrutiny to fill the quiet hours of the news cycle. They will be rebranded for the new President, but it will amount to the same distracting drivel that populated the last six years of "news."
7.2k 32 66 11 4 Colorado Springs, CO

2451 days ago
Replies (4)
ETWilson -- Yes are we subjected to "analysis" and switching back and forth between MSNBC and Fox News you'll get two different perspectives of what is important in that analysis. However, even conveying just facts, events and images contains degrees of politicization. And much of the public is not even able to make a distinction of relevance. So many of the issues covered in the media should be relegated to the back pages, while important events catch little attention. As long as we are spending hours discussing "trivia" such as Obama's birth certificate, or anything Sarah Palin, we are not critically thinking about what really affects people's lives.