For a long time now progressives have been pointing out that many mainstream commentators use a particularly vacuous and indeed dishonest kind of argument when they decide to criticize Obama. Rather than criticize Obama for failing to employ some specific alternative strategy to overcome GOP sabotage, they simply toss out metaphors and clichés about “strength” and “Weakness”, “arm-twisting” and “muscle” as if macho posturing by itself were a coherent political strategy.
Progressives call this the “Green Lantern” view of the presidency, the idea that presidents have essentially limitless power if they simply choose to wield it. It’s an essentially dishonest form of criticism because it allows a columnist to write an entire column blaming Obama for failing to overcome GOP resistance without once noting the unprecedented GOP resistance itself or proposing how it could actually be overcome.
Today’s Times has a particularly egregious example: in a single, short column Timothy Egan tosses out no less than 10 vacuous, clichéd criticisms.
Gaze in awe:
…too often, Obama (1) phones it in from 35,000 feet, far from the (2) sweat, grime and blood of the battlefield of politics.
[He] continues to (3) give limp speeches and moan about how he can’t get anything done with a Congress of Neanderthals and talk-radio spawn.
[He] did not (4) have enough muscle to (5) marshal through something favored by 90 percent of the American people — background checks to keep criminals and crazy people from getting guns.
He’s allowed himself (6) to get boxed in…
[His] policies — on immigration, marriage equality, tax fairness, guns — are sound and have majority support…It’s the way he runs the executive branch, (7) his fear of taking the fight to Republicans, that is so maddening.
… (8) He’s defensive, forced to defend his presidency as still being alive and well. Obama doesn’t have to be Lyndon B. Johnson, (9) twisting elbows to shape history. But maybe he can hire an L.B.J.
(10) Leaders find a way.
My god, just look at this forest of clichés. You can criticize Obama all you want but let’s face it, this drivel reads like something that was written by a computer program that randomly accessed a database of clichés and spit them out in any arbitrary order.
And here’s an interesting contrast to consider: study the editorial pages of New York Times and the Washington Post and count how many commentaries you can find that criticize a major Republican Party figure with a similar blizzard of 10 equally vacuous clichés.
The fact is that you can count such commentaries on the fingers of one thumb. The Times and Post simply will not run commentaries of that kind because they would appear too blatantly “partisan,” “extreme” and “polemical.” It’s only with the president that they feel free to run relentlessly negative commentaries and pretend that they are dispassionate analysis.
America’s problem is not just that we have a political party that has descended into a profoundly dangerous extremism. It’s that we also have a mainstream media that is in a clinical state of denial about that basic reality.