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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

 
Politico once again proves itself a den of pitiful, middle-school vipers

by David Atkins

Politico is leading this morning with a Vandehei/Allen broadside on the latest Obama Administration "scandals." Close readers of this blog know that neither Digby nor I are big fans of this President's approach to many policy items, especially his austerity obsession and push for a Grand Bargain. That said, Vandehei and Allen show the two-bit pettiness and lack of perspective of much of the Beltway press.

Their first claim is that the President has lost "establishment Democrats." Now, in a sane world they would have written that story long ago concerning the frustrations of a large number of progressive Democrats over the President's often-too-timid political instincts. But no. Vandehei and Allen's important establishment Democrats are...Maureen Dowd and Chris Lehane. No, that's not a joke. They really said that.

The dam of solid Democratic solidarity has collapsed, starting with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s weekend scolding of the White House over Benghazi, then gushing with the news the Justice Department had sucked up an absurdly broad swath of Associated Press phone records.

Democrats are privately befuddled by the White House’s flat-footed handling of this P.R. and legal mess, blaming a combination of bad timing, hubris and communications ineptitude. The most charitable defense offered up on background is that Obama staffers are scandal virgins, unaccustomed to dealing with a rabid press.

Chris Lehane, who spent so much time managing scandals in the 1990s that it inspired him to write a textbook on the subject, is among the contingent of Clinton-era scandal hands that thinks the Obama team has botched its second-term image. “One cannot get caught up with chasing news cycles in a crisis, as that is a prescription for putting out inaccurate information that does not withstand scrutiny or the test of time,” said Lehane, whose book is titled “Masters of Disaster.”
Meanwhile, Allen and Vandehei seem convinced that the backbiters in the cocktail circuit have some extraordinary power to damage the standing of Presidents. They don't, actually, though they like to pretend they do.

This is a dangerous — albeit familiar — place for a second-term president. Once the dogs are released, they bark, they bite and it takes a very long time to calm them down. Bill Clinton got hit early and often, and George W. Bush never really recovered from it.
Bill Clinton survived his entire eight years with remarkably high approval ratings, including throughout the trumped up impeachment. There were a lot of progressive policy reasons to be unhappy with President Clinton, but that's not why Beltway courtiers had a problem with him. The D.C. mosquitoes were upset that Clinton wasn't one of them, and they made sure he knew about it. Not that it mattered. Bill Clinton, for all his personal and policy warts, brushed them off nearly effortlessly.

Nor was it the Beltway Press that harmed George W. Bush's reputation. For the most part, the press treated Dubya with kid gloves if not fawning adulation well into his second term. What killed the Bush Administration was the weight of the horrifically immoral invasion of Iraq, the utterly botched effort in Afghanistan, the attempt to privatize Social Security, and an array of real criminal scandals that should by all rights have sent a number of Bush cabinet officials to prison, and others to the Hague. (Edit: also, of course, Katrina. How could I have forgotten?) Those things have a way of dragging down a President's approval rating with or without the help of the Mean Girls of D.C.

But what insiderist drivel would be complete without a quote from King Hack himself, Ron Fournier?

“And it goes beyond even the story,” National Journal’s Ron Fournier, who covered the Clinton and Bush scandals and was once the AP Washington bureau chief, said on the show. “One common thing with Benghazi and the IRS scandal, is we’re being misled every day. We were lied to on Benghazi, on the talking points behind Benghazi, for months. We were lied to by the IRS for months and now they’re sending a clear message to our sources:

‘Don’t embarrass the administration or we’re coming after you.’”
Yeah, because Fournier has been such a friend of the Administration and of Democratic policies generally in the past, right?

Again, there are many very legitimate reasons to differ with the Obama Administration on public policy. Most of the time, the Obama Administration veers much too far to the right. On the supposed "scandals," one of them (Benghazi) is ginned up Republican mirage; one (the IRS issue) is a matter of the tax evasion and cheating of a number of astroturf Tea Party groups, combined with overzealous and misguided enforcement at what appears to be low and middle levels of the IRS; and one (the AP issue) appears to be an honest-to-goodness medium-sized scandal, but nothing too out of keeping from the alarming secrecy, spying and erosion of civil liberties that has been the hallmark of both the previous administrations while barely eliciting a yawn from the traditional press.

ButVandehei and Allen aren't upset over real policy concerns that normal Americans actually care about. They're annoyed that the President hasn't sucked up enough to the petty leeches that make up the cozy cocktail circuit whose detestable middle-school cafeteria culture cannot be subject to enough righteous scorn. Too bad, kiddos. You should go back to worrying about Leibovich and leave the actual political stuff to the grownups.


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