Monday, April 20, 2009

Obama & A Story In Search Of A Purpose

A top of the front page story in the Sunday New York Times (for the shrinking number of people who still buy the dead-tree version) to the effect that Barack Obama has become a cautious compromiser and even a capitulater as opposed to the bold, expectation-raising campaigner of yore, is a classic of the genre.

That The Times has shed its mantle as the leading and most reliable source of national political news is, well, old news. But its descent from the heights of quality journalism has been paved with stories like this one -- a provocative angle in search of substance that is a mishmash of innuendo and opinion but woefully short on that most precious of commodities -- hard, cold facts.

The story's nut graf:

"Mr. Obama has not conceded on any major priority. His advisers argue that the concessions to date -- on budget items, for instance -- are intended to help win the bigger policy fights ahead. But his early willingness to deal or fold has left commentators, and some loyal Democrats, wondering: where’s the fight?"

Got that? No major concessions, but nevertheless wonderment about where the fight supposedly went.

While Obama has not turned the culture of Washington on its ear, did anyone expect that he would? Or that his oft-stated commitment to govern, as opposed to dictate as his predecessor had, would not involve a certain amount of pragmatic give and take?

Mind you that Obama has disappointed me in one very large way -- his pussyfooting on the issue of torture -- and a somewhat smaller one -- not pushing to renew a long-expired ban on assault weapons.

But in a mere 100 days he appears to have begun to turn around an economy deeply in recession with a $787 billion stimulus package, $350 billion in additional financial bailout money and expanded health insurance for children. Oh, then there is the pay-equity law for women, green initiatives, insisting that automakers get their act together . . . well, I could go on.

And all accomplished with no help from the party of Beavis and Butthead.

Meanwhile, conspicuous in its absence is any mention in the story are Obama's foreign policy accomplishments:

Setting a withdrawal timetable for U.S. troops in Iraq, committing more troops and resources to Afghanistan while putting Pakistan on notice that it will not be business as usual for George Bush's favorite "ally," getting good reviews in Europe, reaching out to Iran specifically and the Arab street in general, and showing his commander-in-chief chops in the Somali pirate drama.

Obama has picked fights worth fighting, not the faux ones, and this has the news media -- as well as Republicans -- off their game. Tough shit for them but good for the rest of us.

Top photograph by Doug Mills/The New York Times

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