Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Reading the tea leaves on Obama's Afghanistan policy and self-marketing

Getting information by watching our TV infotainers playing pundits has gotten to be almost an occult science. You need to know the general habits of the puniditocracy, many of which are hard to explain by any normal human psychology. Their obsession with stories about sex and interns, for example. And you often need to know the particular approach of individual pundits within that larger range of pundit conventional wisdom and meta-scripts about events and people.

Bob Woodward became a legendary investigative journalist eons ago for his coverage of the Watergate scandal. He's long since become a celebrity stenographer more concerned about his Access to important people than in anything we might call actual journalism. He was a favorite stenographer for the Bush administration until they became less popular than the bubonic plague. Now he's working on a book about the Obama administration, and he knows that its faithful stenography that provides him his precious Access by the rules of the Beltway Village.

So on Meet the Press 01/14/09, he was defending the Obama administration like you would expect a loyal Party official to do. (Just to be clear, this has to do with acting as a stenographer to the powerful, not with the imaginary Liberal Press Conspiracy of Republican fantasies.) On the matter of the base being disappointed with Obama, the former journalist Woodward actually said, "So, you know, all of these pronouncements about disappointment and so forth I think are crap." In the Village, it's okay to say that about liberals' disappointments because punching a hippie is always welcome.

On health care reform, Woodward defended him in this not-entirely-coherent way against Republican charges that he's a socialistcommunistnazifascist:

MR. GREGORY: What about the impact of the president? Does he have--what, what does he do coming in at the last minute?

MR. WOODWARD: Well, I mean, it may help. It may hurt. But, you know, what's interesting from, who is Barack Obama as president? And, and, and there are people who tried--there was a column The Washington Post Friday in which Charles Krauthammer tried to essentially say he is a European-style socialist because of health care and he's trying to do these other things. Now, I'm trying to do a book on President Obama, and calling him a European socialist is just not even in the ballpark. It's like taking and calling President Bush, because he arranged and worked with Teddy Kennedy on No Child Left Behind, or a prescription drug plan for the elderly, calling George Bush a European socialist, which would be absurd. [my emphasis]
Then came a part that made me do a double-take:

MS. [KAREN] HUGHES: ...but, Bob, would you, would you admit that he has governed far to the left of the way he campaigned? He campaigned as a centrist and has not governed that way.

MR. WOODWARD: Listen, I tell you, look at so many of these things that he's done with the economy, so many of these things in national security. He sent--ordered 51,000 troops to Afghanistan. I mean, I mean that's something...

MS. HUGHES: And I, and I think that was right, and I applaud him for that. I, I applaud him for that decision.

MR. WOODWARD: OK, but that is a defining decision. Anyway, but we'll see whether it works out and how it turns out. [my emphasis]
Woodward seems to be sliding into the fragmented-sentence incoherence that has dogged pundit Mark Shields for years. But I was struck by the fact the he held out Obama's escalation of the Afghanistan War as a defining decision against the left in the Democratic Party, i.e., against the hippie liberal tree-hugging health-care reformers.

I don't know how much if anything that means. But it struck me as a bit of an odd comment. Obama ran for President in 2008 promising to escalate the war in Afghanistan. So how is that "a defining decision" against the dirty filthy hippies? In my mind, Obama's decision to come down hard in favor of taking the public option out of health care reform was the most important "defining decision" he made as far as rejecting the Party liberals and progressives because not only was it a key issue, it was an issue on which they were supporting Obama's clearly stated position. And it's not a trivial matter. In the private-insurance-based structure of the heath reform bills under negotiation in Congress, excluding the public option is decisive in making it largely an insurance company profit guarantee bill and radically undercutting the consumer protections.

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"It is the logic of our times
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That we who lived by honest dreams
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