Presidential Distortion

The message we’ve been hearing from the mainstream media about Obama’s push for a renewed brand of liberalism is flagrantly false.

— by Peter Hart

Peter Hart

Here’s a thought: Maybe, just maybe, Barack Obama isn’t a socialist.

I know, if you’ve tuned into even a little bit of right-wing talk radio, or watched some Fox News shows over the past four years, this might come as a surprise.

Obama, in the imagination of so many of his right-wing opponents, is a debt-loving, big-spending, Wall Street-bashing enemy of the free market. A popular far-right documentary spun out a theory that Obama’s second term would finally reveal his plan to undermine American power. It treated this plot as a tragedy, but it’s actually a comedy.

After all, what’s the reality of Obama’s political agenda? The far right believes it’s socialism, sure. But the message we’ve been hearing from the mainstream media — that Obama is pushing a renewed brand of liberalism — is flagrantly false in many ways.

imageRight after his second inaugural address, conservatives fumed that we were seeing the “real” Obama — a radical left-wing ideologue. The message from the “objective” media was not as strident, of course, but sounded similar notes. “Obama Offers Liberal Vision,” said The New York Times. He declared an “ambitious liberal agenda,” said CBS. After Obama’s State of the Union address, one veteran CNN pundit called it an “audacious speech,” one that saw Obama touting “old-fashioned liberalism” and big government.

But let’s consider reality for a moment. The highest-profile clash raging in Washington is over Obama’s selection of a Republican senator as his Pentagon chief. He’s nominated a Treasury secretary who was making big bucks on Wall Street at the height of the financial meltdown. His nominee to head up the Securities & Exchange Commission spent the past decade as a lawyer defending the banks she’ll now be keeping an eye on.

If Obama is intent on carrying out his secret socialist agenda — or even a muscular liberal one — he has a funny way of showing it.

But what about all that big government spending? If you listen to the White House, they’re often proudest of the spending cuts they’ve embraced. Yes, government spending spiked due to the economic catastrophe that began in 2008, but since then it’s been falling, as a share of the economy and relative to the size of the population. Federal government spending is rising at the slowest pace since the Eisenhower administration.

To many of Obama’s critics on the left, the government should be spending more to help boost employment because cutting government spending just makes things worse. (This is precisely what is happening across Europe.)

What’s Obama’s bold liberal vision we hear about in the papers? It’s not as daring as the papers and the pundits would have you think. There’s a middle-of-the-road proposal on immigration. His rhetoric on climate change is overshadowed by the way he cheers for natural gas fracking. Yes, Obama is proposing a modest increase in the minimum wage to $9 per hour. But that’s actually 50 cents lower than the proposal he made 5 years ago.

So why all the media misperceptions? One explanation is that ultra-conservatives have whipped their powerful media machine into a frenzy over Obama’s supposed radicalism. That message spills over into the larger media discussion, where “Obama is some kind of socialist” gets to be one side of a falsely “balanced” two-sided debate.

Another explanation: A truly progressive agenda to address the problems America faces right now — such as taxing Wall Street speculation, embracing a serious climate policy, and supporting vigorous jobs programs — would threaten the upper-crust interests that corporate media and the political system serve to protect.

Casting Obama’s mostly middle-of-the-road vision as unusually progressive helps to narrow the political debate. It’s keeping many truly progressive ideas off the table.


Peter Hart is the activism director of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. www.fair.org
Distributed via OtherWords. (OtherWords.org)

We Don’t Need a Secretary of Militarism

Chuck Hagel proved to be an intelligent, reasonable man with a reputation for honesty in the Senate, and these days that qualifies for sainthood.

By Donald Kaul

Donald Kaul

The chicken hawks are out in force these days, attacking Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s choice for Secretary of Defense.

He’s too reluctant to use force, they say. He favors negotiation over sanctions and sanctions over bombs, they say. He doesn’t like Israel enough; he’s an anti-Semite.

Who’s saying these terrible things about a man who, when he served in the Senate, was considered a fairly reliable conservative vote albeit one with a mind of his own?

It’s the usual suspects (plus John McCain, that rare breed: a man who has seen war but is still spoiling for a fight). William Kristol, editor of the right wing clarion The Weekly Standard, is leading the charge. This is the same Kristol, you’ll remember, who discovered Sarah Palin when she was a virtually unknown governor, sitting on her front porch in Alaska, where, as Tina Fey told us, she could see Russia from her house.

He thought she’d make a wonderful president-in-waiting of the United States some day, so he introduced her to his Republican friends, who agreed. Are we supposed to take a guy with judgment like that seriously? Do we care whom he wants for Secretary of Defense?

Or perhaps you’d prefer Elliott Abrams, an architect of the Iran-Contra scandal, who would have spent time in jail without a presidential pardon from George H.W. Bush. He’s the one pressing the anti-Semitism angle and making up stuff to do it. His good buddy in the smear campaign is Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul who bankrolled Newt Gingrich’s quixotic presidential run.

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Come on. Let me tell you about Chuck Hagel. He wasn’t my favorite senator — too conservative — but he represented Nebraska, a very conservative state.

He was, however, an intelligent, reasonable man with a reputation for honesty. In the Senate these days, that qualifies for sainthood.

He and his brother served a bloody tour in Vietnam, where they took turns saving each other’s lives. He returned home and eventually realized that war is a terrible answer to any question and should be undertaken reluctantly, as a last resort. That’s the way he thought as a senator (he was an early critic of the Iraq invasion, for example) and that’s the way he promises to think as Pentagon chief.

This drives the right wing crazy. (I sometimes think right-wingers view thoughtfulness as a character flaw.) Conservatives favor Dick Cheney’s rhinoceros-in-a-china-shop approach to foreign affairs.

Not that progressives are happy with the nomination either. Hagel is just way too right-wing for them on a variety of issues. (Progressives tend to think no one who can actually get confirmed by the Senate is worthy of public office.)

Nevertheless, Hagel, whose chief task will be to cut the military down to a more manageable, less expensive size, is an ideal man for the job.

He’s in the grand tradition of American men of war who became champions of peace later in life. It’s a line that stretches back to George Washington and claims politicians as diverse as Dwight Eisenhower, George McGovern, John Kerry, and Colin Powell.

It includes too my favorite Civil War General, William Tecumseh Sherman. While absolutely ruthless in war, he had no love for it. At the end of the war he said:

“I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting — its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies…tis only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated…that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.”

In other words, the Cheneys, Kristols, and Abrams of the world.

I like the idea of having a Secretary of Defense who knows war intimately. I like the idea that there is a voice in our councils saying: “Wait a minute. Let’s think this through. Maybe there’s another way.”

Hagel could be that voice.


OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Distributed by OtherWords.org