Regular readers may recall that I’ve long been fascinated by the trouble President Obama’s detractors have had with understanding what it is about him they dislike. The result is a series of rhetorical attacks that are incoherent and contradictory.
He’s a ruthless Chicago thug and a “wuss.” He’s a bystander who goes golfing too much and an activist president who engages too much. He’s sticking to the Bush/Cheney script on national security and he’s putting us at risk by abandoning the Bush/Cheney national security agenda. He’s cutting cherished entitlement programs like Medicare and he refuses to cut entitlement programs like Medicare. He’s waging a class war against the rich and he’s coddling millionaires.
This week, as much of the political world tries to stick to the dubious line that the White House is engulfed in scandals, we’re seeing the same phenomenon once more. Greg Sargent makes a nice catch this afternoon:
One current storyline has it that all of these stories could converge to create a sense that Obama’s embrace of government activism has shaded into Nixonian abuses of power – revealing that Obama personally harbors a far more intrusive, overbearing, and even sinister approach to governing than he previously let on.
But another current storyline has it that the White House’s pushback on these scandals – the claims of a firewall between the Justice Department and the White House, the assertions of no connection to the IRS abuses – reveal a president who is weak and unable to control the government he presides over.
Good point. Just today, the Washington Post reports that the recent uproars “add evidence” to detractors’ claims that President Obama is a power-hungry leader who “has not acted within the constraints of the Constitution.” And also today, the New York Times reports that the controversies that have captured the Beltway’s attention present President Obama as a helpless “onlooker” who seems unable to “use his office.”
Greg added, “Obviously, these narratives can’t both be true at once. The scandals can’t demonstrate that Obama’s true dictatorial streak has finally been revealed while simultaneously supporting the idea that they’ve shown him to be too weak to control a government that has run amok.”
Ordinarily, I give the “pick a narrative and go with it” advice to the president’s Republican detractors, but in this case, it seems more appropriate to remind pundits and the political media establishment that their own preconceived narratives are just as contradictory.
Indeed, in this case, the critiques are especially incoherent since the so-called “scandals” generating so much chatter about “a White House in crisis” don’t actually relate much to the White House. None of the stories – Benghazi, the IRS, AP subpoenas – points to a tyrannical dictator or a hapless onlooker.
To connect three disparate stories of varying degrees of legitimacy and importance into a mega-scandal is lazy. So, too, is the embrace of competing narratives that cancel each other out.