“One of the biggest factors is going to be how the media shapes debates. If a Republican member of Congress is not punished on FOX News or by Rush Limbaugh for working with a Democrat on a bill of common interest, then you'll see more of them doing it.”
-- President Obama in an interview with The New Republic.
President Obama believes that the media are a big problem with the nation’s current sclerosis.
In an interview with the liberal magazine New Republic, Obama found fault with the establishment press for casting blame evenly on both parties for the dysfunction of Washington, saying that fair reporters would conclude that the Republican Party is the root of the problem.
This would come as a surprise for Republicans in Washington who have been called “intransigent,” “inflexible,” “dogmatic,” “ideologues” and worse in articles and television stories since even before taking control of the House two years ago.
But in Obama’s telling, he and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Nancy Pelosi have been willing to sacrifice liberal “sacred cows” in order to move the government out of its long torpor but that it is the GOP that prevents progress.
Since the Democratic Senate passes so little legislation of significance, we must then rely on what Obama says the three Democratic chieftains are “willing” to do. And there we find that the blue team is not exactly Armour Meats when it comes to the slaughter of sacred cattle.
In fact, on the big issues of the day – debt, deficit, taxes and the size of government – Team Obama says that the reductions to future increases in spending already enacted are quite enough. In fact, Obama told his interviewers that the plan to deal with the debt needs to include increased spending. On entitlements, the president’s plan mostly involves making modest changes to Medicare for the sake of bolstering his own 2010 health-insurance entitlement program.
These are sacred calves at best, but more like deeply respected goats or highly regarded poultry.
But, as an ideological president intent on overseeing a liberal transformation of political life, Obama sees these concessions as massive. After all, he won, and the president has interpreted his 4-point November victory as a mandate for all of Obamism, fiscal, social and attitudinal.
The reason Obama believes that Republicans are unwilling to acknowledge this mandate and give him what he wants is that they are penalized for showing any shreds of decency by radio host Rush Limbaugh, long a fixation for the president, and by the FOX News Channel, once the target of a concerted attack by the White House.
The Republicans would be willing to do what Obama wants, the president argued, if it were not for Limbaugh’s show and the reporting and opinions on FOX News. When Republicans follow their patriotic instincts to agree with him to increase spending, raise taxes or accept liberal orthodoxy on social issues, they are punished and so others refuse to follow suit.
The Obama chain of events is that conservative pundits and FOX News Channel are forcing Republicans to act unpatriotically and then the establishment press refuses to expose the truth. The bias Obama sees is that establishment outlets, out of what he calls a desire for “the appearance of impartiality and objectivity,” do not explain to viewers and readers that Republican opposition to Obama is just a scam.
Obama does not much trust the motives of his adversaries. The opponents of gun control measures are trying to drum up gun sales. The opponents of higher taxes are trying to protect millionaire and billionaire political patrons. The opponents of a broad amnesty for illegal immigrants are just pandering to the bitter clingers of rural America, and so on.
The Republicans would be willing to do what Obama wants, the president argued, if it were not for Limbaugh’s show and the reporting and opinions on FOX News.
A responsible political press, in Obama’s rendering, would explain that the president is “on the level” and that his adversaries are cynical and craven, willing to do what harms the nation in order to serve their media masters.
Until Obama can expose and destroy that relationship he believes that he will be unable to make the needed changes in American politics and society and he would like establishment reporters to get out of their “default position” of evenhandedness. Again, Republicans in Washington may need to take a moment to wipe the coffee off of their monitor after reading that last sentence, but it is how the president sees the shape of things.
The Obama thesis of press and politics is about to be put to the test.
A group of four Republican senators including two moderates, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and two conservatives, Marco Rubio and Jeff Flake, are teaming up with four Democrats, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Bob Menendez and Michael Bennet, to end the standoff over illegal immigration.
It includes a broad amnesty but has a strengthening of national identification laws for job-seekers, tighter rules for visa abusers and requires those illegal immigrants already here to “go to the back of the line” for citizenship or face deportation. There’s more to like for the right than in McCain’s 2007 proposal, but it still represents a major compromise.
Republicans are sick to death about talking about illegal immigration, an issue that makes them often sound like the xenophobes Obama accuses them of being and helps to alienate Hispanic voters who would line up with the GOP on many other issues if it were not for the perception that the party is anti-immigrant.
But under Obama’s thesis, this compromise would be shouted down by Limbaugh, opinion mavens at FOX News and other outlets and the establishment press will refuse to report on how Republicans ruined the chances for progress because of this cynical dyspatriotism.
But how does Obama himself factor in to all this?
The president says that Republicans are punished for being too chummy with him, but what about when goes out and attacks Republicans? What about when he made a fiscal cliff deal all but impossible by hectoring and goading conservatives into opposition.
In his own unified theory of media destruction, wouldn’t the president acknowledge that his own attacks, including the accusation that Republicans are working against what they know to be the best interests of the nation, would have some effect? Wouldn’t Obama have done better to reach a deal on taxes and spending if he had given John Boehner some cover rather than hitting the campaign trail?
If Obama stands silent on the immigration deal or even complains that he will have to sign it even though it represents a painful sacrifice, then we will know he actually believes his own spin on the double bias of media.
If Obama presses for more or revels in victory, he would be blowing up the deal under his own stated view of how the right operates. If the political world is constituted as he claims it is, wouldn’t the patriotic thing for Obama to do be staying out of it except to briefly wince at the concessions he is making before signing a law?
We’ll soon find out whether the president is on the level.
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he serves as the host of "Power Play" on FoxNews.com and makes daily appearances on the network including "America Live with Megyn Kelly," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace." Most recently, Stirewalt provided expert political analysis during the 2012 presidential election.