“Color me a little baffled. I don’t understand this White House. Do you?”
-- Bob Woodward of the Washington Post talking to Politico about an effort by the Obama White House to discredit his reporting on the president’s budget negotiations.
There was something very quaint about Bob Woodward’s concern about the attacks he’s been receiving from the Obama White House.
Here’s what Woodward told Politico:
“I think if Obama himself saw the way they’re dealing with some of this, he would say, ‘Whoa, we don’t tell any reporter ‘you’re going to regret challenging us.’ ”
Woodward assumes that if only President Obama knew about the nastygrams and threats and attacks from his team the president would step in and rein in his over-eager staffers.
If only Obama knew!
Woodward, once celebrated by Democrats for yanking down Richard Nixon’s imperial presidency, now seems puzzled by the doings of the current and even more imperial Obama presidency.
Team Obama is currently in the business of trashing Woodward for his reporting on the 2011 budget battle that resulted in the automatic decreases to automatic increases to federal spending set to begin tomorrow.
It is remarkable to the denizens of pre-Obama Washington that a top White House official would publicly taunt an eminence like Woodward, as David Plouffe did Wednesday, comparing the reporter to an aging baseball star unable to hit today’s pitchers. It’s nasty, mean and disrespectful. Woodward and his set recoil from that conduct.
If only Obama knew!
Washington is a Democratic place. Big time. And its official religion is a sort of old-fashioned, practical, patrician liberalism. John and Jackie Kennedy made Washington feel special for the first time, and the city’s elite have been trying to get back to Camelot ever since.
This means Democratic presidents get a lot more slack than Republicans, especially if, as they all do, Democrats claim to be seeking a restoration of Camelot. But even Washington has its limits.
When the White House put a hit out on FOX News in a deliberate effort to silence the largest cable news outlet, eyebrows were raised but, well, it was just FOX News. People in Washington don’t watch much FOX News, unless of course, they are appearing on it. FOX News is for the rest of the country, so an orchestrated campaign to muzzle the network was tut-tutted but nobody in Washington got their knickers in a twist.
When the victims were local reporters from other cities, well, sorry, that’s life in the big leagues, kids. When the subjects of bullying, wrath and scorn were Washington reporters they weren’t from the Post or the New York Times or broadcast television, it was bad but not dire. If the victim was Julie Mason at The Washington Examiner, people could commiserate at brunch, but no one was going to cancel their squash game.
Putting the hit out on Woodward, though, is something else. Robert Redford played him in the movie! He is the dean of the Washington press corps! He is at all of the parties!
Imagine the alarm rippling through Northwest D.C. today when the response came back from Team Obama: Whatever. He’s going down anyway.
The thesis of Woodward’s book “The Price of Politics” was that Obama really wanted to strike a grand bargain with Republicans during the 2011 showdown over the debt limit, but that the pending election kept both sides from being able to do a deal.
Obama has been more bullying, less engaged with the press, more aggressive and less inclined to deal with his adversaries than he even was before.
This is the same thinking that allowed Washington to excuse so much bad behavior from Team Obama in the past. He had an election to win, so a bit of bullying or running a campaign based on character assassination or stiff-arming even sympathetic reporters was quickly forgiven.
After all, Mitt Romney would have been the farthest thing from Camelot. He doesn’t even drink. So Obama was given wide latitude in his first term.
But all of the right people assured Washington that a re-elected Obama would be the kind of upper-crust liberal that they adore. Colin Powell said so.
And yet it hasn’t been that way at all.
Obama has been more bullying, less engaged with the press, more aggressive and less inclined to deal with his adversaries than he even was before. He’s being, well, positively uncool.
What Washington and Woodward seem to have missed is that Obama doesn’t much care for their brand. Obama means to raise an army in the cities of the nation beyond the Potomac Basin. With tweets and Google hangouts and rallies and a continuous campaign lavishly funded by his corporate partners, Obama means to bring down the status quo that Washington so adores.
The fight over the so-called “sequester” may be the moment when Washington realizes the state of things.
Woodward wonders why Obama is campaigning instead of holding the kind of negotiations that all of his predecessors eventually had to submit to. Woodward wonders why the president would scorch hopes for bipartisan accord by adding a call for tax increases to the pre-arranged spending cuts.
But Obama already told him and everyone else. The president finds the political system--as constituted--unworthy and is going to smash it into smithereens. The Republican Party. The press. Even Washington. Smash. Smash. Smash.
Why menace the public? Why sabotage your own deals? Why trash reporters? To win, sillies.
Many in Washington will probably sell out their old heartthrob Woodward, quietly nodding when Team Obama demands that he be exiled for challenging the president’s line. Certainly, the new liberal media will join the public pantsing of Woodward. And since the old Washington of Katherine Graham, Camelot revivals and Colin Powell is a mere shadow of its former self, lots of folks will take the chance to denounce their onetime idol.
The question is for those in the space between the Huffington Post and the Washington Post. For the Jake Tappers and the George Stephanopouli. Will they let Woodward get swallowed whole, tut-tutting as Team Obama eats him alive or will they dig in their heels and decide that no matter how horrible Republicans may be, Team Obama is on a dangerous power trip?
Woodward is under attack because he believed, as Washington believed, that Obama was a secret moderate who would do a deal once the liberal base out in those other cities had delivered re-election. His cardinal sin was expressing bewilderment that Obama was not doing as promised.
Woodward helped unseat the last president who despised Washington and its conventions the way Obama does, so he might have seen this coming.
But the next generation certainly knows better. They know Obama, he of the unlimited donations, permanent campaign and pitiful press access. And they know that if the president will treat Woodward this way, they’d be totally toast if Plouffe and Co. decided that any of their more moderate musings were deemed dangerous to Obama’s prime directives.
It’s up to them to decide whether to start biting back or to keep hoping the alligator eats them last.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“I think it could redound against the administration if people imagine, as in this case, that they could be acting in bad faith and deliberately making things really bad.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier”
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.