Obama shrinks the presidency while press purrs like kittens

In its otherwise glorious history, the Oval Office has suffered its share of scoundrels. Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon, to name just two, certainly left distinctive stains.

Yet Barack Obama’s conduct puts him in a class of one. Day in, day out, he diminishes the traditions of an office that, starting with George Washington, were created to keep the presidency above the soiling scrum of partisan politics.

No. 44 specializes in a small-mindedness fueled by arrogance and contempt. So much so that, if he loses this election, he’ll already have earned the title for his next book: “Honey, I Shrunk the Presidency.” Let us count the ways.

He has attended more fund-raisers than any president in history, turning Air Force One into a collection shuttle.

He stands behind the grand seal of the United States of America to level scurrilous attacks on his opponent, by name, and even names the opposing vice-presidential candidate. He’s more respectful when he talks of Iran’s mad mullahs.

He leaks classified information for political gain, then feigns shock over complaints.

Oh, and he lies virtually every time he appears in public.

All these offenses against decency are now in service to his campaign, an enterprise that turns grubbier by the minute. All were on display during his press conference Monday.

His appearance surprised the press corps, which was bellyaching that he had ignored its questions for two months while yukking it up during softball interviews with star-struck radio and local TV types.

Absence did not improve the media’s performance, but his answers did reaffirm his penchant for the low road. He had two goals: to capitalize on the nutso “legitimate rape” comments of a GOP Senate candidate, and to create a headline to detract attention from the growing crowds and bold tone of the Romney-Ryan ticket.

So prepped, he ventured into the kittens’ den and was rewarded immediately with the mushiest question ever: What did the president make of the rape comments, and are they typical Republican fare?

It’s tempting to believe the first questioner, a lackey from The Associated Press, was a ringer inserted by the campaign, but such machinations aren’t necessary. Most of the press corps tilts so far left that coaching would be redundant. Obama calls the press “my base,” an admission that means Joe Biden doesn’t have to fear inquiring minds focusing on his transgressions.

Consider that the charge from the sitting vice president that Republicans favor a return to slavery didn’t ignite the media’s sense of outrage nearly as much as the rape comments from an obscure Missouri candidate. Liberal loyalty demanded they help build that female firewall for Obama by reinforcing the “War on Women” trope, and so they acted.

Without double standards, the media would have no standards. So the rapt and rumpled press corps looked like props in a campaign commercial — maybe they will be — as Obama spent most of his 20-minute oration in attack mode.

He also peevishly denied that his campaign had taken the low road or that it had accused Mitt Romney of committing a felony, even though his top spokeswoman did exactly that.

Liar, liar — if only his pants had caught on fire. Imagine the New York Times headline: “Obama Performs Stunning Magic Trick.”

OK, life’s not fair, especially in the newsrooms that comprise the smug echo chamber. If they didn’t know better before, Romney and Paul Ryan surely realize now they will not get a fair shot.

They’ll have to make their own luck in a world where the White House/media complex can hijack a debate on the future of the country to obsess over the brain-dead ramblings of a single man, as long as that man is not Joe Biden.

The lesson is certain: The GOP ticket will be hoisted not only by their own words, but also by any association that can be created to aid their demise. It’s not personal, it’s business, and that’s the life the press corps has chosen.

For the rest of us, this is the president we’ve chosen, at least for now.

To continue reading Mr. Goodwin's column on other topics, including Joe Biden, click here