These Are Better Days

These Are Better Days

A mighty train of change is coming to Washington: will the insider establishment hop aboard?


Barack Obama’s election to the presidency is the greatest electoral moment of my lifetime and unless you were around in 1932–or perhaps 1860–yours too. Listen, people, Obama will disappoint us. That’s part of the job description. But somehow, our nutty political system has produced a president who is to politics what Duke Ellington was to an orchestra and a recording studio, what Muhammad Ali was to a boxing ring (and an empty microphone) and what Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band still are to 80,000 people in a football stadium. How wonderful to have our faith in the very idea of hope fully restored in this way, following eight years of full-throated fearmongering in the service of nothing but cronyism, corruption, ignorance and arrogance. How empowering to learn that the Bush/neocon vision of America has been signed, sealed and delivered to the ash heap of history.

What makes it so much more satisfying is that it took place in the face of a decades-long drumbeat–begun by conservatives but echoed in the MSM–that liberals by definition cannot be patriots. We don’t care enough about NASCAR. We shop at Zabar’s. We prefer Fellini to idiots ranting about “feminazis” on the radio or demanding invasions of this or that Arab country on TV. Well, who’s “anti-American” now, Bub?

A mighty train of change is coming to Washington, and it will be interesting to see which members of the insider establishment try to hop on board. Throughout the campaign, for instance, the Washington Post remained captive to the outdated, self-glorifying myths of the permanent political class to whom and for whom it speaks. The paper passed along the McCain campaign’s lies in its news pages without taking a position on their truth or falsehood, at times equating arguable propositions put forth by the Obama campaign with deliberate efforts by McCain to deceive. Contempt continually dripped from the pen of Post White House columnist Dana Milbank as he parroted the McCain campaign’s racist-tinged attack on Obama’s alleged “presumptuousness”–a 2008 synonym for “uppity negro”–padding his attack with phony quotes and trumped-up charges that should not have passed any honest reporter’s smell test. (Following Obama’s first postelection press conference, in which he chose not to call on any reporters from the Washington Post, Milbank criticized him for being “cagey” about–I kid you not–the kind of puppy he planned to buy for his children.)

Another common characteristic of the Post‘s coverage was to demand the impossible of Obama and then complain when he failed to deliver. Lead political reporter Dan Balz, for instance, wrote a story in which he credited Obama with “offer[ing] criticisms of the administration’s initially sketchy [bailout] plan…in line with changes that Congress made before eventually approving the package.” If this sounds prescient on Obama’s part, well, you’ve got it all wrong according to Balz, who faulted the man because “it’s not clear that he has had any better ideas–or put them forward more aggressively.” Yes, Mr. Balz, it’s also not clear that Barack Obama can run faster than a speeding bullet or leap tall buildings in a single bound…

The paper’s op-ed pages were similarly infected. Ex-liberal Richard Cohen, sounding like an old bubbe from Boca, twice demanded that Obama disassociate himself from Louis Farrakhan, even though Obama has never had anything whatsoever to do with Louis Farrakhan. (Should Cohen disassociate himself from Meyer Lansky and David Berkowitz?) Foreshadowing the future, no doubt, Post columnist Ruth Marcus demanded Obama “stand up to the inevitably overreaching demands of congressional Democrats.” In other words, forget the election results: the purpose of a Democratic president, according to insider conventional wisdom, is to resist the policies put forth by Democrats.

Alas, eight years of Bush/Cheney rule have destroyed a lot of brain cells in Washington, not just those at the Post. ABC’s anchors convinced themselves that the most important issues facing a country in crisis were flag pins, preacher politics and cutting capital gains taxes. Mark Halperin of ABC and Time, an avatar of the notion that Matt Drudge is America’s most influential journalist, continued to cover politics as if Karl Rove were constantly whispering in his ear. (If you’re wondering how it was that Halperin was so certain that McCain had chosen Mitt Romney rather than Sarah Palin as his running mate, you needed only to know that Romney’s selection was Rove’s pet project.) Over at the Associated Press, a single outlier poll taken after the third debate led a reporter to credit McCain’s “strong debate performance” with reversing the tide of the race. In fact, the tide remained unchanged, and the only people who thought otherwise worked for Rupert Murdoch. Would it surprise anyone to learn that AP’s Washington bureau chief, Ron Fournier, had been offered a job on the McCain campaign?

Another reputation to suffer greatly during this election cycle, sadly, was that of New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. True, the paper’s political coverage was by and large first-rate, as was much of the commentary offered on its editorial pages. But the paper could not escape the stench emanating from the presence of longtime Republican operative William Kristol, whose backstage politicking on behalf of the hapless Palin, frequent factual errors and ridiculous pretense that Obama was “disdainful…of bourgeois America” but “usually good at disguising this” proved a consistent source of embarrassment to pretty much everyone associated with the newspaper. You may recall that when readers objected to the hiring last December, editorial-page editor Andrew Rosenthal mocked their stubborn refusal to admire this “respected conservative intellectual” and called the complaints “intolerant” and “fear[ful] of opposing views.” Well, thanks to Barack Obama, we can say goodbye and good riddance to all that. As Mr. Springsteen might put it should he show up in Washington on January 20, “These are better days.”

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