Pablum and Propaganda in New York Magazine


There’s something a little fishy about the excerpt of Double Down, the new book by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, which appeared in the November 11th edition of New York magazine. The book, dubbed a “fast, fun, and gossipy read” by the Salt Lake Tribune, gives a behind-the-scenes account of the 2012 general election; the excerpt zeros in on Obama’s comeback after being trounced by Mitt Romney in the first presidential debate:

The debate was only a few minutes old, and Barack Obama was already tanking. His opponent on this warm autumn night, a Massachusetts patrician with an impressive résumé, a chiseled jaw, and a staunch helmet of burnished hair, was an inferior political specimen by any conceivable measure. But with surprising fluency, verve, and even humor, Obama’s rival was putting points on the board. The president was not. Passive and passionless, he seemed barely present.

From here, Halperin and Heilemann take us on a melodramatized tour of the next several days, chronicling the terse mock debates between Obama and John Kerry, a last-minute intervention on behalf of his advisors (David Axelrod, Anita Dunn, David Plouffe, and Ron Klain), and the President’s candid confession that he is “…wired in a different way than this event requires.” The pair’s reportage seems decent enough (they purportedly interviewed over 400 sources, treating them with “…alcohol in a private suite or restaurant to get them to open up.”), but lacks a certain skepticism where the motives of politicos are concerned, especially when said politicos are given an opportunity to reframe a narrative to suit their interests.

For instance, after a “disengaged and pedantic Obama” snaps on John Kerry in a mock debate, we read that,

“For the past six years, [Axelrod, Plouffe, et al] had watched Obama struggle with his disdain for the theatricality of politics—not just debates, but even the soaring speeches for which he was renowned. Obama’s distrust of emotional string-pulling and resistance to the practical necessities of the sound-bite culture: These were elements of his personality that they accepted, respected, and admired.”

Obama’s “distrust of emotional string-pulling…”? His “disdain for the soaring speeches for which he was renowned”? Hmmmm. Given that the preponderance of his professional time is/was spent engaging those very “necessities”, one might suspect he rather enjoys them—or is at least comfortable deploying them. Does the empty sloganeering of the “Hope and Change” campaign not ring a bell? What about the pathos-charged appeal to wage war with Syria under the thinly-veiled pretext of humanitarianism?

Following the ‘Mock From Hell’ debate, his advisors arrange an intervention:

“We’re here, Mr. President,” Klain began, “because we need to have a serious conversation about why this isn’t working and the fundamental transformation we need to achieve today to avoid a very bad result tomorrow night.”

At which point Obama opens up:

“Guys, I’m struggling,” he says somberly…. “It’s against my instincts just to perform. It’s easy for me to slip back into what I know, which is basically to dissect arguments…. I am wired in a different way than this event requires…. I just don’t know if I can do this.”

Really. Against his instincts “just to perform.” This from the guy who, even after the NSA is revealed to be running the single largest spying operation of all time, is able to call his administration, “the most transparent in history.” This from the guy who with a straight face can claim he supports immigration reform while his administration deports more immigrants per annum than George W.

As for the “I am wired in a different way than this event requires” bit, well, gee, Mr. Prez, when you promote insidious pacts like the Trans Pacific Partnership, the implementation of which would permit corporations to sue governments for the loss of “expected future profits”,  it sort of feels like you’re wired just fine, thank you.

After Obama’s almost-believable disclosure of genuine sentiment, Halperin and Heilemann regale us with the following didactic summation:

All through his career, Obama had played by his own rules. He had won the presidency as an outsider, without the succor of the Democratic Establishment…. He had ignored the traditional social niceties of the office, and largely resisted the media freak show, swatting away its asininities…. Now he was faced with an event that demanded an astronomical degree of fakery, histrionics, and stagecraft—and while he was ready to capitulate, trying to capitulate, he found himself incapable of performing not just to his own exalted standards but to the bare minimum of competence. Acres of evidence and the illusions of his fans to the contrary, Barack Obama, it turned out, was all too human.

Excuse me while I throw up into my mouth.

Firstly, Obama was not an Establishment Outsider: The top contributors to his’08 campaign included JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, Google, and Citigroup, for crying out loud. Secondly, not only did Obama not resist the media freak show, he was its prime attraction, its Elephant Man, its bearded lady. Like all shrewd politicians, he secretly welcomed the attention while paying lip-service to his displeasure with it. Thirdly, how was this debate any less devoid of “fakery, histrionics, and stagecraft?” than any other?  And fourthly: “Acres of evidence…  to the contrary, Barack Obama…  was all too human”? Come on, guys. Everyone knows full well that the “acres of evidence” point to one thing and one thing only: Obama, like nearly every President before him, is a pathological liar, a warmonger, an enemy of Democracy, a defender of state secrecy, an ardent promoter of wealth stratification, and an unabashed power whore. “All too human”, my ass.

Maybe it did not occur to Halperin and Heilemann that, the drinks and private suites notwithstanding, politicians and their advisors will almost always feed you whatever line they think best serves their brand. Or maybe the five million dollar advance they received for their kitschy potboiler rendered such considerations quaint. Or maybe it’s just easier to stay squarely within the lines of the establishment narrative, to recycle hackneyed “Comeback Kid” plotlines, and to challenge no one and nobody.

Maybe New York magazine would be better served by eschewing the Democrats-Are-Basically-Good-Guys-And-Republicans-Are-Mainly-A-Holes boilerplate and sticking to what they do best: snarky critiques of Slavoj Zizek and chic photologues of NYC’s nightclubs of yore.

Maybe when presented with the contrived-sounding testimonials of Obama’s coterie, the authors should have said, “I just don’t know if I can do this.”

Jeremy Tucker can be reached at: jeremytucker99@gmail.com.





October 08, 2015
Michael Horton
Why is the US Aiding and Enabling Saudi Arabia’s Genocidal War in Yemen?
Ben Debney
Guns, Trump and Mental Illness
Pepe Escobar
The NATO-Russia Face Off in Syria
Yoav Litvin
Israeli Occupation for Dummies
Lawrence Davidson
Deep Poverty in America: the On-Going Tradition of Not Caring
Thomas Knapp
War Party’s New Line: Vladimir Putin is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
Brandon Jordan
Sowing the Seeds of War in Uruguay
Binoy Kampmark
Imperilled by Unfree Trade: the TPP on Environment and Labor
John McMurtry
The Canadian Elections: Cover-Up and Steal (Again)
Anthony Papa
Coming Home: an Open Letter to 6,000 Soon-to-be-Released Drug War Prisoners From an Ex-Con
Ramzy Baroud
Listen to Syrians: The Media Jackals and the People’s Narrative
Norman Pollack
Heart of Darkness: A Two-Way Street
Gilbert Mercier
Will Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite Militias Defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq?
John Stanton
Vietnam 2.0 and California Dreamin’ in Ukraine
William John Cox
The Pornography of Hatred
October 07, 2015
Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Witness to a Troubled Saint-Making: Junipero Serra and the Theology of Failure
Luciana Bohne
The Double-Speak of American Civilian Humanitarianism
Joyce Nelson
TPP: Big Pharma’s Big Deal
Jonathan Cook
Israel Lights the Touchpaper at Al-Aqsa Again
Joseph Natoli
The Wreckage in Sight We Fail To See
Piero Gleijeses
Cuba’s Jorge Risquet: the Brother I Never Had
Andrew Stewart
Do #BlackLivesMatter to Dunkin’ Donuts?
Rajesh Makwana
#GlobalGoals? The Truth About Poverty and How to Address It
Joan Berezin
Elections 2016: A New Opening or Business as Usual?
Dave Randle
The Man Who Sold Motown to the World
Adam Bartley
“Shameless”: Hillary Clinton, Human Rights and China
Binoy Kampmark
The Killings in Oregon: Business as Usual
Harvey Wasserman
Why Bernie and Hillary Must Address America’s Dying Nuke Reactors
Tom H. Hastings
Unarmed Cops and a Can-do Culture of Nonviolence
October 06, 2015
Vijay Prashad
Afghanistan, the Terrible War: Money for Nothing
Mike Whitney
How Putin will Win in Syria
Paul Street
Yes, There is an Imperialist Ruling Class
Paul Craig Roberts
American Vice
Kathy Kelly
Bombing Hospitals: 22 People Killed by US Airstrike on Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan
Ron Jacobs
Patti Smith and the Beauty of Memory
David Macaray
Coal Executive Finally Brought Up on Criminal Charges
Norman Pollack
Cold War Rhetoric: The Kept Intelligentsia
Cecil Brown
The Firing This Time: School Shootings and James Baldwin’s Final Message
Roger Annis
The Canadian Election and the Global Climate Crisis
W. T. Whitney
Why is the US Government Persecuting IFCO/Pastors for Peace Humanitarian Organization?
Jesse Jackson
Alabama’s New Jim Crow Far From Subtle
Joe Ramsey
After Umpqua: Does America Have a Gun Problem….or a Dying Capitalist Empire Problem?
Murray Dobbin
Rise Up, Precariat! Cheap Labour is Over
October 05, 2015
Michael Hudson
Parasites in the Body Economic: the Disasters of Neoliberalism
Patrick Cockburn
Why We Should Welcome Russia’s Entry Into Syrian War