FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Pablum and Propaganda in New York Magazine

by JEREMY TUCKER

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.

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 20, 2017
Bruce E. Levine
Humiliation Porn: Trump’s Gift to His Faithful…and Now the Blowback
Melvin Goodman
“Wag the Dog,” Revisited
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima: a Lurking Global Catastrophe?
David Smith-Ferri
Resistance and Resolve in Russia: Memorial HRC
Kenneth Surin
Global India?
Norman Pollack
Fascistization Crashing Down: Driving the Cleaver into Social Welfare
Patrick Cockburn
Trump v. the Media: a Fight to the Death
Susan Babbitt
Shooting Arrows at Heaven: Why is There Debate About Battle Imagery in Health?
Matt Peppe
New York Times Openly Promotes Formal Apartheid Regime By Israel
David Swanson
Understanding Robert E. Lee Supporters
Michael Brenner
The Narcissism of Donald Trump
Martin Billheimer
Capital of Pain
Thomas Knapp
Florida’s Shenanigans Make a Great Case for (Re-)Separation of Ballot and State
Jordan Flaherty
Best Films of 2016: Black Excellence Versus White Mediocrity
Weekend Edition
February 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Rogue Elephant Rising: The CIA as Kingslayer
Matthew Stevenson
Is Trump the Worst President Ever?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Flynn?
John Wight
Brexit and Trump: Why Right is Not the New Left
Diana Johnstone
France: Another Ghastly Presidential Election Campaign; the Deep State Rises to the Surface
Neve Gordon
Trump’s One-State Option
Roger Harris
Emperor Trump Has No Clothes: Time to Organize!
Joan Roelofs
What Else is Wrong with Globalization
Andrew Levine
Why Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban?
Mike Whitney
Blood in the Water: the Trump Revolution Ends in a Whimper
Vijay Prashad
Trump, Turmoil and Resistance
Ron Jacobs
U.S. Imperial War Personified
David Swanson
Can the Climate Survive Adherence to War and Partisanship?
Andre Vltchek
Governor of Jakarta: Get Re-elected or Die!
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Destruction of Mosul
Norman Pollack
Self-Devouring Reaction: Governmental Impasse
Steve Horn
What Do a Louisiana Pipeline Explosion and Dakota Access Pipeline Have in Common? Phillips 66
Brian Saady
Why Corporations are Too Big to Jail in the Drug War
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Peaceful Protest to Armed Uprising
Luke Meyer
The Case of Tony: Inside a Lifer Hearing
Binoy Kampmark
Adolf, The Donald and History
Robert Koehler
The Great American Awakening
Murray Dobbin
Canadians at Odds With Their Government on Israel
Fariborz Saremi
A Whole New World?
Joyce Nelson
Japan’s Abe, Trump & Illegal Leaks
Christopher Brauchli
Trump 1, Tillerson 0
Yves Engler
Is This Hate Speech?
Dan Bacher
Trump Administration Exempts Three CA Oil Fields From Water Protection Rule at Jerry Brown’s Request
Richard Klin
Solid Gold
Melissa Garriga
Anti-Abortion and Anti-Fascist Movements: More in Common Than Meets the Eye
Thomas Knapp
The Absurd Consequences of a “Right to Privacy”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail