FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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.

 

 

 

 

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
March 30, 2020
Marshall Auerback
Washington Uses the Pandemic to Create a $2 Trillion Slush Fund for Its Cronies
Ron Jacobs
Going After Maduro
Justin Podur
When Economists Try to Solve Health Crises, the Results Can Often be Disastrous
Thomas Knapp
Decarceration: COVID-19 is Opportunity Knocking
Arshad Khan - Meena Miriam Yust
Dying Planet and a Virus Unleashed
William Astore
How My Dad Predicted the Decline of America
Seth Sandronsky
Reclaiming Vacant Homes in the COVID-19 Pandemic
John G. Russell
Racial Profiling Disorder: the All-American Pandemic
Vijay Prashad, Paola Estrada, Ana Maldonado, and Zoe PC
As the World Tackles the COVID-19 Pandemic, the U.S. Raises the Pressure on Venezuela
Laura Flanders
Covid-19: Our Health Crisis is Born of Bigotry
Cesar Chelala
The New World of Coronavirus
Lawrence Wittner
The World’s Major Military and Economic Powers Find Happiness Elusive
Ted Rall
My Dead French Grandfather Helped Me with COVID-19
Rob Okun
A Citizens’ Call to Invoke the Twenty-fifth Amendment
Ashar Foley
COVID-19 Proves It: We Need Medicare-for-All
Robert Koehler
The Virus is Our Teacher
Wim Laven
Are You Prepared to Needlessly Die for Your Country?
Jill Richardson
Stay Home, Stay Angry
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
What’s Wrong with Ranked Choice Voting
Mike Garrity
Alliance for the Wild Rockies Sues Trump’s Bureau of Reclamation for Bull Trout Fatalities in Saint Mary-Milk River Irrigation Project on the east Side of Glacier National Park
Weekend Edition
March 27, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Bailouts for the Rich, the Virus for the Rest of Us
Louis Proyect
Life and Death in the Epicenter
Paul Street
“I Will Not Kill My Mother for Your Stock Portfolio”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The Scum Also Rises
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Stimulus Bill Allows Federal Reserve to Conduct Meetings in Secret; Gives Fed $454 Billion Slush Fund for Wall Street Bailouts
Jefferson Morley
Could the Death of the National Security State be a Silver Lining of COVID-19?
Ruth Hopkins
A Message For America from Brazil’s First Indigenous Congresswoman
Kathleen Wallace
The End of the Parasite Paradigm
Anthony DiMaggio
Misinformation and the Coronavirus: On the Dangers of Depoliticization and Social Media
Andrew Levine
Neither Biden Nor Trump: Imagine Cuomo
David Rosen
God’s Vengeance: the Christian Right and the Coronavirus
Evaggelos Vallianatos
In the Grip of Disease
David Schultz
The Covid-19 Bailout: Another Failed Opportunity at Structural Change
Edward Leer
Somebody Else’s World: An Interview with Kelly Reichardt
Robert Fisk
What Trump is Doing in the Middle East While You are Distracted by COVID-19
Daniel Warner
COVID-19: Health or Wealth?
Thomas Klikauer – Norman Simms
Corona in Germany: Hording and Authoritarianism
Ramzy Baroud
BJP and Israel: Hindu Nationalism is Ravaging India’s Democracy
Richard Moser
Russia-gate: the Dead But Undead
Ron Jacobs
Politics, Pandemics and Trumpism
Chris Gilbert
Letter From Catalonia: Alarming Measures
Richard Eskow
Seven Rules for the Boeing Bailout
Jonathan Carp
Coronavirus and the Collapse of Our Imaginations
Andrew Bacevich
The Coronavirus and the Real Threats to American Safety and Freedom
Peter Cohen
COVID-19, the Exponential Function and Human the Survival
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail