Benjamin Disraeli’s most famous advice to aspiring politicians was: “Never complain and never explain.” For the greatest orator of our time, a man who makes Churchill, Lincoln, and Henry V at Agincourt look like first-round rejects on Orating with the Stars, Barack Obama seems to have pretty much given up on the explaining side. He tried it with health care with speech after speech after exclusive interview for months on end and the more he explained the more unpopular the whole racket got. So he declared that the time for explaining is over, and it’s time to sign on or else.
Meanwhile, to take the other half of the Disraeli equation, Obama and his officials and their beleaguered band of surrogates never stop complaining. If you express concerns about government health care, they complain about all these “racists” and “domestic terrorists” obstructing his agenda. If you wonder why the president can’t seem to find time in his hectic schedule of international-awards acceptance speeches to make a decision about Afghanistan, they complain that it’s not his fault he “inherited” all these problems. And, if you wonder why his “green jobs” czar is a Communist 9/11 truther and his National Endowment for the Arts guy is leaning on grant recipients to produce Soviet-style propaganda extolling Obama policies, they complain about Fox News.
The most recent whine — the anti-Fox campaign — is, apart from anything else, unbecoming to the office. President Obama is the chief of state of one of the oldest free societies in the world, but his official White House website runs teasers such as: “For even more Fox lies, check out the latest ‘Truth-O-Meter.’” It gives off the air of somebody only marginally less paranoid than this week’s president-for-life in some basket-case banana republic ranting on the palace balcony because his interior security chief isn’t doing a fast enough job of disappearing his enemies.
George W. Bush: Remember him? Of course, you do. He’s the guy who’s to blame for everything, and still will be midway through Obama’s second term. It turns out he’s in exile abroad. Presumably he jumped bail and snuck across the border on the roof of a box car. But, anyway, he was giving a speech in Saskatoon. That’s a town in Saskatchewan. And Saskatchewan’s a province in Canada apparently. And in the course of his glittering night playing the Saskatoon circuit, he was asked about media criticism of him, and he told the . . . Saskatoonistanies? Saskatchewannabees? Whatever. He told them the attacks never bothered him although his dad used to get upset: “He’d read the editorial pages, he’d watch the nightly news, and I didn’t. I mean, why watch the nightly news when you are the nightly news?”
That attitude, while raising a bunch of other issues, is psychologically healthier. If you’re going to attack the press, you need a lightness of touch, not a ham-fisted crowbar such as the White House wielded on Thursday, attempting to ban Fox from the pool interviews with the “pay czar.” Another bit of venerable Disraelian insouciance, on the scribblers of Fleet Street: “Today they blacken your character, tomorrow they blacken your boots.” For two years, the U.S. media have been polishing Obama’s boots, mostly with their drool, to a degree unprecedented in American public life. But now it’s time for the handful of holdouts to make with the Kiwi — or else.
At a superficial level, this looks tough. A famously fair-minded centrist told me the other day that he’d been taken aback by some of the near parodic examples of leftie radicalism discovered in the White House in recent weeks. I don’t know why he’d be surprised. When a man has spent his entire adult life in the “community organized” precincts of Chicago, it should hardly be news that much of his Rolodex is made up of either loons or thugs. The trick is identifying who falls into which category. Anita Dunn, the communications director commending Mao Zedong as a role model to graduating high school students, would seem an obvious loon. But the point about Mao, as Charles Krauthammer noted, is that he was the most ruthless imposer of mass conformity in modern history: In Mao’s China, everyone wore the same clothes. So when Communications Commissar Mao Ze Dunn starts berating Fox News for not getting into the same Maosketeer costumes as the rest of the press corps, you begin to see why the Chairman might appeal to her as a favorite “political philosopher.”
So the troika of Dunn, Emanuel, and Axelrod were dispatched to the Sunday talk shows to lay down the law. We all know the lines from The Untouchables — “the Chicago way,” don’t bring a knife to a gun fight — and, given the “pay czar”’s instant contract-gutting of executive compensation and the demonization of the health insurers and much else, it’s easy to look on the 44th president as an old-style Cook County operator: You wanna do business in this town, you gotta do it through me. You can take the community organizer out of Chicago, but you can’t take the Chicago out of the community organizer.
The trouble is it isn’t tough, not where toughness counts. Who are the real “Untouchables” here? In Moscow, it’s Putin and his gang, contemptuously mocking U.S. officials even when (as with Secretary Clinton) they’re still on Russian soil. In Tehran, it’s Ahmadinejad and the mullahs openly nuclearizing as ever feebler warnings and woozier deadlines from the Great Powers come and go. Even Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize is an exquisite act of condescension from the Norwegians, a dog biscuit and a pat on the head to the American hyperpower for agreeing to spay itself into a hyperpoodle. We were told that Obama would use “soft power” and “smart diplomacy” to get his way. Russia and Iran are big players with global ambitions, but Obama’s soft power is so soft it doesn’t even work its magic on a client regime in Kabul whose leaders’ very lives are dependent on Western troops. If Obama’s “smart diplomacy” is so smart that even Hamid Karzai ignores it with impunity, why should anyone else pay attention?
The strange disparity between the heavy-handed community organization at home and the ever-cockier untouchables abroad risks making the commander-in-chief look like a weenie — like “President Pantywaist,” as Britain’s Daily Telegraph has taken to calling him.
The Chicago way? Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight? In Iran, this administration won’t bring a knife to a nuke fight. In Eastern Europe, it won’t bring missile defense to a nuke fight. In Sudan, it won’t bring a knife to a machete fight.
But, if you’re doing the overnight show on WZZZ-AM, Mister Tough Guy’s got your number.