A Badly Divided Nation (more fodder for the historians)
by Jonathan Rosenblum
November 9, 2012
A Badly Divided Country
I write on the eve of the elections. While the winner cannot be known, in one sense, we are all losers, for this election has only exacerbated the divisions in America. Observing my native country from abroad, one of the most depressing aspects of the last two decades has been the divide between Blue and Red America, and never the twain shall meet. Public discussion is less and less about examining proposed solutions to universally acknowledged problems and analyzing their likely impact, and more and more about impugning the motives and honesty of anyone who disagrees.
What one side of the political divide believes the other derides. For all those millions of Americans stirred by Mitt Romney's oft-repeated statement, "I believe in America," one can be sure that there are millions more sniggering at those statements, who view the very idea of American patriotism as so unsophisticated, so retro.
No institution has played a greater role in the fraying of the body politic than the media, which has abdicated its role of watchdog of government in favor of work as the public relations wing of one party or another. President Lyndon Johnson famously remarked during the 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost America," after the CBS nightly anchor pronounced (wrongly) the Tet Offensive to be a major military victory for the Viet Cong. But that was only possible in those days because Cronkite commanded so much respect, as someone who spoke with the authority of a neutral presenter of facts. No major nightly news broadcaster carries any such authority today. The most watched networks are highly partisan, and the "news" one half of the electorate believes the other automatically dismisses.
According to a Gallup poll last month, the mainstream press has less credibility than at any time in the history, with over 60% of Americans responding that they have "none" or "not very much" faith in the press. The press has worked hard to earn that disdain. Democratic pollster Pat Caddell told an Accuracy in the Media conference ten days after the murder of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Cairo that the media has abdicated the role for which it was shielded from government interference by the First Amendment: to serve as a watchdog over government. He then went on to list half a dozen stories that received little or no coverage in the prestige media: The New York Times, Washington Post, and CBS, NBC, and ABC: (1) Senior White House Advisor David Plouffe's receipt of $100,000 in speaking fees from a group with close ties to the Iranian regime, just after the announcement that he was about to take up a position in the White House; (2) the full secret service detail accompanying White House aid Valerie Jarrett wherever she goes, while repeated pleas for additional security from the American embassy in war-torn Libya went ignored; (3) the lack of curiosity about the sources of all the security leaks concerning secret operations designed to bolster the President's image as a tough guy – leaks so serious that Senator Diane Feinstein, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, commented that every time she turned the page of Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Suprising Use of American Power by the New York Time's David Sanger, she learned something she did not know; (4) Close to 80% of the government subsidies for green energy projects went to Obama campaign bundlers.
A week later, Caddell was even more apoplectic about the media's coverage of Benghazigate: "When they [the press] decide . . . what truth you may know, as an American, and what truth you are not allowed to know, they have, then, made themselves a fundamental threat to the democracy, and made themselves the enemy of the American people." The press's failure he charged was unprecedented on a matter of national security.
Even before Hurricane Sandy came along to dominate news coverage, Benghazi had virtually disappeared from the pages of the New York Times. For anyone old enough to remember Watergate or Contragate, when the press kept the story going with new items every day for months and years, this is simply astounding, particularly so because there are so many questions begging for answers. First, how could senior administration officials have continued to propagate an obvious cock-and-bull story about the attack on the embassy in Benghazi for more than a week? As military analyst Ralph Peters has pointed out, any security analyst would have immediately concluded that the type of weaponry used in the assault on the Benghazi compound could only be explained by a well-planned and coordinated terrorist attack. And we now know that the live feeds available to the State Department and White House made this clear. Next question: Why did the administration feel the need to concoct such an untenable story? Were they depending on a credulous media?
The second indictment of the prestige press has to do with its failure (apart from Fox News) to publish a cable from the State Department's Security officer in Benghazi to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dated August 16, in which he expresses his concerns that the compound cannot be defended in the event of a coordinated attack "due to limited manpower, security measures, weapons capabilities, host nation support, and the overall size of the compound." The cable also referred to ten Islamist militias and Al Qaeda training camps within Benghazi.
At the very least, the cumulative impact of the various pleas for additional security, especially in light of an attack on the British ambassador in Benghazi in June, should end any remaining political aspirations of Hillary Clinton. But only if those pleas are reported.
No one has benefitted more from the "esrog" treatment than the President himself, lest Benghazi intrude into the last weeks of the campaign. ("To protect like an esrog" is a phrase coined by Israeli journalist Aharon Abramovitz, who advocated that Prime Minister Sharon be shielded by the press from various corruption charges swirling around him in the period leading up to the Gaza withdrawal. See "Israel's Ugliest Export: Journalists as Decision-Makers," Yated Ne'eman, November 5 2008).
The question at the center of the Watergate hearings – "What did the President know and when did he know it?" – is no less relevant today. What was the President doing from the time he was first informed of the Benghazi attack until he learned of the death of the U.S. Ambassador and the loss of four American lives.
We were treated to pictures of the President following the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound and more recently of him looking concerned while touring sites of desolation in New Jersey. Where are the parallel pictures of him huddling with his top security officials on the night of September 11, while watching the live feed from Benghazi? We now know that he did not convene the intra-departmental anti-terrorist task force to discuss options. We also know that he had time for a one-hour phone call with Prime Minister Netanyahu of no special urgency other than to try to shore up the Jewish vote. What else did the President do that night? When did he go to sleep? Whom did he talk to? These are all matters within the personal knowledge of the President. Why must they await further investigation? But the prestige press and the major broadcast networks are not asking the questions?
Only on November 5, did the New York Times weigh-in with a lengthy story detailing how no forces were available to mount a rescue operation. Until then, the Gray Lady ignored the story. Even then, more questions remain. Why was no attempt made to scare off the attackers by creating a sonic boom, using fighter planes less than an hours flying time away, a tactic that has worked in Afghanistan in similar situations?
In any event, the Times story of the Africa Command with no resources at its disposal, while designed to exonerate Obama from the charge of not having done everything possible to rescue those under siege for a period of over four hours, raises many further questions and demonstrates how the United States went to war in Libya with no understanding of the possible consequences. And as those consequences – e.g., bands of jihadis and their supporters roaming at will – materialized, the administration did not take adequate precautions.. As Walter Russell Mead sums up his blog post (Via Meadia) on the Times story: "Ambassador Stevens didn't die because the White House had a bad night. He died because the White House has bungled North Africa."
[This just in: CBS has just posted on its website material previously omitted from reporter Steve Kroft's September 12 interview with President Obama. The previously elided material makes clear that the President was not willing to call the attack in Benghazi an act of terrorism, even though the White House situation room had identified an Al-Qaeda affiliated group as laying siege to the hospital to which Ambassador Stevens had been taken. In response to a direct question from Kroft, who began by noting the President's avoidance of the word terrorism in his Rose Garden remarks, as to whether this was a terrorism attack, Obama said, "Well, its too early to tell exactly how this came about, what group was involved." CBS sat on this material for nearly a month from the second presidential debate, during which one of the most contentious issues was whether Obama had termed the murder of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans a terrorist attack on the morning of September 12. In suppressing information to assist the President's re-election, CBS was emulating the Los Angeles Times' refusal to release a video of Obama speaking at a Hyde Park going away party for Rashid Khalidi, for fear of openly revealing Obama's pro-Palestinian sympathies. Similarly, while harping on Romney's tax returns for months, the mainstream press has never shown the slightest curiosity as to why Obama has refused to allow access to his college and law school records, as every other recent candidate for national office has done.]
BARACK OBAMA burst on to the political scene at the 2004 Democratic convention with a vision of an American no longer divided into Red states and Blue states. Four years later, he was elected on promises to transcend the national divisions and usher in an era of amity into our national life.
It has not quite worked out that way. As Bob Woodward points out in his new book The Price of Politics(which received remarkably little notice given Woodward's Watergate fame and subsequent prominence), Obama proved to a be a hyper-partisan president, with little talent or inclination for compromise. He pushed through Obamacare without a single Republican vote and without having solicited much input from the other side. His nearly $800 million stimulus bill similarly lacked Republican input or support.
But the biggest disappointment has been in the area of racial relations. Let's face it, Obama's race has been his greatest political asset from the start. No white politician with a resume so thin, or with so many radical associates in his closest could ever have contemplated a presidential run, much less been elected. And were it not for the reluctance on the part of voters to give a flunking grade to the first black president, no incumbent running on his record could possibly hope to be re-elected.
White voters who voted for Obama in 2008 hoped, at the very least, that his election would provide absolution from the stain of slavery. They gave him the highest percentage of votes of any Democratic candidate since FDR. He entered office with approval ratings of 70% or more.
Yet today those same voters find themselves labeled as racists if they dare to criticize the President's policies: the 43 straight months of unemployment over 8%; the one trillion dollars added to the national debt every year; the deeply unpopular Obamacare. To have grown disenchanted with the President after voting for him, according to his stalwarts in the media, like MSNBC's Chris Matthews, is to discover one's inner racist. No other explanation is allowed.
Rather than race consciousness abating with the election of the first black president, his supporters have accented it. Every criticism is according to their telling is dog-whistle to white racists everywhere. Mitt Romney's reference to his five boys in the first debate was a subtle way of calling President Obama "boy." Mention his love of golf -- you're a racist. Refer to him as skinny – you're a racist. Mention Louis Vuitton – you're a racist. Just today, Chris Matthew's waxed indignant about Romney's riff on the President's characterization of voting as the "best revenge." You guessed it: racism. Just having the lese-majesty to criticize the President or run against him is enough to prove one's racism.
Yet when liberals employ the most blatant racial stereotypes, that's ok: Liberals, its seems, cannot be racists, or else the intrinsic goodness of their cause justifies it. Cartoons depicting black conservatives, like Justice Clarence Thomas or Congressman Allan West (R.-Fla.), with exaggerated Negroid figures or in minstrel show costume, elicit no criticism. When Obama flopped in the first presidential debate, Bill Maher, who had donated a million dollars to his campaign, wondered aloud whether the President had spent his entire gift on hallucinogens, reinforcing familiar stereotypes of black drug use, or whether he had been rendered inarticulate by the absence of a teleprompter (i.e., black stupidity). "
Those who voted for Obama, but no longer support his policies, and even those did not vote for him but were nevertheless moved to tears watching a black man taking the oath of office, resent being told that they are racists. And the prevalence of such charges today gives us one more reason to hope that a little over two months from now Mitt Romney will be sworn in as America's 45th president.
Related Topics: American Government & Politics
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