The NY Times has a dilemma. It cannot help but notice that the expected and predicted fruits of Obama’s foreign policy (or of his mere presence in the White House) seem to be rotting on the ground. Even more importantly, the Times figures that its readers are noticing too. The situation is just too fetid to successfully deny any more, and if the newspaper continues to do so, those of its regular readers who retain some integrity might consider the paper to be the completely owned propaganda organ that it is, and take offense.
So, what to do? The answer is to write editorials like this one from yesterday, a delicate balancing act that acknowledges just enough reality to sound credible to those readers but not enough to really risk any of their strongly-held beliefs that Obama is pretty decent and has America’s best interests at heart. It’s a bit tricky to successfully pull off, but the Times proves it’s up to the task in an effort that is a tour de force of the genre.
For every acknowledgement of the mess the Obama administration has caused, there’s a subsequent apologia absolving him fully or at least considerably softening the blow. And the editors don’t forget to make sure they say that, however bad it is, Bush was worse. So the editorial is a series of steps forward and steps back, written so smoothly that most readers are probably unaware of how the sashaying is done.
From the first paragraph–first, the bad news:
…President Obama is being pummeled at home and abroad for his international leadership. The world sometimes seems as if it is flying apart, with Mr. Obama unable to fix it.
Seems that way rather than is that way, so even that accusation is tempered at the start. Then the semi-exoneration:
Through a combination of a few significant missteps, circumstances beyond his control, unreasonable expectations and his maddeningly bland demeanor, Mr. Obama has opened himself to criticism that he is not articulating a strong, overarching blueprint for the exercise of American power and has not been able to bend authoritarian leaders to his will.
Let’s pause for a moment to admire the editors’ handiwork. You think they don’t know how to write? Well, think again. I offer that last sentence as one of the finest examples of exquisitely nunanced shilly-shallying I’ve ever read. The supposed dose of reality comes with the recognition that Obama has committed “significant missteps,” although that’s tempered by the unsupported notion that they are “few” in number. Well, everybody makes mistakes, don’t they? The rest of the problem for Obama is, according to the Times, a combination of just plain bad luck (unnamed “circumstances beyond his control”); the fault of others noticing his own wonderfulness (“unreasonable expectations”—presumably expectations for Obama and not by Obama); his calm character, heretofore considered a good thing, but which the Times admits can be “maddening.” All of this has “opened” Obama “to criticism that he is not articulating a strong, overarching blueprint for the exercise of American power and has not been able to bend authoritarian leaders to his will.” The Times is being especially tricky in that last phrase, because the editors are not really saying that Obama is in fact failing to articulate this blueprint or to bend those leaders, just that he has acted in a way that invites criticism.
That’s paragraph one. Paragraph two goes like this:
It is paradoxical that, in key respects, Mr. Obama is precisely the kind of foreign policy president most Americans and their allies overseas wanted. He rejected the shoot-first tendencies of George W. Bush, who pretended to have all the answers, bungled two wars and asserted an in-your-face American exceptionalism that included bullying allies. We know where that got us.
Shorter version: Obama is exactly what we all yearned for after that horrible Bush. And wasn’t Bush awful?
The next paragraph is devoted to the idea that Obama’s critics have been too harsh on him and have ignored his very real accomplishments. That those accomplishments are listed as “salvaging” the economy (someone in the comments section wrote that perhaps the eds meant “savaging” instead) and producing “the first possibility of a deal on Iran’s nuclear weapons” gives you an indication of the quality of the Times’ claims.
The next paragraph, number four, tries to describe what Obama’s critics think is wrong with him: maybe, they say “he lacks a passion for foreign policy,” “has no inspiring ideological prism, or “is too resigned” to obstacles to American power. But these are tepid critiques that don’t even begin to deal with what many of us on the right have said from the early days of Obama’s first term: that he does have an ideological prism, and that it is leftism and geared to harming our allies and helping our enemies, and that he’s not merely “resigned” to a loss of American power but is instead actively engineering that loss.
In the next paragraph, the fifth, the Times comes closest to articulating a real criticism of Obama—and perhaps its own actual views as well—which is that the president has been “unfocused, weak, and passive.” The editors refuse to consider—and probably would never say if they did realize—the possibility that his passivity on the world stage is conscious, purposeful, and strategic.
Why do I keep harping on the Times, when we all know this is the way they roll? I still think it’s edifying to learn how they do it. Also, I don’t know about you, but my liberal friends and family still respect the Times and are hugely informed by it. The Times is also tremendously influential in setting the tone and the approach for other periodicals as well as pundits on the left. We may mock it, but its propaganda still shapes our world—not the world of reality, but the world of public opinion, which then influences reality.