Monday, December 22, 2014

The wrong way to take down President Obama...and the right way

The wrong way to take down President Obama...and the right way

Sure, I rolled my eyes a little last night when I saw the Drudge Report hyping Newsweek's cover story, headlined: "Hit The Road, Barack," by the best-selling author and historian Niall Ferguson. It wasn't so much that Tina Brown's latest circulation boosting stunt was to bash our 44th president; there is much to criticize -- a too-tepid stimulus and jobs plan, a botched foreclosure-crisis fix, breaking his promise to close Guantanamo, extra-legal killings of American citizens, prosecuting whistle-blowers, a drone strategy that's creating more new enemies than it kills, and that's just a short burst of stream of consciousness. However, I suspected Ferguson's screed would not mention any of these -- and I was correct.

But when I did check it out, I was frankly a little shocked at just how juvenile the article was. It read like a gussied-up compendium of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity lowlights; Ferguson had almost nothing good to say about a guy called Mitt Romney but had an embarrassing man-crush on Paul Ryan. What's worst, just in my quick skimming it seemed like Ferguson wasn't just cherry-picking statistics but actively manipulating them. For job losses -- the most critical issue to most voters -- he used a number that included the disastrous last year of the Bush administration. That seemed blatantly unfair in judging Obama's policies.

Today, others have read the piece more closely, and the number of errors and manipulations are worse than imagined. The New York Times' Paul Krugman called the Newsweek cover story "unethical," and the Atlantic weighed in with a more thorough fact check, which Ferguson flunked with flying colors. Ferguson actually got in deeper when he tried to explain the process by which he falsely said President Obama's health-care plan would  raise the deficit. What he did was the equivalent of comparing one company's net profit to another company's gross revenue -- a mistake that a freshman taking Econ 1010 wouldn't make.

Did I mention that Niall Ferguson is a professor at Harvard?

The irony is that this week there was a devastating takedown of Obama -- in the New York Times, believe it or not. The piece was written by Ta-Nehisi Coates -- the first half is about how Republicans who claimed that Obama was a wimp in 2008 are now calling him a bully. Interesting, but standard liberal op-ed fodder. But then the piece takes an unexpected sharp left turn to look at what Obama's unwimpiness actually means:

Arugula partisan that I am, I must admit to some glee here. Watching Obama campaign is like watching an irradiated Peter Parker spar with Flash Thompson. It is deceptively easy, for instance, to see Harry Reid’s smearing of Romney not as the unsubstantiated, unevidenced ambush that it is, but as revenge.

That way lies the abyss. I am not simply thinking of Senator Reid’s shadow war, but of the president’s. Obama’s tough guy bona fides were largely built on the expansive bombing campaign he launched against Al Qaeda, a campaign that regards due process and the avoidance of civilian casualties as indulgences.

Let us grant that the execution of Anwar al-Awlaki, said to be the mastermind behind the foiled underwear bomb plot, should not much trouble us. But surely the killing of his 16-year-old American-born son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, and the secrecy around both acts, should.

I like to think that the junior Awlaki’s (reportedly accidental) death weighs heavy on the president’s conscience. In fact that weight does nothing to change the net result — from this point forward the presidency means the right to unilaterally declare American citizens to be American enemies, and then kill them.

 Wow. It almost makes you want to shout: "Hit the Road, Barack!"

Until you remember whom he's running against.

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Will Bunch
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