Friday, November 27, 2015

The night Obama went all Sorkin on us

Obama's change of heart on Syria felt more like an Aaron Sorkin movie than reality.

The night Obama went all Sorkin on us


Here's a speech that the president gave:

Leon, somewhere in Syria right now, a janitor's working the night shift at Syrian Intelligence Headquarters. He's going about doing his job... because he has no idea, in about an hour he's going to die in a massive explosion. He's just going about his job, because he has no idea that about an hour ago I gave an order to have him killed. You've just seen me do the least Presidential thing I do.

OK, a couple of things. First, and perhaps most importantly, the president here is not Barack Obama but Andrew Shepherd, as portrayed by Michael Douglas and fantasized by the very liberal mind of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (who took the bits of "The American President" that he couldn't use and recycled them in "The West Wing"...true story.)  Second, I took a small piece of creative license in that the movie speech wasn't about Syria but Libya. (The moral being that apparently it's ALWAYS OK to bomb Libya without congressional approval, whether you're Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, or Aaron Sorkin.)

I was thinking about Sorkin, "The American President"/"West Wing" and that speech this weekend as I read about Obama's abrupt, last-minute decision to seek congressional approval whether to bomb Syria as a punishment for the chemical weapons attack that's been blamed on the Assad regime. This whole scenario -- Obama taking a Friday night stroll across the South Lawn of the White House with his Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and then telling shocked aides that he decided to seek a vote of Congress, in part because a poll showed 79 percent of the people wanting such a vote?

I mean, that's just way too Sorkin-esque to be real, right? Something only a movie president would do. I support what Obama decided -- it's a great precedent for any future military action, and it may actually prove to be good politics. It also sounds like exactly what Obama himself derided at the White House Correspondents Dinner, when he derided the New York Times' Maureen Dowd (Sorkin's's all connected) and then Michael Douglas, asking: "Could it be that you were an actor in an Aaron Sorkin liberal fantasy?"

Sadly, the actual thing that Congress votes on may not make that much sense. Bombing Syria will likely kill innocent people (that night janitor guy, for one) but probably won't change much else about Assad's poisonous rule. Like a lot of U.S. interventions, this one -- if it even passes Congress -- is less about achieving a sensible outcome than it is about projecting U.S, power in the world. America has been projecting its power ever since Vietnam - yet somehow we're less powerful. How could that be?

In that same scene in "The American President," Sorkin's President Shepherd tells his advisers, somewhat brilliantly (like most Sorkin off-the-cuff utterances): "Someday someone's going to have to explain to me the virtue of a proportional response."

On one hand, truer today than it was in 1995.

On the other hand, Sorkin was on crack when he wrote that.

Blogger's note: I'll pop in again on Sunday.. until then you're back on your own.

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About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.


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