Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sunday Reading

Moderate This — Jonathan Chait takes on the hurt fee-fees of confused journalists.

The Obama administration, like previous administrations, holds frequent briefing sessions with straight news reporters and opinion journalists, both conservative and liberal. (I don’t recall the Bush administration ever inviting liberal opinion journalists to briefings, but I may be mistaken.) There are some liberal opinion journalists, most of whom generally agree with Obama’s policies.

It’s interesting to try to disentangle the competing strands of liberal ideology (which is a perfectly valid function of opinion journalism) and Democratic partisanship (which, at the very least, is not the same thing), and whether White House access can corrupt or influence their incentives. A National Journal story by James Oliphant, headlined “Progressive Bloggers Are Doing the White House’s Job,” horribly botches the topic by blurring everything together. Hence, Dave Weigel is cited as a prime example of the administration using liberal bloggers as a partisan message vehicle despite the fact that Weigel has not attended such briefings and frequently takes unfriendly stances toward Obama. Likewise, Ezra Klein is cited as both an example of a partisan water-carrier and an independent, truth-to-power-speaker in the same story. It’s a total, incoherent mess.

The way to make any sense of it, I think, is an expression of a certain kind of centrist worldview currently embodied in its most flamboyant form by Oliphant’s colleague, Ron Fournier. The foundation of the Fournier epistemology is the premise that the truth lies somewhere between the positions of the two major American political parties at any given moment. Deviations from that truth can be explained by partisanship or ideology, which Fournier regards as more or less the same thing. In Fournier’s mind, since any expression of non-partisanship is by definition true, any attack on such a claim is by definition partisan, and therefore false.

The Case for Joe Biden’s Candidacy — Peter Beinart in The Atlantic explains that “What the Democratic Party, and the nation, need is a real debate between Hillary Clinton’s interventionism and the vice president’s restraint.”

Although Biden, like Clinton, supported the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, those calamitous wars have instilled in him a new devotion to the cautious realism that men like Scowcroft and Baker exemplify. In 2009, according to Bob Woodward, the then-secretary of state argued passionately for sending 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, at one point pounding her fist on the table and declaring, “We must act like we’re going to win.” Biden, by contrast, didn’t think defeating the Taliban was either possible nor necessary, and argued for a narrower mission focused on al-Qaeda alone. What she feared most in Afghanistan was chaos and barbarism. What he feared most was quagmire.

Biden, according to Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes’s book, HRC, was also skeptical of a Western air campaign in Libya. Clinton supported it. Biden considered the raid on Osama bin Laden too risky. Clinton pushed Obama to go for it. Clinton, perhaps remembering the way her husband’s decision to arm Croat forces helped enable a peace deal in the former Yugoslavia, urged Obama to arm Syria’s rebels. Biden expressed caution once again. “Over the last few years, and especially amid the Arab Spring, events have forced the Obama White House to choose between its prudential instincts and its great ambitions,” Traub writes. “In almost every case Biden has sided with the skeptics.”

It would be a good thing for Democrats, and the country, if the private debate between Biden and Clinton went public. Otherwise, it’s likely that during the campaign Clinton will take stances more hawkish than Obama’s—partly because Ukraine has made hawkishness fashionable again and partly because that’s where her own instincts lie—but barely anyone will notice.

Unless, of course, she confronts the only other major potential candidate likely to stake out a position less interventionist than her own: Rand Paul.

Andy Borowitz on the most important thing Congress can do.

Millions of unemployed Americans who have fruitlessly been looking for work for months are determined that Congress get to the bottom of what happened in Benghazi, a new poll indicates.

According to the survey, job-seeking Americans hope that Congress will eventually do something about job creation, but they are adamant that it hold new hearings about Benghazi first.

By a wide majority, respondents to the poll “strongly agreed” with the statement “I would really like to find a job, but not if it in any way distracts Congress from my No. 1 concern: finding out what really happened in Benghazi.”

In related findings, a survey of Americans found that taxpayers overwhelmingly consider Benghazi hearings to be the best use of taxpayer money, well ahead of schools, roads, and infant nutrition.

In the House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner released the following statement: “I want to reassure the American people that, until we have completed our Benghazi investigations, there will be absolutely no action on job creation, infrastructure, immigration, education, housing, or food.”

Doonesbury — Art critic.

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