Remember way back when President Obama told people that it was maybe a good idea for them to turn off the teevees and disconnect themselves from the idiot ramblings of the political press, a rough beast with a bottomless hunger for antic narratives and useless gossip?
Maybe Obama should have asked his two top advisers to stop feeding the beast themselves, to spare all of us some grief.
Rahm Emanuel! Suddenly, he is Ground Zero for so much media crapulence. Suddenly, he is the protagonist of the most fevered "who's up/who's down" narratives. Slowly, and then all at once, the media has become filled with the tales of Rahm's agonies and ecstasies. Good lord, even Eric Massa is cashing in on the zeitgeist, casting Emanuel as a bit player in his ongoing operatic nonsense. And the best part is that he gets the nude scene! This raises many questions, not the least of which is: does Rahm perceive his ability to persuade to be related to his nudity?
And, uhm, David Axelrod? What is going on with him? The New York Times says that nobody "has taken the perceived failings of the administration more personally or shown the strain as plainly as" him. Meanwhile, millions of Americans are out of work. They'll let David Axelrod know when they have the time to tend to the hard strain of soft perception.
So much attention has been given to these two men, and the problems that come from being so powerful and influential and yet not in possession of the ability to bend reality itself to their notions, that one may wonder to oneself: "What is the point?" The answer is: there is no point! The only valuable thing to notice here is that all this mishegas rather elegantly demonstrates that this is really the only sort of story the the political press is good at writing: palace intrigue and dangerous liaisons, starring Rahm Emanuel's intimidating wang in a shower.
And the beast, it is ever so bent on wretched excess! The Washington Post managed to fap themselves so vigorously with this non-news that it all got to be too, too much for David Broder! That right there suggests that this whole conversation has entered the Undiscovered Country.
Then came Peter Baker's exegesis on the matter, which severely tested both my "too long, didn't read" and "Surely there are a hundred better things that I could be doing with my life" policies. In it, Baker poses the question: "Did Obama make a mistake by disregarding his top adviser's counsel? Or was it Emanuel who failed to execute the president's strategy? Was it both, or perhaps neither?" A single paragraph from Alex Pareene is all you need to read to establish the same level of understanding on Rahm Emanuel that Baker has:
So. Rahm was hoping to have a lot more victories now than he does, but lots of bad stuff happened, and sometimes the President listens to people other than Rahm. These facts ended up in the newspaper, which was embarrassing for Rahm, because he doesn't like to be portrayed as losing things and also it made his boss look bad. But the most important thing is that Rahm gets a lot of shit from both liberals and conservatives.
The only thing I'd add to that is that it's pretty clear that Obama has nothing but contempt for the Beltway media culture. He works very hard to subvert it. And so, the White House Press Corps has spent the bulk of the past year bitching and moaning about it, while presenting the perplexing argument that Obama is simultaneously overexposed and media-averse.
Meanwhile, Rahm Emanuel is a titanically rich man with Problems That Are Real To Him, which may or may not include the lack of basic gymnasium etiquette. But Rahm, unlike Obama, is right at home inside the Beltway, a princeling sired to prominence by the very media culture that Obama seems to abhor. And so The Problems That Are Real To Rahm Emanuel are like catnip for the political press, and Emanuel -- Mr. Anonymous Senior White House Official -- knows just how to get his message out.
And what happens when this message starts getting out? From there, that gives rise to the endless array of articles that suggest that the White House's "message is muddled."
Mark Halperin, reliably, took up this matter in an article that suggested that Obama "was making the same mistakes as Bush." His article contained this sentence, among others:
From its earliest days, Obama's White House has failed to put in place the necessary procedures and personnel to move strong, serious ideas along the conveyor belt from the minds of wonky experts cloistered in the Old Executive Office Building chambers to the President's lips as he introduces new initiatives at dramatic public events.
I have yet to find anyone who can explain what this sentence is even intended to convey. I gather that this is about message-muddling! If I'm being charitable, I'd suggest that Halperin is conveying this idea with some sort of post-modern form of meta-writing. But really, I think that Halperin is just a terrible writer, who should shy away from metaphors entirely.
We also have George Packer and Mark Leibovich, piling on, and all of that drives up the agonies of David Axelrod. Why hasn't he enabled the White House to communicate its vision with the American people? Why hasn't he done more to set the agenda? Why has he allowed the "narrative" to be "lost?"
Enough! Here's some real talk, from Brendan Nyhan:
In short, this entire genre of political coverage is useless. If/when the economy picks up, Obama's speeches will start "connecting" and everyone will marvel at how effective the White House political team has become.
Yes, and at that point, Rahm Emanuel will get a whole slew of new stories placed that describe how he contributed to the change of fortune, while David Axelrod will have to explain why the press isn't giving him as much credit. And they will never stop feeding the Beast: not now, not ever! The press will treat it all as one more bend in the exciting horse race, their studied indifference to the way policies actually affect the lives of actual Americans intact. Welcome to Washington, DC. Everyone's right and nobody's sorry, that's the start and the end of the story.