President Barack Obama has been in power for less than a week and already we see elite White House reporters fretting about whether or not the new chief executive will be able to "convert" right-wing Republicans to support his agenda. Take for example Sheryl Gay Stolberg's "White House Memo" in yesterday's New York Times. In the article, titled "Great Limits Come With Great Power, Ex-Candidate Finds," Ms. Stolberg breezes past the sweeping Executive Orders President Obama signed on his first full day in office that open up presidential records, impose strict new ethics rules, ban torture, close the Guantanamo prison along with the CIA's secret gulags, and order a full review of U.S. detention policies. Instead of addressing the meaningful changes these executive orders represent and covering the other actions he took relating to the economy and foreign policy, Ms. Stolberg tisk-tisks about Obama's lack of success in winning over House Republicans -- exactly those elements in the Legislative Branch that an urban liberal Democratic president is least likely to win over. "During his transition, Mr. Obama managed to charm conservatives," Ms. Stolberg writes. "But just days into the Obama presidency, some conservatives sound wary."
Heaven forefend! Conservatives "sound wary!" Hold the front page!
So right-wing Republicans, who while in power drove the country into bankruptcy and ruin and lost two elections in a row, are now the primary sources for the White House press corps to judge the "success" or "failure" of the new Democratic president? Wow!
Ms. Stolberg turns to none other than the ubiquitous out-of-power Republican wag, Newt Gingrich, to set the record straight on the first days of the Obama administration: "I think they are right at the cusp of either sliding down into a world where their words have no meaning or having to follow up their words with real behavior." Granted, Gingrich is an expert on words that "have no meaning," but I hardly think he's qualified to be casting judgments on the six-day-old Obama presidency, which illustrates the inherent bias in the coverage. The minute the country has a Democratic president the press begins judging him on whether or not he has sufficiently kissed the Far Right's ass.
I would remind Ms. Stolberg and Times readers that Newt Gingrich ignominiously resigned his post as Speaker of the House because it was going to be publicly exposed that the entire time he was condemning President Bill Clinton for his private sexual behavior Gingrich was carrying on an extramarital affair with a younger congressional staffer. This is the same Newt Gingrich who said last November shortly after the election: "I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us, is prepared to use violence, to use harassment. I think it is prepared to use the government if it can get control of it. I think that it is a very dangerous threat to anybody who believes in traditional religion." And elite journalists are turning to him to evaluate President Obama's early record? Only a mainstream press with an inherent Republican bias would follow this script.
Ms. Stolberg also quotes "Republican strategist" Scott Reed who tells us that Obama is "creating an image that he is making something happen," and she even finishes his sentence for him: "But in the coming weeks," she writes, "Mr. Obama will have to do more than create an image; he will in fact have to make something happen." Mr. Reed, who Ms. Stolberg deems a fount of wisdom on the subject of the new Obama administration, is a far-right Republican hack who started his career with Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition. Newsweek magazine reported that Mr. Reed's organization, the "American Taxpayers Alliance," in 2001 received $1.8 million from Reliant Energy and Duke Power to run attack ads blaming California's energy crisis on then Governor Gray Davis. (Court documents later revealed that Mr. Reed's allies from Reliant, Duke, and Enron conspired to bilk Californians for billions of dollars by illegally gaming the deregulated energy market.)
And here is my point: Even after all of the real damage and pain Republicans (including Newt Gingrich and Scott Reed) have inflicted on our nation in recent years the press is still compelled to frame the debate on the Republicans' terms. I don't recall White House reporters routinely turning to Ralph Nader or Dennis Kucinich or Michael Moore to evaluate the merits of the Bush administration. Ironically, if anything Nader, Kucinich, and Moore are closer to the "center" than is Gingrich, Reed, or Republican whip Eric Cantor (another Stolberg source).
I don't recall Ms. Stolberg ever fretting over whether or not the Democratic members of the Black Caucus or the Progressive Caucus had been "won over" by President Bush. Maybe she'll follow in the footsteps of her predecessor, Eisabeth Bumiller, and write an adoring biography of Condi Rice or Alberto Gonzales.
Ms. Stolberg might have at least pointed out to her readers that President Obama has dramatically shifted the United States' orientation toward the rest of the world with his foreign policy team and agenda, and when he signed the Guantanamo and torture executive orders he was surrounded by a phalanx of retired admirals and generals, who are overwhelmingly Republican. She might have also mentioned President Obama's lifting of the gag rule regarding U.S. aid to family planning and women's health organizations internationally, and his plan to reverse the Bush Administration's obstructionism in allowing California and thirteen other states to impose long-awaited stricter fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks.
Maybe President Obama has already started to "make something happen" in this country. And maybe the members of the White House press corps -- grown fat and lazy and accustomed to absorbing Bush's folksy homilies and quoting people like Newt Gingrich and Scott Reed -- have simply missed it.