BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON
President Barack Obama has had a charmed political life.
He has been a first class passenger on a supersonic rise in politics from community activist, state legislator and part-time U.S. Senator to President of the United States. And now he is running for a second term, wrapped in coats of Teflon slapped on so thick the negatives just don’t stick.
President Obama is rising in the polls and enjoying high personal popularity at a time when so much seems to be crumbling around him.
U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is coming apart. We don’t know who are enemies and who are friends. We are being pummeled in a dozen countries by protestors, governments, and terrorist organizations all of which are slowly and systematically breaking down what progress we’ve made since President Jimmy Carter thought he solved the problems in the White House Rose Garden forty years ago.
But President Obama flies comfortably above it all. When there’s trouble, first you see him and then you don’t. A promising young diplomat, our Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, has sacrificed her entire career–some have said, one of great potential—by spreading a blanket of misinformation about the tragic debacle in Benghazi, Libya, across the landscape of American media to protect his chances of re-election. Whether she did it deliberately or was misled, it is highly doubtful she will ever be confirmed for another Presidential appointment. Those who stood behind the curtains and pulled her puppet strings in the President’s inner circle will go undetected and unpunished.
The President has dodged responsibility for that incident, particularly the criminal lack of protective services around slain Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other American diplomats in harm’s way. The Teflon will protect him from responsibility for our souring relations with both allies and adversaries and what appears to be a looming and ominous confrontation with Iran over nuclear weapons.
It will also protect him from what appears to be a serious breakdown in Afghanistan policy. Our allies, who now appear to be our enemies, are killing our troops. What we thought was a glide path to withdrawal—the training, equipping and deployment of the Afghan army–is becoming a road to ruin. President Obama has not had to answer for it. The media have become Teflon applicators. NBC Nightly News, for example, reported on the crisis in Afghanistan on Oct. 1, with three correspondents on the ground. President Obama, to my recollection, was never mentioned. The images were all of former President George W. Bush. It is still his war after four years out of office.
Relations with China are going in the wrong direction and the neglect of the daily economic crises in Europe is no longer benign, but malignant.
Closer to home, the Fast and Furious scandal surrounding the trail of American weapons to drug cartels in Mexico, linked to the death of one American border agent and now 15 Mexican teenagers, leads everywhere but to the President. Attorney General Eric Holder is running interference, more effectively than Ambassador Rice.
Even closer to home, the American people are on the eve of yet another fiscal crisis. The U.S. debt is out of control; government finances are a mess; the Federal Government is dysfunctional at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue; and just this week the President of the International Monetary Fund told CBS if we don’t get our fiscal house in order, we could be in for another recession.
A new report said the manufacturing sector is anemic and Americans are still afraid to invest in the stock market. Another report indicated that low interest rates are ruining the lives of a whole generation of retirees, and we will soon get yet another report on the state of joblessness and under-employment in America, which four years into the Obama Administration is still plaguing 23 million Americans.
The country is facing a sequester (slashing of spending required by law) that will put thousands of people out of work, but government contractors, who are required by law to notify their employees of this impending disaster in their lives, aren’t going to tell them what’s coming. The President’s Office of management and Budget told them not to, just five weeks before the election. Another coating of Teflon.
What is so startling is that the President is still blaming Bush for “90 percent” of our deficit/debt problems. You’d think Bush was camping out in the Lincoln bedroom. President Obama hasn’t had to address these problems because he no longer has press conferences and limits his public appearances to day and nighttime talk shows. He’s been on a marathon of carefully controlled campaign appearances for more than a year and the media seem okay with it.
The media love this guy and so it’s no wonder the American people do, too.
While the Romney campaign seems to be its own worst enemy the media have gone to great lengths to magnify his missteps and minimize Obama’s. I believe the evidence is ample and irrefutable. Stories that should have lasted a day or two have gone on for weeks. Stories that didn’t deserve national coverage have been plastered all over front pages and evening news broadcasts. Stories that have at least two sides and in most cases many sides have been reported from only one perspective. The torrent of mean-spirited, misinformed, misleading and downright deceptive commentaries has been prevalent at both ends of the political spectrum, in what should be objective news stories and news judgments in traditional media.
One would assume that reporters, editors, producers and media executives don’t see it that way, nor would Obama loyalists. No doubt they see some sour grapes in this view of the political vineyard. Maybe so. Sour grapes are easy to come by in this era of stridency, anger, suspicion, gridlock and polarization. But that is not cause to dismiss this view entirely. There are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed once the election is over. It didn’t start with Obama and it won’t end with him.
Editor’s Note: Mike Johnson is a former journalist, who worked on the Ford White House staff and served as press secretary and chief of staff to House Republican Leader Bob Michel, prior to entering the private sector. He is co-author of a book, Surviving Congress, a guide for congressional staff. He is currently a principal with the OB-C Group.