by Susan Nielsen, The Oregonian Sunday June 21, 2009, 12:03 am
Leave it to a fatly buzzing fly to embody the peskiest part of President Obama's job: No matter what the president does, the media will overplay it and someone will find fault with it.
I agree with this columnist, entirely. I've been feeling much the same way recently: now that the president has been in office for five months, liberals are complaining that he isn't doing what they expect of him, the way they expect him to do it. How quickly some forget how it was to have a righ-wing republican in office instead of middle-to-left moderate-liberal, the latter much more likely to do things that will please liberals than the former ever was or would be.
This leaves self-described independents, who now make up the majority of the electorate, with the tough job of assessing Obama fairly as politics heat up and expectations for an economic recovery intensify.
First, a quick recap of Flygate. The cable news network CNBC interrupted its more serious coverage last week to air a long clip of Obama killing a bothersome fly with a single dispassionate slap. Along the bottom of the screen crawled this headline: "BREAKING NEWS: PRES. OBAMA SWATS FLY DURING CNBC INTERVIEW AT WHITE HOUSE."
Is there any doubt that media outlets concentrate on the trivial?
The group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals swiftly reproached the president. While conceding Obama's impeccable record on animal rights, the activists said he should set a better example and vowed to send him a Katcha Bug Humane Bug Catcher.
Picture the laughs heard 'round the world if Obama strapped a bug catcher to his belt, next to his Blackberry. Now imagine the snorts of derision if the president -- the same man trying to be tough on North Korea -- couldn't manage a show of force against a fly.
The fly incident is only the silliest example of backbiting. Civil rights groups glower that Obama isn't in lockstep with them on Guantanamo detainees. Gay-rights groups fume that Obama did not include health benefits last week when he extended, by executive order, partnership benefits to gay federal workers.
They want their way, and only their way.
Never mind that Obama's trying to untangle a mess at Guantanamo without making new ones. Never mind that he supports extending these health benefits; he simply believes the change should happen through Congress rather than by executive fiat.
Which is the correct way to do it, contrary to what the previous administration was wont to do.
So Obama gives 90 percent and gets chided for falling short of 110. That's politics.
Dummies. They should consider the alternative.
Meanwhile, critics on the right pin the entire federal deficit on Obama, capitalizing on voters' growing concerns about government debt. The critics buzz around, complaining about turtle tunnels in Florida and other pork projects in the stimulus bill. They grouse that Obama has been too busy nationalizing the auto industry to do much to create or save jobs.
Double dummies. All the right wing is doing is pointing to what isn't happening, gnawing at the margins, and trying to create issues, knowing how to play to the media (the same outfits that covered Flygate).
Again, it's fair to call up the truth squad.
Just think how desperate Oregon and Washington would be without the federal stimulus money, which Obama got through Congress within a few weeks of taking office. Picture unemployment and poverty rising yet higher if countless additional teachers and other state workers had lost their jobs.
As bad as things are now, they're a picnic compared to life without the extra stimulus money, aka deficit spending. This money is keeping us from spiraling into a second Great Depression.
Speaking of deficits, The New York Times recently analyzed the $2trillion swing from the Clinton-era surpluses to today's deficits, using budget numbers and official projections from 2001 through 2012. The recession itself accounts for more than one-third of the shift. Policies from the Bush era, including tax cuts, new Medicare drug coverage, the Iraq war and the bank bailout, account for more than half of the shift.
The stimulus bill accounts for just 7 percent.
Even if it were more, it is what is needed to be done.
Obama's agenda on health care, climate change and education? Just 3 percent. (That's assuming Congress finds ways to pay for most new programs, always a big "if" no matter who's in charge.)
Obama's approval ratings remain high. The guy doesn't need defending. The public still trusts him enough to be patient, even as the job outlook stays bleak.
Still, our patience will wear thin eventually. As the debts of the past come due, we'll be tempted to blame Obama for the entire cost rather than admit complicity over the years.
Then we'll start needling Obama to fix the deficit without cutting any programs, raising taxes or touching entitlement spending. Meanwhile, we'll expect the president to solve North Korea, Iran and Afghanistan in his spare time.
Whatever the task, the eye of the camera will never go away.
Neither will the irritable buzz of the nearest and smallest fly.
-- Associate Editor Susan Nielsen, The Oregonian; firstname.lastname@example.org