May 2, 2012 · 1 Comments
By Marie Burns:
The New York Times has given me the day off. I usually comment on op-ed columns, and Wednesdays tend to be down days. This Wednesday is no exception.
Tom Friedman resubmitted that column about how the U.S. should support education in the Middle East and cool it with the gifts of tanks and fighter jets. Today’s hook: Friedman is reporting from Amman, Jordan! The self-sacrifice and nobility of his effort is touching: “I am on a swing through the Arab world right now, and I am spending as much time as I can with public schoolteachers and students – and young Arabs doing technology start-ups – and as little time as possible with officials.” And I was so hoping he would regale us with tales of dinner with Jordan’s royal family. Well, surely next time.
Meanwhile, Maureen Dowd tells “A chilling election ghost story: How Dominique Strauss-Kahn haunts the Socialist Party he once was poised to take to the Élysée Palace.” At least that’s the blurb. The content is strictly New York Post “Page Six” gossip.
The only useful regular op-ed columnist is Mark Bittman, the food guy, who writes about the difficulties of effectively administering New York City’s Breakfast in the Classroom program. “… the vast majority of kids do not need more calories (simply put, more calories to more kids means more obesity), and the real battles should be to subsidize healthy food, discourage junk, eradicate junk food advertising to children, preserve and expand beneficial food assistance programs, and have food policy determined by experts and citizens rather than by corporations and the elected officials who are in their pockets.” Bittman’s column does not appear in the print edition of the paper. Too bad the folks in Right Wing World don’t read the online version of the Times. Maybe then they would stop asking stupid questions like this one from Rick Santorum: “If hunger is a problem in America, then why do we have an obesity problem among the people who we say have a hunger program?”
Guest columnist Steve Kettmann, a former columnist for the newspaper Berliner Zeitung, writes about a fringe German political party – the Pirates – whose “meta-goal” is “using the Internet to create a new structure of politics that can solve the problem of how to energize citizens — not only for the excitement of a campaign but also the often dreary realities of actual governance.” This much of his piece is informative; unfortunately, Kettmann treats the Pirates methodology as a model for President Obama, seemingly totally unaware that the Obama White House and the stump of his campaign organization, Organizing for America, have been doing the Pirates thing all along.
This brings us to a “Campaign Stops” post by Ross Douthat. Douthat writes about the controversy over the Obama campaign’s “One Chance” ad, a 90-second spot in which former President Clinton praises Obama for making the difficult decision to conduct a helicopter raid on a compound inside Pakistan where the C.I.A. Believed Osama bin Laden lived. The ad asks, “Which path would Mitt Romney have taken?” The ad not only inflamed Republicans, it aroused “tut-tuts” from some ostensible liberals – most famously Davos darling Arianna Huffington. As Douthat writes,
On the Early Show on CBS, Huffington called the ad ‘despicable,’ suggested that questioning an opponent’s ability to serve as commander-in-chief is ‘not the way to run campaigns on either side,’ and compared the attack to the ’3 A.M. phone call’ ad Hillary Clinton’s campaign released in 2008, which made a similar case against then-candidate Obama’s ability to make the toughest national security decisions.
You might expect Douthat to join the Huffington-GOP Ecumenical Chorus. He does not. Instead, he writes,
… a moment’s scrutiny reveals that her argument doesn’t make much sense. Why do we have election seasons, after all, if not to argue about which candidate would be better-suited to making decisions that put Americans in harm’s way overseas? How can we not politicize national security, given how central it is to the work of the modern presidency, and how unconstrained the executive branch’s national security powers have become no matter which party holds the White House? … Impugning a rival’s judgment, as the Obama camp’s Bin Laden advertisement just did, is precisely what a presidential campaign is for.
I’ll happily quibble with Douthat’s details, but his main point is correct. The rap on Obama – the usual GOP rap on Democrats – is that he didn’t have the chops to make the tough calls. The “One Chance” ad reminds viewers that indeed, he did. I’d say the same for Obama’s decisions – twice, here and here– to give the go-ahead to Navy SEALs in the “daring and risky” rescues of captives of Somali pirates.
Mitt Romney and his GOP rivals spent the better part of the winter piling on Obama for supposed foreign-policy failures. So determined were they to eviscerate Obama that they changed their stories from day-to-day and week-to-week, often because Obama’s successes proved their most recent charges foolish. Romney, who once said that as president he would outsource foreign policy to the State Department, “has called the president out for being weak and naive in his dealings with foreign adversaries from North Korea to Russia to Libya to Iran.” Romney claimed that Obama “had thrown Israel under the bus” and re-electing Obama would mean that Iran would definitely obtain a nuclear weapon. He said, “This incompetence from the Obama administration has emboldened the North Korean regime and undermined the security of the United States and our allies.” In general, he has accused Obama of “leading from behind.” And of course he repeatedly claims – untruthfully – that Obama’s principal foreign policy “achievement” is his ’round-the-world Apologizing-for-America tour.
As for Douthat’s claim about the “3 A.M.” ad, the problem with that ad wasn’t the legitimate question it asked, but the illegitimate one it implied. As Orlando Patterson wrote in a New York Times op-ed in 2008, the ad was purposefully racist. Patterson, who is black, wrote that it took him awhile to figure out what it was about the ad that made him uneasy. I’m white, and I saw immediately that the ad was designed to play to racial fears. Oh, no, a black man will come after my nice white children in the night! Only Hillary Clinton – outfitted in a suit and pearls! at 3 a.m. – could save America’s children from the black guy. The ad wasn’t about foreign policy experience; it was about appealing to deep-seated, and often unacknowledged, white prejudice.
Douthat concludes that the presidential campaign is a good chance for conservatives “to figure out what they think about the recent past, where they stand at present and where they would have the country go from here.” He’s right. It’s a good chance for all of us to focus on our visions for the U.S.’s role in the world. Too bad the New York Times op-ed page leaves us to focus on “foreign affairs” that revolve around Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s partying and Tom Friedman’s same old platitudes.
Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com