For days now, rumors have swirled about a Loyola College forum on community organizing in which President Obama purportedly reveals his commitment to property redistribution. Almost immediately, the liberal press corps closed ranks, first casting doubts on the authenticity of the recording, and then once that was solidly established, declaring the meaning tortured out of pertinent context. Loyola College resisted repeated calls to review the tape and NBC News, the only media organization in possession of it, summarily dismissed it as unworthy of further investigative scrutiny (or a proper public viewing).
This journalistic restraint stands in stark contrast to the mainstream media reaction to a recording of remarks Mitt Romney recently delivered at a private fundraising event in which he uttered his now infamous remarks regarding the 47% of Americans who don’t pay federal income tax. These comments were demonstrably wrenched from a context that would have mitigated their clumsy presentation and would have clarified their flippant but relatively innocuous meaning. And yet, with all the febrile enthusiasm of hungry sharks in well chummed waters, the press advanced, unchastened by the swarm of doubts surrounding the recording. In place of an apparently selective discipline there was willful daring.
But now the full recording has been obtained and made generally accessible by the Daily Caller. Unlike Romney’s remarks, which were less than revealing even when situated inside the rhetorical and political context within which they occur, Obama’s comments are genuinely candid, providing a portal into his political convictions he rarely provides on the teleprompter accompanied stump, ranging over a wide swath of explosively controversial issues he might be inclined to sidestep in the midst of a campaign.
For example, the comments which originally stirred so much controversy were as follows:
“I actually believe in wealth redistribution. At least at a certain level, to make sure that everyone’s got a shot”.
NBC News went out of its way, without actually sharing the context to which it only obliquely refers, to declare that Obama merely “seems” to be announcing his agreement with the principle of government directed property redistribution. However, given the simple declarative character of the statement in question, it’s not at all clear what context would negate its plain meaning (unless the next sentence is something akin to “just kidding!”). Also, if the remarks that couch the statement are so obviously exculpatory, why not simply disclose them? What journalistic principle justifies the steadfast refusal to share information with the public in order for them to make these determinations for themselves?
In fact, the newly available context is more an indictment than an exoneration, casting Obama as a dogmatic ideologue who can’t help but vilify his political opponents and caricature their positions. He makes is unambiguously clear that he supports a rehabilitation of “government action”, lambasting the “propaganda” that has sullied its good name:
“I think that what we’re gonna have to do is somehow resuscitate the notion that government action can be effective at all.” There has been a systematic — I don’t think it’s too strong to call it a propaganda campaign — against the possibility of government action and its efficacy.”
Obama discusses the need to cultivate the notion that political solidarity means somehow united by the government, the crucible of patriotic sentiment:
“What that means, then is that as we try to resuscitate this notion that we’re all in this thing together — ‘leave nobody behind’ — we do have to be innovative in thinking.’What are the delivery systems that are actually effective and meet people where they live?’”
Obama also stakes out some controversial political territory, claiming that he likely would not have voted for the very popular welfare reform under President Clinton in 1996:
“I did not entirely agree with and probably would have voted against at the federal level.”
However, Obama reveals one happy consequence that issued from that legislation:
“But one good thing that comes out of it is that it essentially desegregates the welfare population,” collapsing the black community into “the working poor, which are the other people. Now you just have one batch of folks. … That is increasingly a majority population.”
Obama cynically refers to this new demographic as an emergent “majority coalition” noting that the success of liberal platforms will require a large and united front of poorer, disenfranchised voters and an electorally influential and well organized band of unions. So the primary benefit of welfare reform, as far as Obama is concerned, is not the boost to the economy it delivered, or the lessening of state dependence and a boon to a general culture of self-sufficiency, or even the superior socioeconomic mobility it catalyzed. The real advantage is that it helped to coalesce a community of otherwise electorally disjointed poor citizens into a reliable voting block for the Democratic party.
And before his 2008 promises to conquer America’s querulous partisan divide, he didn’t hesitate to refer to his political opponents as the “bad guys” though he cheekily refuses to identify exactly who they are. (Spoiler alert: they’re Republicans):
“The people who are guilty of disempowering the population are not only the bad guys — I won’t be partisan here and say who the bad guys are. It’s not only the folks who are representing the special interests, quote-unquote, and the guys with the pinky diamond rings and the fat cats. Sometimes it is also us.”
At least one could admit that Obama was laudably forthcoming that day, pointing out that his political inclinations were generally unrepresentative of most of America, conceding that they wouldn’t likely “see the light of the day in either Springfield or Washington.” He recognized that he was planting his flag well to the left of most of the country but in good faith forwarded, however stridently, the substance of his convictions. Today, he clothes his ideological extremism in centrist garb, feigning a pragmatic disdain for flights of philosophical attachment.
And the press remains complicit in his strategic dissembling, extending him such generous latitude it finally amounts to coordinated protection. This is both disappointing and shameful, since the great significance and esteem historically attributed to the press was a function of its faithful commitment to the impartial delivery of the truth, in the service of sustaining a well-informed and vigilant citizenry. Now, like Obama’s condescendingly paternalistic interpretation of the proper role of government, they no longer trust their audience to make up their own minds, and would rather instruct and edify than apprise them.
Ivan Kenneally is Editor in Chief of the Daily Witness.