A Spin Too Far

A recently released email indicates that a White House official was actively involved in shaping the Obama Administration’s depiction of the cause of the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi — an attack that killed four Americans, including Chris Stevens, the Ambassador to Libya.  The release of the email was compelled by a court after having been withheld by the Obama Administration for more than a year before being released pursuant to Freedom of Information Act requests.

The email is from Ben Rhodes, an assistant to President Obama and the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications.  It addresses the preparation of Susan Rice, then the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, for her appearance on Sunday morning talk shows to discuss the Benghazi attack and describes “goals” to be achieved.  One goal was to “underscore these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”  Another goal was to “reinforce the President and Administration’s strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges.”  The email also says that “the currently available information is that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired” rather than being a planned attack.

The Washington Post website says the email “clearly showed a White House top priority was to shield Obama from criticism less than two months before voters decided whether to give him a second term.” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says the email was not produced previously because it was not directly about the Benghazi attack but rather attempted to more broadly address Obama Administration policy and views about protests throughout the Middle East.

I try not to be naive about modern politics, where the immediate reaction to every bit of bad news is to try to develop a way to “spin” the news to better advantage.  Everyday Americans just need to understand that, for both parties, “spin” rules the day.  Even so, the newly released email is troubling.  Shouldn’t spin end at the water’s edge?  When we are talking about an attack that killed a U.S. Ambassador and three other Americans, isn’t the proper approach to wait until the facts are known, rather than actively shaping the comments of officials toward a story line that the White House thinks would better serve a President who is in the midst of a reelection campaign?

That Infuriating Washington, D.C. Feeling Of Entitlement

One issue to be addressed in the upcoming “lame duck” Congress is whether the Bush-era tax cuts should be extended.  Republicans say that the current tax rates should be extended because it makes no sense to raise taxes during a recession.  The position of many, but not all, Democrats is that some of the tax cuts should be extended, but the tax cuts on Americans who earn the most income should expire — thereby increasing their taxes.

So much of the political discussion in Washington, D.C. is vacuous jousting about language!  In this case, is the extension of tax rates that are about to expire a “tax cut,” or is allowing those rates to expire a “tax increase”?  (I think most Americans would conclude, reasonably, that if tax rates should go from 35% on December 31, 2010 to 39% on January 1, 2011, a “tax increase” has occurred.)  Even more exasperating are the arguments by President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, among others, that if an across-the-board extension occurs, the federal government would have to “borrow” money to “pay” for “tax cuts” for those Americans who earn the most.

It is worth deconstructing such statements, because they reveal a lot about the attitude of many leading Democrats.  In effect, they believe that the federal government is entitled to the money earned by every taxpayer.  If the government decides to let us keep some of it we should be grateful, because the government has to “pay” for that generosity.  In my view, this infuriating sense of entitlement is one reason that voters voted against so many Democratic candidates earlier this month.  If the government believes that it has a right to every penny we earn, it will never learn to live within its means — and that is what voters want.  If our government cannot get by on tax receipts that already exceed $2 trillion, the problem is spending, not taxes.

Commentator, Spin Thyself

Kish and I have watched a fair amount of cable TV news programs in the wake of the Massachusetts special election and I have been struck by the efforts to spin the election by at least some commentators.  Spin, of course, almost always comes from the losing side.  The winning side doesn’t really need to spin; its victory is self-evident.

The spin from the losing side, like so much else in modern politics, is based on the assumption that viewers and other American citizens are a bit dim and gullible.  There is no other way to explain why people would attempt to argue that a vote for a candidate who specifically opposed the “health care reform” legislation during his campaign is nevertheless not a reflection of popular reaction to the “health care reform” legislation.  There is no other reason why an otherwise experienced “political observer” would assert, with a straight face, that the proper response is for President Obama to give still more speeches about why “health care reform” is so important when he has already given dozens and dozens of speeches about that topic to no good effect.

I think the contrast between the spinning commentators and the politicians themselves is instructive.  Commentators may try to convince us that a terrible loss really isn’t as bad as it seems, but any professional politician can’t afford to be delusional about such things if they want to stay elected.  At the same time many commentators are urging a “double-down” on “health care reform” legislation, there seems to be no real appetite for that course in the halls of Congress itself.  Their actions of Senators and Representatives, or in this case inaction, speak louder than commentators’ words.