New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane, in a terrible column this weekend, claimed that his own paper went easy on Obama during the 2008 campaign and early in his first term perhaps out of enthusiasm over the election of the first African American president.
Brisbane said — not once but twice — that The Times needs to “answer the question: Who is the real Barack Obama?”
This echoes a popular conservative talking point, that despite one of the toughest primary campaigns in modern history, and a brutal general election, Obama still was somehow never vetted for the White House.
But, no, the Times doesn’t need to answer that question. It’s actually an irrelevant and, to be blunt, stupid question. No matter what conservative spinners say, the last thing that major news organizations should waste their time doing is attempting to decipher who Obama “really” is.
We’re in an era of partisan presidencies, in which the personality, preferences, and ultimately goals of the person in the Oval Office aren’t nearly as important as what the party thinks. That means, too, that it’s mostly a waste of time trying to figure out whether the real Mitt Romney is the moderate problem-solver who was governor of Massachusetts or the fire-breathing “severe” conservative we’ve seen on the campaign trail over the last few months. What’s far more important is figuring out what the coalition who nominated him and is trying to elect him really wants, because that’s how he’ll actually govern.
Conservatives presumably push the idea that we still don’t really know the “real” Barack Obama because they want to hint, without quite saying so, that Obama is somehow alien and un-American. They hint, or even explicitly claim, that if reelected, Obama will unleash a Kenyan socialist agenda on the nation that he kept secret until his second term, after which he won’t have to face voters again.
I have no idea why Brisbane falls for such an inane line. But the best clue to how Obama will behave if re-elected is to carefully examine what he has done in his first three plus years in the White House. That’s it. The notion that there’s some secret personality which is a better predictor of future actions than the actions a president has taken so far is deeply flawed.
If the Times public editor has a specific problem with specific coverage of Obama, that’s his business. But there’s no reason for him to be indulging one of the more insipid right wing fantasies of Obama’s first term.