Press freedom is a pillar of our democracy. Press freedom holds our leaders accountable. It makes government more transparent. It allows the electorate to make informed decisions. Really, it’s a beautiful thing.
But election cycles seem to bring the worst out in the press. And already, still a year before the first primary, junior varsity journalism rears its ugly head. Words are taken out of context. Facts are skewed. The truth is shaped, not reported.
No better example than John J. Pitney Jr’s piece “George W. Obama.” Obama, according to Pitney, is not the man everyone says he is. Obama does not represent a different kind of politics. He may preach bipartisanship but his voting record reflects stark partisan leanings. He may trumpet politics that are practical and principled, but his beliefs could polarize a nation already divided.
Pitney paints a picture that deserves further scrutiny. After all, the American people deserve a President that is honest and authentic. We should be able to trust that the next President put forth more than empty rhetoric. That the next president say what s/he mean and do what s/he say. So it makes sense to see how Obama’s record stands up against Pitney’s critique. Lets look at the facts.
While he (Obama) has worked with Republicans on some issues, his voting record is that of a hard-core liberal.
Wrong. Debate on whether we need a very liberal President aside, Obama is not hardcore anything. Since entering the Senate, Obama has matched bipartisan rhetoric with bipartisan action. In a divisive political climate, Obama passed legislation with Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) to prevent the further proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. He worked with Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) to give a voice to the voiceless Sudanese ravaged by genocide in
Senator Obama raised CAFÉ fuel economy standards, lifted the veil on earmark and contract spending, spurred the production of alternative diesels, expanded manufacturing for flexible fuel vehicles, provided a tax credit for gas stations that install ethanol refueling pumps, passed legislation to help make college more affordable, expanded learning opportunities for children and helped ensure that our veterans are cared for and housed.
He did all of these things hand in hand with Republicans. In a polarized Washington, Senator Obama made
America more safe, more energy independent, and made government more transparent and accountable to the American public. Obama 1, Pitney 0.
In his book, he attacks Ronald Reagan, the modern leader whom Republicans most revere. Obama sneers at “his John Wayne, ‘Father Knows Best’ pose, his policy by anecdote, and his gratuitous assaults on the poor. Just imagine a Republican writing so harshly about John F. Kennedy. Would anyone see that person as a political healer?
Wrong again. After I read this claim I wondered if he read Obama’s book or simply skimmed the cliff notes. One only has to check the index of ‘The Audacity of Hope’ to find that Obama mentions Reagan on fifteen different pages. Even the quote in question was written in the context of a great compliment. Obama writes,
As disturbed as I might have been by Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, as unconvinced as I might have been by his John Wayne, Father Knows Best pose, his policy by anecdote, and his gratuitous assaults on the poor, I understood his appeal…Reagan spoke to America’s longings for order, our need to believe that we are not simply subject to blind, impersonal forces but that we can shape our individual and collective destinies, so long as we rediscover the traditional virtues of hard work, patriotism, personal responsibility, optimism, and faith.
Okay, so Obama understood Regan’s appeal to Americans. But surely Obama focused on Reagan’s political blunders? To the contrary, Obama notes, that “the Earned Income Tax Credit, a program championed by Ronald Reagan that provides low wage workers with supplemental income through the tax code, should also be expanded and streamlined so more families can take advantage of it.” Obama goes on to say that “In 1983, when facing a similar problem, Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill got together and shaped a bipartisan plan that stabilized the system for the next sixty years.”
Alright, alright, so Obama agrees with Reagan on a couple of points. What about Reagan’s worldview? Surely Obama attacks Reagan like Pitney suggests. Obama reflects on the discussions he had with some of his Columbia classmates. He writes, “at times, in arguments with some of my friends on the left, I would find myself in the curious position of defending aspects of Reagan’s worldview… I might have arguments with the size of Reagan’s military buildup, but given the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, staying ahead of the Soviets militarily seemed a sensible thing to do. Pride in our country, respect for our armed services, a healthy appreciation for the dangers beyond our borders, an insistence that there was no easy equivalence between East and West—in all this I had no quarrel with Reagan. And when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, I had to give the old man his due, even if I never gave him my vote.”
Obama 2, Pitney 0. This is not to suggest that Obama agreed with Regan even most of the time. But Obama’s characterization of Reagan is fair. It presents all sides of the story.
Obama has reached across the aisle to tackle big problems with practical solutions. He has matched bipartisan rhetoric with bipartisan action. And when Obama speaks about Reagan he does so with a degree of respect not often seen in politics. As journalists ready for the campaign trail, I only hope that they present all sides of the story and treat each candidate with respect.
- Barack Obama. The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. Crown Publishers. New York. p. 31