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Blogger Meeting with Obama: A Missed Opportunity

On October 27, 2010, a group of 5 "liberal" bloggers met with Obama: Duncan “Atrios” Black of Eschaton, John Amato of Crooks and Liars, Barb Morrill of Daily Kos, Oliver Willis and Joe Sudbay of AmericaBLOG. Bloggers often criticize the MSM for asking lame questions, not focusing on the important issues, being easily fobbed off with pap, and not following up. Reading the transcript of their interaction with Obama, I would say they got rolled and performed pretty much on par with the MSM.

The general form went something like this:

Blogger: Question
Obama: blah, blah, blah
Blogger: Thank you

Obama began with some ego stroking saying how bloggers like them hold his Administration and the media accountable. He then set up the format. Each blogger to ask one question, and then open it up after.

John Amato immediately took things off track by asking about the incident in Kentucky where a Rand Paul supporter stepped down on the neck of a protester from Moveon who was already being held on the ground by two other guys. Jobs, the banksters, the wars, foreclosuregate, and this is the best Amato can come up with? Obama could have said it was despicable. Instead he said "we can disagree without being disagreeable" and that there are some lines that we should not cross. I mean most of us could have ghostwritten Obama's milquetoast response.

Obama also said that we should not demonize the other side or consider them evil. I think there is a poisoned subtext here, the criminalization of policy differences as Cass Sunstein described it. When people commit criminal acts whether they step on somebody's neck, perpetrate massive control frauds, torture, or start illegal wars, they should be investigated and prosecuted. Being civil in such circumstances is not a remedy.

The next question was about working with Republicans after the election given that they haven't worked with him up to now. Obama said, "I don’t give up just because I didn’t get cooperation on this issue; I’ll try the next issue." This sounds like a good recap of Einstein's definition of insanity, doing the same over and over and expecting a different result.

It took until the third question (by Atrios?) to bring up the economy. He mentioned the 9.6% unemployment rate. As both lambert and I have tried to stress, the real level of un- and under employment, of disemployment, is 20% and represents more than 31 million Americans. Even the U-6 measure is at 17.1%. Citing the U-3 rate allows a politician like Obama to dodge the magnitude of the problem. He also alluded to foreclosuregate but then weakened his thrust by asking about "further" intiatives after the election. Why didn't he say, the three biggest issues in this country are jobs, jobs, jobs. Yet what Americans see from you is that your 3 top priorities are the banks, the banks, and the banks. Your stimulus was too small and poorly constructed to create many jobs, and its effects have already run their course. There was no follow up to it, and now Americans see with foreclosuregate that your main priority is once again to defend the banks. As long as these are your priorities, why should any American vote for you or any Democrat?

Given the question that was asked, Obama responded first by bringing up that the Republicans wanted to continue the Bush tax cuts for the upper 2%. What he did not say is that he would veto any bill that contained them. He stressed growth but did not say how this would be accomplished.

Then he mentioned the "structural" deficit, code for Medicare and Social Security. He took credit for the highly dubious assertion that he reversed "our descent into depression." Then he comes up with the whopper "the single thing people are most concerned about are jobs. And those jobs are going to come from the private sector." Well, maybe but only with massive multi-trillion dollar government investment, Mr. President, not these pissant programs you are talking about.

The 4th question was simple and direct: "Will you rule out raising the retirement age to 70?"

Obama answered that he was waiting for his stacked cat food commission's recommendations, but then indicated that he favored raising the cap. This sounds a lot like the typical hawker's line that he would love to give this stuff away, but his wife won't let him.

Next up was DADT. Constitutional or not? This was the wrong question. The right question was: If Congress does not act by the end of the year to rescind DADT, will you do so administratively, since you have that power? As it was, despite being a Constitutional scholar and all, he punted saying he wasn't a Supreme Court justice. This allowed him to say that he was against DADT but that it was up to the Congress or the Court to do something about it.

I hope you are all seeing a pattern here because I sure am. Obama keeps saying he can't do squat for liberals although he does sympathize with them, this from the most powerful person on the planet. So would you believe him?

At this point, questioning was opened up. Amato asked about immigration reform and Obama said he was for it, but the Republicans and the filibuster….

Then the lamest question so far. You get pressure from the left and right, so I guess that makes you a pragmatist. Do you consider yourself a progressive?

Obama responds:

So I would define myself as a strong progressive in the sense that I believe in that essential American Dream that everybody gets a chance to make it if they’re willing to work hard, that government has a role to play in ensuring opportunity by making sure kids get a decent education and can afford to go to college; that workers are able to train and retrain for the jobs of the future; that we’re building strong infrastructure; that we are using our diplomacy alongside our military to protect our national security; that we believe in the Bill of Rights and we actually act on it, even when it’s inconvenient; that we are promoting the equal treatment of citizens under the law.

Those core beliefs that America prospers not just when a few people do well but when everybody has the chance to do well, when we’ve got a growing middle class, where we -- people are able to live out their dreams without the barriers of race or gender or sexual orientation, those are things I deeply believe in.

This sounds like pap from some stump speech he gave. I mean point for point, Obama has acted against every one of these, a more cynical lying statement could not be imagined.

Question: Happy with HAMP? Should have said, HAMP has been an unmitigated disaster that hasn't come remotely close to helping the millions of homeowners in need of help. Obama replied that it was so hard to tell who the "deserving" homeowners were. This is basically the "It's the homeowners' fault" argument, not that of predatory banks. He also said that HAMP helped stabilize housing prices. Two points. First, it is doubtful that HAMP had much of any effect on housing prices. Second, stabilization of housing prices helped banks far more than it helped homeowners. He finishes by saying if the economy improves, if unemployment goes down, this will help things. Well, duh. That's a little like saying if your problems go away then you won't have any problems.

Another question on compromising and working with Republicans. Obama hides behind the filibuster, at length yet again. He tries to sell his approach as incrementalist and even plugs FinReg.

Question on DOMA. Obama says he favors civil unions.

DADT is brought up again. Obama says he has a strategy for the lame duck session that he can't talk about. I believe it relies heavily on pixie dust. Obama asks for help getting Log Cabin Republicans to lobby Republican Senators, sort of missing the point that the LGBT community is not homogenous. Then he hides behind the filibuster again.

He gets asked about filibuster reform and punts it as a separation of powers issue.

And that is pretty much where it ended.

There were so many questions that could have been asked, so many questions that could have been asked better than they were, and with better follow up. It didn't happen. But the point is they could have been. The participants had the time to think through their questions and even bounce them off colleagues beforehand. This does not seem to have happened.

The two questions I would have asked are: You were elected on a platform of "Change". You came to office with the biggest Congressional majorities in 80 years. You didn't deliver. You never fought for change. You always pre-compromised. You never forced the Republicans to filibuster. You didn't use reconciliation. You didn't use the power of the office and the leadership in Congress to punish obstructionist Democrats, let alone obstructionist Republicans. You never effected change that you could have done using the power of the Presidency: to end wars, to respect Constitutional rights, to stop indefinite detention, to cutback on domestic surveillance, to investigate criminality on Wall Street, and in the Bush Administration. Nobody forced you to make secret sweetheart deals with Big Insurance and Big Pharma on healthcare. And it's not like you fought and lost. You embraced Bush's programs, which voters had elected you precisely to reject. You completely froze out progressives from your Administration. You let Republicans and conservative Democrats dictate your agenda. Don't tell us that it is the Republicans' fault. Don't tell us that it is hard. You weren't elected for it to be easy. So why now should any liberal, progressive, independent, or Democrat, believe you and vote for you or any Democrat?

Americans have seen trillions go to bankers, bankers who drove the country to the brink, bankers whom you left in place, bankers who continue to pull down multi-million dollar bonuses. Yet when they look around for what you are doing about jobs or help for homeowners, they see nothing. They see bunches of lame excuses, but they don't see the urgency or the emphasis you have when it is the banks that come calling. We see your priorities. So again why should any voter support you or any Democrat?

I suppose since I would ask these questions it's a safe bet I won't be invited to a White House confab with Obama.

No votes yet


lizpolaris's picture
Submitted by lizpolaris on

While I didn't see an appropriate thread to make that prediction here, as soon as I heard that Atrios would be one of the 5 bloggers to speak to the president, I said to myself, "After this amazing opportunity, Atrios will post one sentence about it.'

And, by God, I was right. I give you - the sentence.

Have not had chance to read.

Perhaps he was asleep during the session since he hasn't read the transcript of what occurred there and has no comment about the experience. I've read it. It's clear that comedian Jon Stewart asked Obama less softball-ish questions yesterday.

coyotecreek's picture
Submitted by coyotecreek on

Seriously this bothers the shit out of me. Obama treats his pals like locker room buddies - "hey guys" "us guys", "I'm just a guy...."

I had a client once who constantly referred to women as "gals" - it drove me nuts. One day - after I had gotten to know him well enough I wouldn't have my ass fired for saying it - I asked him why he had such a problem saying the word "women". You know what? He did have a problem saying it and after much badgering from me he started referring to us "gals" as women...and he was a better man for it!

Just an annoyance - but Obama also likes to call us peons "folks".

God, I hate hearing, reading or thinking about this man speaking!

Joe's picture
Submitted by Joe on

"guys" annoys you. "gals" annoys you. "folks" annoys you. "women" is okay, but I suppose if it was "you women", you'd have a problem with that too.

do you know that there are people with real problems?

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

The concerns and actualities of half the population, gets dismissed as not "real problems".

And you wonder why you find it so hard to build a coalition? Odd that.

jjmtacoma's picture
Submitted by jjmtacoma on

and I am annoyed by those references too. Particularly "folks" because that signals to me that obama thinks he is speaking to or about the dumbshit (formerly middle) lower class.

Guess what? There are some of us who do have "real problems" and are still annoyed by demeaning language.

All hell can be breaking lose in our lives, but the drippy faucet is the last straw sometimes.

Valhalla's picture
Submitted by Valhalla on

A million years ago, when I was in college, we were talking about the lack of a female equivalent to "guys". Females are either "girls" (even more offensive to women older than, well, girls), "ladies" (which weirdly has both snooty and insulting connotations, eg, association with British titles or of the "Hey Lady!" variety), or women, which there was something difficult to use, exactly, about other 19-year old females.

The mother of a friend remarked that when she was our age, they used "gals" as the counterpart to "guys", and so I started to use it myself as the counterpart to "guys". I do however use "women" when if the genders were reversed I'd use "men".

Of course, so far, my one-woman campaign to resurrent "gals" hasn't gotten me far. But I live in hope.

And! one more thing to lay at Obama's feet, I used to use "folks" all the time, but now he's ruined it for me.

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

I like the term "gals" myself when looking for a suitable substitute for "guys". It all depends on the context. And I loathe the term "ladies". I jumped all up in my bff's new boyfriend's shit, when he called me "milady" jokingly in passing conversation. He was terrified, but he thinks I'm a terrifying woman, so...

I don't have many restrictions, but THAT is one of them.

At the same time I call everyone, men and women, children, adults, employers, "Dude". The Sailor hates it, feels like its too generic for the person who is supposed to be my life partner. But I use it in spoken conversation like punctuation.

jjmtacoma's picture
Submitted by jjmtacoma on

Or a group of "guys" with a couple women thrown in - is that likes/dislikes can vary greatly, so erroring on the side of being a bit formal and accurate would be wise. Particularly if you are the President.

I'm with you Valhalla, I like "gals" and I call my friends "gals" all the time. I probably call them "guys" too. They are my friends and we are on even footing.

But really, when addressing a group of people who are not your close friends? Maybe it would be different if he were "likeable enough"...

Stephanie's picture
Submitted by Stephanie on

I agree. Folks sounds kind of dismissive. You're (we're, whoever) the "regular" folks, not the "important" people.
You're a consumer, not a citizen. And on and on. It's telling, revealing, of his attitude to we, the people.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Meet the new media. Same as the old media.

Submitted by jawbone on

I was afraid it would come out like the Geithner session....pretty much, eh?

And, Atrios is at least a sometime econoblogger, but, cripes, softballing it on dis/unemployment. (Does he even think in terms of disemployment?)

Obama's comments pretty much fit the DINO president who can't campaign for the Dem gubernatorial candidate in RI -- because he's friends with Chafee, who's running for the office as an independent.

Thanks, Hugh, for the detailed analysis. It's hard enough to read the answers without wanting to storm out of the room.

Note added: It's hard to tell who asked what questions, other than Amato and Sudbay.

Joe's picture
Submitted by Joe on

Truly disappointing questions from these bloggers. Starstruck much? Jesus. Where were the adversarial questions? Truly pathetic.

Just a bunch of lame softballs. Questions that float in the air and invite a person to reply with fucking stump speech snippets.

Submitted by jawbone on

in whatever small or large way criticism of the Obama administration's actions.

The purpose of a charm offensive is to neutralize the hostility and introduce an element of doubt into your position.

She expands on this thought in one of today's posts about the WH Charm Offensive.

So if Obama isn’t going to give real answers to the questions (and I think we can agree that he isn’t coming to bloggers for political strategy), what is the useful purpose of the meeting?

At that point, the only productive option would be to take the opportunity to pierce the Beltway Bubble. This is where the old “speak truth to power” mantra applies. (Emphasis in original)

While over there, check out the Wells Fargo entry: They made a little mistake, but it was in only 55,000 foreclosures, and Obama will kiss the boo-boo and make it all better, fer sure. And then there's Felix Salmon on "Muddy Mortgages." (I would put in the links, but it's so tiring to type in those damn tags.)

Submitted by libbyliberal on

Here is my response from there:

After all, Lincoln was a REPUBLICAN. Geeezzzz. And he has nerve to bring up MLK. As long as he mentions him, he doesn't have to seriously emulate him? A sound bite reference to MLK out of one side of his mouth will suffice. It has so far.

The questions were good but nothing about the military budget and war criminality. So many questions to be asked. And if we can't get a vote of 60 ... we must give away the store????? Unbelievable. What progressive principles does Mr. Faux-Pragmatist really inside man for oligarchs (from Glen Ford) really live and stand by?

And he is losing sleep over Brazil, China, India and Germany.

Try engaging your heart, Mr. President.

Not losing sleep about soldiers and innocents dying, soldier suicides and trauma and horrying brain and body injuries, drone incineration, children in America homeless and starving, people losing their homes every day.

Losing sleep over the successes of Brazil, China, India, Germany cuz they are moving. Yeah, patriarchal, competitive paradigm leadership. We need a paradigm shift to humanism, Mr. Prez. And you can't feel and think that way.

President O'Bummer as some call him.

Submitted by Hugh on

I agree this was part of a charm offensive, and boy, was it offensive! I think the high and mighty select for those who will not give too many problems, and then with the expected intimidation factor, they look to repackage the same old schlock with only minor modifications.

On the one hand, it shows how easily people in the blogosphere can be snowed by a little bit of that access they rail against. On the other, it's clear that no one in the White House gets the blogosphere. An insubstantial one-off like this means nothing, is actually kind of insulting, and gets seen through by the rest of us.

Submitted by libbyliberal on

Games people play, called "Look How Hard I Am Trying" ... you go through the motions and give yourself and others the self-congratulatory lip service, but you are really not DOING ANYTHING SERIOUS AT ALL. NO CHANGE. Just keeping the status quo going while spinning your own p.r. Style over substance ... it is a real art form with Obama.

Obama and his insinuating charm offensive. How easy is it to make nice and LIE. He has shown no conscience for the lies he won his election from. Why would he stop lying now?

Short term TV appearance viewer ratings goal. Obama makes it a win/win by going on tv and schmoozing with the hosts who are dazzled by his power and gratified he is helping the ratings. This is a very dangerous kind of personality over character branding cronyism.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

Just thinking in those terms tells you everything you need to know about his view of governance. Conservatives believe that the peasants derive life from the goodness of the princes. The princes are the wise judges who determine who is deserving and who isn't. It's all about personal control.

A liberal should believe in a society where access to the means of a decent life is mediated through a vision embodied in fair rules that apply to everyone. In fact, Obama even blew it here:The biggest challenge is how do you make sure that you are helping those who really deserve help and if they get some temporary help can get back on their feet, make their payments and move forward and stay in their home, versus either people who are speculators, own second homes that they really couldn’t afford because they’d gotten a subprime loan. . . . As Atrios pointed out in his blog, but not at the time, investor-owners already have rights to principle modification in bankruptcy, which owner-occupants don't have. So much for deserving and undeserving.

And just one other comment on homeownership: there are a number of programs in government aimed at assisting homeowners in distress after a natural disaster, especially in FEMA and HUD. Apparently, we're all ready to help if your home is flooded (anywhere except New Orleans), because it wasn't your fault. But we're so concerned with punishing the undeserving that we apparently refuse to look at models of what has worked for the past 20 years.

And I'm not big on "working hard" as a goal you set for your citizens rather than enjoying a full life, but dammit, if you think that working hard is what distinguishes the deserving from the undeserving then make sure there are jobs! No mealy-mouthing about the jobs have to be deserving (i.e., corporate/business employment). Just decent jobs.

Eureka Springs's picture
Submitted by Eureka Springs on

I never read any of those bloggers anymore unless someone I admire highly recommends a particular post (with link) somewhere else. Which happens less and less these days.

We should send them all tiny violins as a Nero blogging award.

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

He selected bloggers he knew would cave. Did we really expect anything else?

We didn't really expect him to select Lambert, or Yves, or even Marcy Wheeler did we?