Monday, May 05, 2008

Did He Really Say That?

Another Example of How The Media is Complicit in Helping Those in Power Manipulate, Ever So Subtly, the Collective Consciousness of the Masses

On Hardball with Chris Matthews, Chuck Todd's characterization of Michelle Obama's reasons for this being the one and only time Barack Obama would run for the presidency:

Chuck Todd's rendition is not exactly what Michelle Obama said. From Vanity Fair:
But Mrs. Obama has no interest in an ongoing quest for the White House. “To me, it’s now or never,” she tells me a few days later, in Chicago, where we’ve met up again at the campaign’s Michigan Avenue headquarters. “We’re not going to keep running and running and running, because at some point you do get the life beaten out of you. It hasn’t been beaten out of us yet. We need to be in there now, while we’re still fresh and open and fearless and bold. You lose some of that over time. Barack is not cautious yet; he’s ready to change the world, and we need that. So if we’re going to be cautious, I’d rather let somebody else do it, because that’s a big investment of time, just to do it the same way. There’s an inconvenience factor there, and if we’re going to uproot our lives, then let’s hopefully make a real big dent in what it means to be president of the United States.”

And what it means to Mrs. Obama is sacrificing many of the things she holds most dear, in favor of a larger goal. Although she has concluded that this mission is worth what it takes, achieving such acceptance has been difficult, and the adjustments are ongoing.

On the campaign trail in Connecticut, the NY Times reports:
Michelle Obama told a group of supporters today not to assume that her husband, Barack Obama, would return for another try at the White House, or be any more appealing as a candidate later, if this bid falls short. “It’s not a threat,’’ she said. “It’s the reality.’’

Speaking to five sympathetic women at a Stamford diner who had been hand-picked by her campaign, Mrs. Obama described some ways that youth had its advantages. “This is the only time we will have a chance to have someone who is three years from paying off his student debt,’’ she said, “and still going to Target to get toilet paper.’’

Time spent in Washington, engaging with special interests, she noted, does not always help politicians stay in touch with working-class people or their problems. “Realistically, you get more isolated,’’ she continued.

“I don’t know if things would be the same in four years, and why wait?’’ she declared.

Mrs. Obama also expressed some concern about the impact another campaign of this type might have on her daughters. “People say: ‘We like you. Do this in four years.’ Easy for you to say. But what about those two kids who have already not seen their dad much this year?’’

At times, the conversation, monitored by dozens of reporters with cameras and pads straining to hear every word, felt like an episode from the television show “The View” — women sitting around a table dishing about their home lives and their struggles, except not once in the hourlong conversation was there any evidence of nastiness.

Mrs. Obama said she was skeptical of many of the arguments behind waiting for another round. “For Americans to say, ‘Now we’re ready for you, Barack,’ it doesn’t always work that way. Wait until he’s spent more years in Washington and he’s farther away from folks? Wait till he’s made more money? Wait for what?’’

Her listeners mostly agreed. “They want him tied up in the machine,’’ said Alexis Mitchell, a 59-year-old family therapist from South Windsor. Before the event, she had said she was in Mr. Obama’s camp because she liked the “grace he exhibits, especially under pressure’’ and appreciated his background as a community organizer.

While she voted for Bill Clinton for president, she said she was dismayed by the tone of his wife’s campaign. “I have not liked the way she bared her claws and exhibited her nasty side, saying she will dig up stuff on Barack,’’ Ms. Mitchell said.

Once Mrs. Obama arrived, she wasted little time complimenting her five companions on how great they each looked, especially Meredith Olmstead, a Darien homemaker who announced that she was expecting another child.

To Taiwo Stanback, a 24-year-old Yale University graduate who said she was juggling side jobs since her position at a New Haven nonprofit group lost financing, Mrs. Obama joked: “Oh, no you can’t do three jobs? You’re not industrious enough.’’

Trying to connect to a group that ranged in age from 24 to 59, Mrs. Obama referred to her own experience after school. “So much of what you’ve said, I’ve been there,” she said. “After my law degree I wanted to go into nonprofits, but the cost of loans from all these wonderful degrees I had made it very difficult.’’

“Barack and I just paid off our college loans three years ago,’’ she said.
Todd's emphasis on Michelle Obama's expectation of "wealth", instead of the isolation from ordinary Americans that is the life of a politician in Washington is harsh and not accurate. By suggesting Michelle Obama is preoccupied with riches ("wealth"), Chuck Todd helped the Clintons anchor a question planted by their campaign rhetoric about the Obamas' character and commitment to public service: That "Barack Obama is an elitist (even if he doesn't have money now) who is out of step with our (the Clintons' and blue collar voters') concerns."

What is significant in Todd's mischaracterization is, most politicians who have no wealth before entering public service (who are not self-made or rich through inheritance) don't get wealthy until they leave government and make good on the networking and contacts they've made from over their years of service. That is, if they get wealthy at all. If you don't have money before you get to Washington, serving in Congress can be a risky proposition, character building, because of the expense of having to maintain two homes (in your home district and in Washington, D.C.), with two sets of everything and overlapping services (furniture, cable tv, newspaper services, monthly utility bills with basic monthly fees whether you're there or not), and travel expenses back and forth to your home district.

I don't think Chuck Todd is part of any grand conspiracy, but I do think that healthy distance and boundaries between the fourth estate and the people they are covering in government have all but eroded. When lobbyists are literally sitting in offices at the White House and on the Hill writing legislation, and Scooter Libby is calling executives at NBC to complain about the coverage they're getting, and the media attends spin sessions after debates, and basically takes dictation from campaign surrogates like Terry McAuliffe and Howard Wolfson, the fourth estate is no longer an impartial chronicler to be trusted.

MSNBC's David Gregory and Ken Strickland dance with Karl Rove and a Rove impersonator

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