The Washington Post headline of August 15 played it straight: “Obama Says He Can Unite U.S. More Effectively than Clinton.”p>Staff writer Dan Balz pinned the tail on that donkey by giving WaPo readership a taste of the paragraph from which it came: br> /p>
“I think it is fair to say that I believe I can bring the country together more effectively than [Hillary Clinton] can,” Obama said. “I will add, by the way, that is not entirely a problem of her making. Some of those battles in the '90s that she went through were the result of some pretty unfair attacks on the Clintons. But that history exists, and so, yes, I believe I can bring the country together in a way she cannot do. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be running.”br> The photo accompanying the story was more of the same, as the AP saw fit to caption a grip-and-grin moment of the candidate in shirtsleeves as “Barack Obama campaigns in Nashua, N.H. He said he would be better able to unite the nation than his top rival.”
Please understand that Dan Balz is not half the hack that Helen Thomas is. Reading this piece, however, one gets the impression that his interviewing technique amounts to thumbing his tape recorder on and saying “whenever you’re ready, sir.” That’s an easy charge to substantiate against a profile that stoops to actual analysis in exactly one sentence: “Obama never used the term ‘polarizing’ to describe Clinton but made it clear he has studied polls that show that many people have an unfavorable opinion of her.”
What are we, in turn, to make of the race for the Democratic nomination between senators from Illinois and New York? That it will be competitive.
Here are a few questions that I wish Dan Balz had asked Barack Obama about the presumption on which both men hung this story. All of them have to do with unity, and so far as I can tell, none of them has yet been addressed by the press, or by politicians in the run-up to this election cycle.
First, where is it written that the U.S. president must be a uniter, rather than a divider?
Did Abe Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and sundry other chief executives not get that memo? Would anyone care to hear what Jefferson Davis thought his job description was?
If unifying the country to one degree or another is a presidential duty, then why has the U.S. Supreme Court been brazenly trying to usurp that duty since approximately 1973?
Is unity the most important benchmark against which prospective policy should be measured? If so, does foreign policy get an exception?