The Obama Watch

President Obama as Holden Caulfield

Obama’s team thinks it wins by punching people in the face.

By 8.16.13

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“Phony” is the new “racist” – at least to the Obama administration.

Members and their supporters keep using it in official talking points to describe the myriad scandals encircling the White House like a fog in hopes of shutting down an argument of facts.

In a July speech at Knox College, President Obama said, “With this endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball.” He added that Republican attention to and criticism of the scandals “needs to stop.”

The president’s spokesman, Jay Carney, asked recently to identify which scandals are phony, said, “what we’ve seen as time has passed and more facts have become known -- whether it’s about the attacks in Benghazi and the talking points, or revelations about conduct at the IRS -- that attempts to turn this into a scandal have failed.”

And then there are the president’s emissaries in Congress who repeat over and over again that "there is nothing to see here, so let’s move on." Writing in the Washington Post earlier this week of the IRS targeting of conservative groups for special scrutiny, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Sander Levin (D-MI) said, “Members of Congress must abandon their attempts to score political points and, instead, re-focus their efforts to confirming a new commissioner of the IRS, restoring the public’s trust in the agency and fixing the vague standards that led to these problems in the first place.”

Never mind that the IRS scandal leads all the way up to the office of William Wilkins, one of two Obama political appointees at the agency. And that the White House clearly lied about what it knew when in Benghazi. We haven’t even gotten to the Department of Justice wiretapping of reporters and mass surveillance of the American people via their phone and email by the federal government.

Obama’s team is too busy acting like an army of Holden Caulfields lashing out at an establishment full of hypocrites, except they, like the protagonist of the classic The Catcher in the Rye, are unreliable given what’s now known.

And since they are the establishment, they can’t even pretend to be the victim like Holden.

But it’s a great tactic. Race hustlers including Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson know the label is more important than the truth. Their tactics work so well Americans can thank them for the fact that it’s possible to recover from just about any personal failure except being branded the r-word. For the most recent example, see Paula Deen.

The fact that the president and his spokespeople are using “phony” is particularly significant, though. Americans hate phonies, even though we are a nation of fakes who care more about how we are perceived by social media “friends” than real ones judged by how much time is spent on those sites and whose young people’s self-esteem in no way corresponds to ability. The president’s handlers know the word is a trigger for all that is bad about politics and Washington and has the ability to twist the president’s problems into those of his adversaries.

That the self-proclaimed president of the middle class would espouse this line of attack as he airlifts his dog Bo separately to Massachusetts’ exclusive Martha’s Vineyard beach retreat on one of two MV-22 Ospreys, an aircraft that takes off like a helicopter and flies like a plane, is particularly outrageous. But as the president has shown with his “phony” argument, authenticity was never the goal.

Winning at any expense was and is as Dan Balz describes in his new book about the most recent presidential election, Collision 2012. In it he talks with Jim Messina, the president’s campaign manager. “My favorite political philosopher is Mike Tyson,” Mr. Messina told Mr. Balz.  “Mike Tyson once said everyone has a plan until you punch them in the face. Then they don’t have a plan anymore. [The Republicans] may have a plan to beat my guy. My job is to punch them in the face.”

In light of that way of thinking, the “phony” talking points are just another punch. But this time it against the American people, not a political opponent. If Holden Caulfield could only know how phony is the new real.

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About the Author
Marta H. Mossburg writes frequently about national affairs and about politics in Maryland, where she lives.  Write her at marta@martamossburg.com. Follow her on Twitter at @mmossburg.