I don’t mean to josh; I mean this in earnest. I think it is time to eliminate the office of White House press secretary. There is no point in having a permanent Commender-in-Chief to tell us how great a job the President is doing, without regard to reality, actuality, verity or accuracy.
This musing overtook me earlier this week as I watched the presiding plenipotentiary of the podium, Josh Earnest (I promise I am not making this name up), field a query about a contradiction between Second Term Obama and his popular predecessor, First Term Obama. Apparently old First Term was recorded saying he could not go about changing immigration law on his own because that power was reserved to Congress by the Constitution. However, Second Term has been saying that since Congress won’t do their job because they are busy trying to stop him from doing his job he must stop doing his job and do their job for them instead. For the uninitiated, this is the translation into Flapdoodle of promising to change immigration law by his lonesome.
Earnest was so shocked that someone would deign to match First Term twaddle to Second Term swagger that he lapsed into a circular stream of incoherence. Something along the lines of “the President has always believed that immigrants are the backbone of our democracy,” which crosses nobility with redundancy to produce meaninglessness.
Watching this spectacle, I could not help thinking it is time to write this office off as a lost cause.
Once upon a time it had a fairly lofty purpose. The idea was not to be the President’s campaign manager but to inform the people - through the press - of things they needed to know about the day-to-day deliberations in the highest echelons of the executive branch of government. It was never designed as a tell-all Freedom of Information Act outpost. No one expected to hear exactly what was said at that day’s Cabinet meeting, but it was possible to deliver some substantive sense of what was on the table at a given time. Without spreading classified material, a good press secretary could give the citizen some perspective on events.
It was also a vehicle for a President to get out messages to the nation, to give a broad sense of his direction and the goals of his administration. The President was shocked to hear about the passing of… The President was proud of the young lady in Oregon who risked her life to… The President was appalled at the behavior of the shopkeeper who refused to serve… The President was inspired by the victory of the underdog high school basketball team that overcame injuries and the tragic death of a teammate to…
What it never became was a license to lie and fake and feint and defraud and misinform and mislead and misrepresent and cover up and double down. But somewhere the self-restraint broke down and another great national institution lost its conscience.
It is hard to pin down just when the job became that of a spin doctor. During the Clinton days, there was a lot of pressure on Dee Dee Myers and Mike McCurry to behave as full-time apologists for Bill Clinton’s misadventures. They were both nice people with a basic integrity to their character and they had to get out of there before too long, with some shreds of their consciences intact.
In the case of Barack Obama, the press secretaries have adopted all his flaws from Day One. While he traveled the country blaming everything on George W. Bush, Mr. Gibbs and then Mr. Carney echoed his refrain. Everything Obama did was right and motivated by the noblest intentions; everything the Republicans did was wrong and motivated by the crassest intentions.
At this point, it is time to just shut this thing down. It has become an abomination. How do I explain to my children that every word out of the mouth of the latest sweet-faced shill is deliberate distortion? That the whole image of a responsible representative offering an insight into the President’s mind is an elaborate scam to gull sincere people into swallowing rank partisan propaganda.
Oddly enough, the ideal press secretary would be a combination of joshing and earnestness. A kidding relationship with the pack of journalists baying at his heels for more than he can give, tempered by an earnest effort to present fairly the facts that he can share. There seems little chance of that happening anytime soon, certainly in a Democrat administration.
(Dedicated in memory of James Brady, who brought dignity to the job of press secretary to Ronald Reagan and who took a real bullet for his boss.)
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