Did you know that President Obama might be reading The American Spectator? “Most nights, before going to bed, he’ll surf the Internet, reading the columnists whose opinions he values,” writes Dylan Byers in a Politico piece called “President Obama: Off the Record.” One wonders whether Obama spends a lot of time in the comments section—hopefully with a more creative alias than Carlos Danger. Byers describes the president as a voracious consumer of opinion journalism who frequently summons his favorite writers to the White House for off-the-record discussions where “he can show them how obviously everything he is doing makes sense.”
Byers names some of the journalists that the president has invited. It’s largely a liberal echo chamber with a smattering of conservatives for good measure. “Joe Klein of Time Magazine. From The Washington Post: E.J. Dionne, Eugene Robinson, Ezra Klein and Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor. On foreign policy: the Post’s David Ignatius, Bloomberg View’s Jeffrey Goldberg, and the Times’ Thomas Friedman.” As for conservatives, last month the president staged a rather public meeting with Charles Krauthammer.
Byers makes special mention of David Brooks from the New York Times, who is apparently “a frequent guest." TAS’s own Wlady Pleszczynski calls out Brooks in this month’s magazine, and it’s hard to resist the image of ostensible conservative Brooks as Obama’s kept Republican, a bird in a cage, tweet-tweeting for the president’s ear. If Obama thinks he’s getting a fair representation of conservatism from David Brooks, he probably has no idea what he’s really up against.
Still, it would be dangerous to discount the role that these talks are having on public opinion. “He sees columnists as portals,” said one journalist quoted by Byers, and the president is using these portals to keep his viewpoint present during national debate. Also it appears that Obama is a very philosophical man, inclined to focus on “grand concepts” and determined to “to ween [sic] White House staff off their obsession with the ‘who’s up, who’s down’ Washington culture.”
What’s it like to bandy with the president about grand concepts and ideas? “These sessions are a chance for the president to get on his high horse and opine,” said Ari Fleischer of the long-running practice. Gee, who could imagine President Obama opining from a high horse? The ideas conveyed are generally along the lines of: “The president is thoroughly convinced that the course he has set out is correct, and that his opponents are either wrong-headed or crazy.” Also: "[A]s in public, it’s the president who does most of the talking.” Yikes. Our sympathies go out to Byron York, who recently endured one of these sessions.
Does this mean we should expect a regular column from the president and daily appearances on MSNBC come 2017? “He’s naturally predisposed to analysis. In his own mind, that’s what he is: he’s like us. He wants to be a writer, and so he likes to talk to writers,” one journalist told Byers. Perhaps he should have skipped the stint as president and plowed straight into a career as a talking head. “'He likes the intellectual sparring element of it,’ a source familiar with the president’s thinking told POLITICO. ‘He likes talking to reasonable adversaries.’” If he really wants “reasonable adversaries," he should drop the Brooks and give it a go with some of the contributors to The American Spectator. No caged op-ed writers here.