Tuesday, March 25, 2008


In today's New York Times, Robin Toner projects the mainstream press's GOP-induced liberal self-hate onto Barack Obama:

Obama's Test: Can a Liberal Be a Unifier?

WASHINGTON — At the core of Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign is a promise that he can transcend the starkly red-and-blue politics of the last 15 years, end the partisan and ideological wars and build a new governing majority.

To achieve the change the country wants, he says, "we need a leader who can finally move beyond the divisive politics of Washington and bring Democrats, independents and Republicans together to get things done."

But this promise leads, inevitably, to a question: Can such a majority be built and led by Mr. Obama, whose voting record was, by one ranking, the most liberal in the Senate last year? ...

Read the article. Toner isn't really asking whether Obama is up to the task (which is a legitimate question) -- she's clearly asking whether it's even theoretically possible for the country to rally around a liberal, any liberal.

One name goes completely unmentioned in Toner's piece: Franklin D. Roosevelt. Presumably, FDR's success in uniting the country is considered irrelevant because it's ancient history -- or perhaps because Toner doesn't regard him as a liberal. Nor does Toner acknowledge that Ronald Reagan was an unabashed ideologue who was widely conceded to have united the country -- he was a right-winger, so I guess we're supposed to think that's not so surprising. (Or perhaps he's also considered ancient history; I remember the ideological battles of the 1980s and I really don't understand Toner's assertion that our politics became highly partisan only 15 years ago.)

Toner does presehnt the Obama campaign's argument -- that the public has an underreported leaning to the left on a lot of issues, and that a president who make a real effort at outreach can succeed. But she keeps coming back to the question of liberalism (the much-disputed National Journal ranking of Obama is mentioned three times). Obama is contrasted with Hillary Clinton, whose voting record, we're told, is very similar to his, but who doesn't promise a new kind of politics -- the implication being that she wisely recognizes that she's a lefty and therefore knows she couldn't possibly unite the country without curbing her horribly divisive liberalism.

I can't help reading this as a variant on the story the press's view of itself over the past couple of decades: The Republicans are right -- we're biased liberals incapable of objectivity. No wonder we're losing readers. No matter how hard we try, we're doomed to fail.

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