Thursday, January 07, 2010

True... and False


Michael Tomasky argues that, whatever was happening behind the scenes, President Obama should have made a big show about his response to the Christmas attempt to down a jetliner.
If I'd been advising him, I'd have said: fly back to Washington the day after Christmas. Don't just be engaged and concerned, as I have little doubt he was from Hawaii. Look engaged and concerned. In our climate, the latter is as important as the former. Cancel your vacation. Head back to your desk.
Tomasky attempts to argue a distinction between the way liberal and conservative minds respond to this type of situation:
The conservative mind is more likely to want to provoke some degree of alarm and concern - think back to the days of calls for constant vigilance against the communist menace, etc.

The liberal mind is more likely to want to reassure, to say that things really aren't as bad as they seem. I'm down with this point of view as a general matter, but there are moments when the situation demands, shall we say, a kind of symbolic clarity.
I think his description of the conservative mind might be better attributed to the conservative politician. I'm not sure that there are a great many conservatives who desire overblown, hysterical efforts to drive up their fear levels - even if we assume that they're more responsive to that type of manipulation than liberals.

Sure, the point is valid that liberals (and the Democrats) tend to come late to efforts to put spin on things, allowing others to get in the first word or impression. Sure, it's true that the Democrats' responses are typically more fact-based and reassuring, as compared to the Bush/Cheney response of "don't think too hard because you're supposed to be afraid". Perhaps there are lessons the Dems can draw from that, one of which I hope won't be to use misleading statements and overblown reactions to whip up a climate of fear. But let's be real for a minute.

Even had Obama done everything that the Republican talking heads say he "should have done" - which was a lot more than G.W. did under analogous circumstances - the criticism wouldn't be any lighter. It would just be the remaining subset of the current criticisms, plus a new set of made-up complaints. "He should have been calm and Presidential, but instead he acted hysterically and ran back to Washington, giving al Qaeda a huge victory."

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