The Very Insular Obama Administration

Remember that George W. Bush and his people got widely panned for supposedly living in a bubble. Remember as well that one of the supposed strengths of Barack Obama was that he was going to create some kind of “Team of Rivals” to staff his administration. How far the president has fallen  from that vision—assuming that he ever took that vision seriously to begin with:

When then-Senator Obama was first gaining prominence on the national stage, a friend of mine who had worked with him over many years assured me that Obama was particularly gifted at the art of “understanding the other.” Obama, I was told, naturally, even reflexively, appreciated the arguments of all sides and was skilled at finding common ground — finding the synthesis that did not do violence to either the thesis or the antithesis. Ever since my friend painted that portrait, I have been waiting for that Obama to show up in the Oval Office.

If that Obama exists, he did not seem to play much of a role in the inaugural speech-writing process. As Michael Gerson observed, Obama’s second inaugural address was a “raging bonfire of straw men.” For those of us hoping to recapture some of the consolations of pride-in and hope-for our American system that sustained us four years ago, this second inaugural had precious little to offer.

It is one thing to engage in such systematic distortion during a bitter electoral campaign. It is another thing to let it permeate through all of the presidential rhetoric, including speeches usually reserved for appeals to unity and common purpose.

Yet it is a third, and more worrying thing, if that same dysfunction distorts the advisory process.  In that regard, Tom Ricks’ reporting (here and here) on the treatment given General Mattis, the CENTCOM Commander, is especially disturbing. Ricks alleges that the White House hurried General Mattis into retirement because they resented the way he was asking probing questions that pointed to deficiencies in current policy.

Of course, it is the President’s right to pick the advisors he wants, but shouldn’t the President want to have advisors that ask tough, probing questions that flag deficiencies in current policy?

For the record, an Obama spokesman denied that Mattis was being moved along because of the way he provided advice, but even Ricks, a reliable Obama supporter, did not find the denial very convincing. There have been too many of these reports to dismiss this concern with a “nothing to see here” rebuttal: cf., Michael Gordon’s account of how the White House sought to stifle military advice it did not want to hear; Rosa Brook’s insider account, augmented by extensive additional reports, of a dysfunctional decisionmaking system that muzzled advisors; or then NSA-Jim Jones’ infamous ”whisky, tango, foxtrot” moment in Afghanistan when he apparently told the Marines not to request additional resources lest their request anger the President.

People ought to be worried about Team Obama’s tendency to shut out dissenting voices. But as far as I can tell, most of the press has hardly made a peep about it. And remember that despite its insularity, most of the press is under the impression that Team Obama and its allies make up “the reality-based community.”

  1. KC Mulville

    Before the first debate last fall, the press claimed that Obama was hunkered down and studying, preparing for the debate with Romney – and when Romney cleaned his clock, they said that he just wasn’t prepared, and that he hadn’t taken it seriously enough. They all said that Obama had been the victim of yes men disease.

    Now, let’s face it – it’s going to be four years of yes men. And the press will happily yes man for every minute of it.

  2. The Mugwump

    There are two kinds of liars in my experience.  The first is the clever liar, people like Bill Clinton, who think they can obscure the truth with rhetoric.  The other is the pathological liar, people like Obama, who no matter what they say expect to be believed.  The odd thing about the second type is that they believe their own lies (at least in the moment).  Then when you call them on it later, they can look you in the eye with complete sincerity and claim they never said any such thing.  It’s a bizarre trick of the mind on their part that admits to no logic or contradiction.  How’s that for reality based?    

  3. jkumpire

    He’s in a bubble because people in the media worship him as the next closest thing to the Deity.

    This past weekend I had a meeting at a major hotel in US city. CNN is a 24 hour a day lovefest for Obama and this past weekend, ‘Hillary!’ If you are right about everything  why do you need any dissenting opinions?

  4. WI Con

    The MSM doesn’t note this insularity because they are equally insular and hostile to policies & views that conflict with their own.

    Every organization, every person has blind spots. When I’ve read stories of disagreement in past administrations, there is a tendency to embrace the point of view closest to one’s own biases but I expect any administration to have some division as proof that a healthy discussion is taking place.

    It seems clear that isn’t happening here.

  5. Crabby Appleton 2.0

    It’s not insularity. It’s a combination progressive sanctimonious self-righteousness and elitist arrogance. Just sayin’.

  6. DocJay

    It is impossible to not interpret information from this president, administration, and His media as anything other than lying manipulation.

  7. DocJay

    All train wrecks baby.

  8. Buckeye

    …And all the comments (including the initial post, Pejman) boil down to what everybody knows, dances around, but does not say. The news media is not merely biased, but corrupt, corrupt, corrupt.

  9. Pejman Yousefzadeh
    C

    Which of course means that we ought to schedule another debate. ;-)

    KC Mulville: Before the first debate last fall, the press claimed that Obama was hunkered down and studying, preparing for the debate with Romney – and when Romney cleaned his clock, they said that he just wasn’t prepared, and that he hadn’t taken it seriously enough. They all said that Obama had been the victim of yes men disease.

    Now, let’s face it – it’s going to be four years of yes men. And the press will happily yes man for every minute of it. · 13 hours ago

  10. flownover
    DocJay: It is impossible to not interpret information from this president, administration, and His media as anything other than lying manipulation. · 3 hours ago

    So anyone care to put the pieces together here and fashion some historical perspective ?

    For instance, what has usually happened to governments that go deep inside the bubble, set up the strawmen all around the yard for their targets, and systematically purge the effective people from the system  in favor of a few sycophants ?

    Is anything accomplished or is it all trainwrecks ?

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