Eric Alterman and Melissa Harris-Lacewell on Obama's First Year
Bill Moyers sat down with Eric Alterman and Melissa Harris-Lacewell to discuss President Obama's first year in office. This portion is where they get into his attempts at bi-partisanship and the fact that it's not working out very well for him and the failure of the media to paint Republicans as the obstructionists they are. I will disagree with Alterman on one point. I don't excuse any of the mainstream media for their behavior and I think it's ridiculous to assert they don't know what they're doing. They know exactly what they're doing and it's pushing a corporate agenda that's good for their bottom line. Being not as bad as Fox is a pretty low bar to hurdle. Sadly many of them are barely hurdling it and right behind them with being a propaganda machine for anyone looking out for corporate America's interest, whatever letter is behind their name.
Good stuff all in all. You can watch the entire interview at the Bill Moyers Journal site.
BILL MOYERS: Is it the problem that we lay too much on any President? It's only been a year this week that he was inaugurated. And yet, one year after he took the oath of office, he's being repudiated. Repudiated for what?
ERIC ALTERMAN: Well, it the narrative of the media go from one form of hysteria to another. And what you need if you want to be an effective President is a theory of change. How do you move the system? I thought Barack Obama had a brilliant theory of change as a candidate. He said we're all friends here. We're all Americans. We're all basically interested in the same thing. Let's stop fighting with each other the way the Bush Administration wants us to do. And this nasty Dick Cheney fellow is always trying to get us riled up. Let's find what we agree on and move forward.
And then I thought that once he became President he could say, okay, I tried. I tried it the nice way with these people. But they just won't cooperate. Now it's time to slap them around a little and get something done. He hasn't taken that step. He's giving the impression that he can be pushed around. And I think he needs to push some people around, even at a short term political cost, just to show that there's something to fear with this President.
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: I don't know. I mean, I hear you. But I keep having to remind myself that I'm committed to the particular social contract that is democracy with a little "d" in the U.S. And so, what that means is the messy hard work of recognizing that winning an election is not the same thing as staging a coup. And that even if the other side does it ugly and bad and mean and dishonestly, that the rules of the game are at least as important as the overall outcomes. And so, the plodding, difficult, bureaucratic, listening to people who you disagree with and who you think have ill will, is part of the democratic process. But it is that difficulty of governing together in a country where we don't agree with each other that is the work of democracy.
ERIC ALTERMAN: But in this case, he's playing tennis and there's nobody hitting the ball back. The Republicans are not playing. They're saying-- they're waiting on the sidelines, criticizing his performance and he keeps pretending that he's in a tennis game with two sides. And the question is what can you accomplish under those circumstances? Well, you can accomplish a health care bill that is okay with Joe Lieberman and Senator Nelson. That's all you can accomplish. But it turns out you can't even do that. Because of this vagary that took place in Massachusetts. So, what's the plan now? In other words, the Democrats are so committed to being reasonable, to doing all the things that you just described, as if there were another party that were behaving responsibly. But the Republicans are not interested in behaving responsibly.
BILL MOYERS: What has he gotten for his bipartisanship? I mean, he heavily weighted the stimulus toward tax cuts, against the advice of many Democratic economists, hoping to win some Republican votes, and got none. He ruled out a single payer system ahead of time and then refused to be strong for a public option, hoping to get Olympia Snowe and one Republican vote. Didn't get a single one. He got labeled instead for all of this as a socialist or worse. Does he really know who his opponents are?
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: The question is why is it that the American public doesn't notice this? So, I just want to be careful that we don't play the game the way that our opponents play it, simply because that's how are opponents are playing it. You don't cheat because you're playing with cheaters. What you hope--
ERIC ALTERMAN: Yeah, but you call them cheaters.
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: No, possibly, but-
ERIC ALTERMAN: You say, "You're cheating."
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: But I think part of what you hope is that by demonstrating reasonableness in the face of unreasonableness that a democratic system of observers goes, "Wait a minute. They've turned the water hoses and dogs on people who are fighting back with nothing. That's not acceptable. That's not American. And therefore, we're going to get on the side of the people who are playing fair."
ERIC ALTERMAN: How is that working out?
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, but I think that we have to be really careful about this incredibly short term vision that says, "What we do is fight as nasty as possible to win the policy we want, because at least then we will win the policy we want at the cost of who we are together in a democracy."
BILL MOYERS: But listen —
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: This is a long term game.
ERIC ALTERMAN: No, but really what are we talking about? Barack Obama has the largest majority of both houses that any President has had in 30 years, and yet he's governing as if he's- it's 50-50 or even he's in the minority. Now, he should be willing to take some hits for what he strongly believes in, and the American People will respect him for that, even I think, if they disagree with what — that's the way it was with Reagan, and that's the way it was for a long time with Bush. Instead, he's managing the fight between the two sides. He's not leading the fight. And it's a strategy. It might have worked. But it hasn't worked. It's clearly not working now. And it needs to be rethought.
BILL MOYERS: It is working for the Republicans. I mean, they refuse to go along with his hand out. They slap it away. They don't give him a single vote on anything. The Republican strategy has set that up. Obstruct, obstruct, obstruct. Then go to the country and say, "The country can't get anything done. Let's send a Republican to Congress."
ERIC ALTERMAN: This is the failure of the ability of the President and his party to tell their story. It's a Republican story being told. What is the Republican health care alternative? There is none. What is the Republican alternative to the country almost going bankrupt before the stimulus plan? There is none. They have no serious governance strategy right now. They have slogans and they have anger. And the media are allowing the part where "Okay, what's behind the curtain?" to go untold.
Do you know who the most frequently booked guest on "Meet The Press" was this year? Ex-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Do you know how often Nancy Pelosi, the actual Speaker of the House was on "Meet The Press" this year? Zero. Do you know how many times all the other living ex-Speakers of the House were on "Meet The Press" this year? A grand total of zero. Newt Gingrich has no position, and yet the mainstream media has embraced him as a responsible spokesman for a position where he says the President- This is not Rush Limbaugh. This is not Bill O'Reilly. He says the President of the United States cares more about the rights of terrorists than he does protecting the American People. Now, does any sensible person believe that? No. But that is driving the narrative in the mainstream media. Not on Fox.
BILL MOYERS: Give me your explanation of why you think NBC, GE, and David Gregory constantly ask Newt Gingrich on and not Nancy Pelosi?
ERIC ALTERMAN: I think because the right wing media, Fox, the "Wall Street Journal", "The Weekly Standard", et cetera, et cetera, the Heritage Foundation, they have been so successful at defining the terms of the debate that the mainstream media accept their definitions of the issues and the parameters of discussion without even knowing they're doing it. And this infection has been going on for decades. And when the White House tried to take it on, in the form of taking on Fox, the media reacted, "Oh my God, you're attacking a sister network." That was the phrase of one of the ABC correspondents. They should recognize that there are some people doing honest journalism and some people doing propaganda. And those people doing propaganda should be shamed.
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