In case you missed the reaction to Robert Gibbs' lighthearted mockery of Sarah Palin's "telepalmter", the White House press corps has a new rule. NBC's Chuck Todd, who previously defended Palin by declaring, "We've all done notes," protested Wednesday "I was surprised by the stunt myself." In her report, CNN's Suzanne Malveaux groused, "so much for changing the tone." Apparently, for this Democratic White House to jokingly respond to bitter attacks from former (or wannabee) Republican vice presidents is undignified and out-of-bounds. Of course, President Bush and his spokesmen could mock his opponents with impunity.
Chip Reid of CBS introduced this species of right-wing water carrying in March during the unprecedented barrage of attacks on Obama from former Vice President Dick Cheney. After Cheney first began his campaign to essentially label Obama a traitor ("he is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack"), press secretary Robert Gibbs joked, "Well, I guess Rush Limbaugh was busy, so they trotted out their next-most popular member of the Republican cabal." On March 16th, that was more than CBS White House correspondent Reid could countenance:
REID: Can I ask you, when you referred to the former Vice President, that was a really hard-hitting, kind of sarcastic response you had. This is a former Vice President of the United States. Is that the attitude -- is that the sanctioned tone toward the former Vice President of the United States from this White House now?
GIBBS: Sometimes I ask forgiveness rather than for permission, Chip. But no, I hope my sarcasm didn't mask the seriousness of the answer with which I addressed Ed -- that for seven-plus years, the very perpetrators that the Vice President says he's concerned about weren't brought to justice.
Of course, Reid's ventriloquist act for the Republican Party began almost the moment Obama took the oath of office. When every Republican member of the House and all but three in the Senate voted against the $787 billion stimulus bill, Reid essentially blamed the President, asking Obama if "your White House is moving away from this emphasis on bipartisanship." And before he warned of "Democrats also raising their ugly heads," Reid asked President Obama about his posture on Iran, "Were you influenced at all by John McCain and Lindsey Graham accusing you of being timid and weak?"
In sharp contrast, the whoring on behalf of the GOP during the Bush administration wasn't limited to the presence of Jeff Gannon in the White House press room. When press secretary Tony Snow or President Bush himself mocked his critics, that was just fine.
For his part, Tony Snow like President Bush repeatedly resorted to the childish "Democrat Party" taunt so beloved by Republicans since the days of Ronald Reagan. But his stunning mixture of arrogance and cynical humor hardly ended there.
Asked about James Comey's testimony that Alberto Gonzales in March 2004 tried to coerce Attorney General John Ashcroft, then bed-ridden with a pancreatic condition following gall bladder surgery, into approving President Bush's regime of illegal domestic surveillance, Snow joked:
"Trying to take advantage of a sick man. Because he had an appendectomy, his brain didn't work?"
Three weeks after proclaiming "We didn't create the war in Iraq," Snow on the fourth anniversary of the invasion told CNN's Ed Henry to "zip it" when Henry asked him to explain the Bush administration's "recipe for success."
On the subject of Iran, the late Tony Snow was particularly dismissive of President Bush's critics. After declaring in January 26, 2007, "The Iranian people are more pro-American than any American university faculty," Snow the next month blasted Democrats suspicious of President Bush's saber rattling towards Tehran:
"It is interesting to me that it seems that some politicians maybe are trying to protect Iran."
In May 2007, Snow directed the "sarcastic tone" Chip Reid would later decry at former Vice President Al Gore. When Gore in book The Assault on Reason correctly and accurately labeled as a "deception" the Bush administration's efforts to link 9/11 to Iraq, Snow sneered:
"I don't know if they're going to do a reprinting of the book to try to get the facts straight. The fact-checkers may have to take a look at it. These are highly complex publishing issues and I can't be an expert on them."
Of course, when it came to the facts about the war in Iraq and Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, President George W. Bush was (or should have been) an expert. And for Bush, it was all a laughing matter.
Bush's presentation at the 2004 Radio and Television Correspondents Association Dinner also showed his contempt for the truth and the suffering of the American people. His tasteless White House slideshow made light of the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Coming one year and hundreds of American dead and wounded after the invasion of Iraq, President Bush the cut-up hoped to regale the audience with his White House hijinx. As David Corn of The Nation reported:
Bush notes he spends "a lot of time on the phone listening to our European allies." Then we see a photo of him on the phone with a finger in his ear. But at one point, Bush showed a photo of himself looking for something out a window in the Oval Office, and he said, "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere." The audience laughed. I grimaced. But that wasn't the end of it. After a few more slides, there was a shot of Bush looking under furniture in the Oval Office. "Nope," he said. "No weapons over there." More laughter. Then another picture of Bush searching in his office: "Maybe under here." Laughter again.
That, for the White House press corps, was hilarious. But now that a Democrat is in the Oval Office, humorous jabs at Obama's critics from the President and his press secretary apparently aren't funny more.
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)