May 6, 2016
BEN RHODES SAYS OTHERWISE. Obama hammers Trump: Presidential Race ‘not a reality show:’
President Obama used the White House podium on Friday to dismiss Donald Trump as an unserious candidate to succeed him, and said leading the country isn’t a job that’s suited to reality show antics.
“I just want to emphasize the degree to which we are in serious times and this is a really serious job,” Obama said on Friday when asked about the race to succeed him. “This is not entertainment. This is not a reality show. This is a contest for the presidency of the United States. And what that means is that every candidate, every nominee needs to be subject to exacting standards and genuine scrutiny.”
Sorry, old sport. But your Deputy National Security Adviser said otherwise to the New York Times yesterday. As the Times noted, Obama’s foreign policy is being crafted by a 38-year old failed novelist who sees reporters as pawns and dupes to disseminate whatever story he wants to tell them:
Like Obama, Rhodes is a storyteller who uses a writer’s tools to advance an agenda that is packaged as politics but is often quite personal. He is adept at constructing overarching plotlines with heroes and villains, their conflicts and motivations supported by flurries of carefully chosen adjectives, quotations and leaks from named and unnamed senior officials. He is the master shaper and retailer of Obama’s foreign-policy narratives, at a time when the killer wave of social media has washed away the sand castles of the traditional press.
As Rhodes admits, it’s not that hard to shape the narrative. “All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,” Rhodes said. “Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”
And once again, to paraphrase Agent #86, another bumbling government employee, Obama missed it by that much — as Jonah Goldberg writes in his latest column, the presidential race isn’t a reality show, it’s sold to the public as a Hollywood thriller, complete with the hoariest of dramatic clichés, which Alfred Hitchcock once dubbed the MacGuffin:
How would Trump win? The same way he won the primaries: by selling a more entertaining story.
About three years ago, the eponymous “Ace” from the legendary Ace of Spades HQ blog wrote a brilliant little essay on “The MacGuffinization of American politics”…The Maltese Falcon in The Maltese Falcon, the Ark in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the daughter in Taken: These are all classic MacGuffins. Alfred Hitchcock apparently argued that it doesn’t really matter what the MacGuffin is, so long as the hero wants or needs it and it sounds important enough to justify the hero’s efforts. In Mission: Impossible III, we don’t even find out what the MacGuffin is, beyond being something very dangerous called “the Rabbit’s Foot.”
Ace’s insight was that the mainstream media covers Barack Obama as if he were the hero in a movie (with Republicans as the villains, of course). Whatever Obama wants — Obamacare, unconstitutional immigrant amnesty, the stimulus, a deal with Iran — isn’t important to a worshipful press corps. Whether policies are good or bad, lawful or unlawful, is kind of irrelevant. What matters is that the hero wants something.
“Watching [MSNBC’s] Chris Matthews interview Obama,” Ace wrote, “I was struck by just how uninterested in policy questions Matthews (and his panel) were, and how almost every question seemed to be, at heart, about Obama’s emotional response to difficulties — not about policy itself, but about Obama’s Hero’s Journey in navigating the plot of President Barack Obama: The Movie.”
I think something similar has been at the root of Trump’s success. I can’t bring myself to call him a hero, but many people see him that way. Even his critics concede that he’s entertaining. I see him as being a bit like Rodney Dangerfield, constantly complaining he doesn’t get enough respect.
Regardless, Trump bulldozed his way through the primaries in part because the nomination was his MacGuffin and people wanted to see the movie play out. Many voters, and nearly the entire press corps, got caught up in the story of Trump — much the same way the press became obsessed with the “mythic” story of Obama in 2008. People just wanted to see what happened next.
In 2009, Van Jones was thrown overboard by the Obama administration both because his radical — even by Obama administration standards — past was discovered, but also because he violated the first rule of Don Corleone: “Never tell anyone outside the Family what you are thinking.” Rhodes just did the same thing, but with only about half a year left in the Obama administration, everyone is likely too exhausted, too dissipated to care.
And it helps, as Ace writes today, “The legacy media is, get this, giving [Rhode’s] story the silent treatment, not interested in covering a scandal that affects so many of their colleagues and late-night bootycall side-pieces.”