Belmont Club

Point counterpoint

The administration, after being on the defensive for some weeks, may be engaged in a concerted PR counterattack. For example, the White House is claiming that much criticized stimulus package is fixing the economy. Leading the effort was Vice President Joe Biden who maintained that $787 billion stimulus package was pulling things out of the doldrums. It is according to the AP part of a bigger White House push to sell the stimulus. Five other administration officials were expected to extol it, as part of a concentrated effort. One of them may have been press secretary Robert Gibbs, who TheHill.com quoted as arguing that the 216,000 jobs the economy lost in August is good news because it is a smaller number than in previous periods.

“We’re making progress in slowing down the number of jobs lost,” said Gibbs, who also pointed to a report released this week that showed growth in the manufacturing sector for the first time in more than a year. … U.S. Chamber of Commerce Chief Economist Martin Regalia gave credit to the stimulus Thursday for helping to turn the economy around, though he said he would have preferred a more “concise” package. Regalia also said the $700 billion effort to bail out financial institutions and a number of unprecedented interventions by the Federal Reserve had helped end the economic downturn. … In July, the unemployment rate dropped slightly, from 9.5 percent to 9.4 percent, but many economists attributed the decline to workers opting not to look for jobs.

The LAtimes.com says “‘The economy is in the process of bottoming, but the job market will lag behind,’ said Sung Won Sohn, an economist at California State University. ‘Businesses, which engaged in preemptive layoffs earlier, are not about to start hiring people right away.'”

Another front on which the Obama administration is pushing back is the school speech, which turned into a public relations disaster. Earlier FOX News quoted Robert Gibbs as saying that opposition to the speech was silly. “I think we’ve reached a little bit of the silly season when the president of the United States can’t tell kids in school to study hard and stay in school,” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said. “I think both political parties agree that the dropout rate is something that threatens our long-term economic success.” But CNN says “Many conservative parents aren’t buying it. They’re convinced the president is going to use the opportunity to press a partisan political agenda on impressionable young minds. ‘Thinking about my kids in school having to listen to that just really upsets me,” suburban Colorado mother Shanneen Barron told CNN Denver affiliate KMGH. “I’m an American. They are Americans, and I don’t feel that’s OK. I feel very scared to be in this country with our leadership right now.'”

The administration administration’s PR approach subtly attempts to re-take the high ground.  It is potentially a very effective strategy, one which always going to appeal to people of good will. The most famous literary example is the scene in Tolkien where Gandalf comes to the foot of Orthanc. The defeated wizard Saruman comes forth with the sweetest imaginable, almost enchanting voice. His affable manner takes everyone aback; for a moment every listener feels somewhat abashed: surely they have misunderstood Saruman and done him an injustice by even doubting him. The moment lasts only as long as Saruman is not questioned. When his smooth words are rejected, the wizard lashes out again: “what is the House of Eorl but a thatched barn where brigands drink in the reek – their brats rolling on the floor amongst the dogs and filth?” The current conservative preoccupation with Van Jones, who is Obama’s Green Czar — but who was also a 9/11 truther and alleged Mumia supporter — threatens to establish the meme. On the one hand the well dressed, Yale educated Obama administration official, and on the other a bunch of nay-saying, no-account, penny-pinching, ignorant doubters. Who would you trust, the reverend man on the high tower or a society of people with barns?

The culture wars are now pervasive and the question of what constitutes the “high ground” is now central to the debate. Recently the POLITICO reported that

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is objecting “in the strongest terms” to an Associated Press decision to transmit a photograph showing a mortally wounded 21-year-old Marine in his final moments of life, calling the decision “appalling” and a breach of “common decency.” … The AP reported in a story that it decided to make the image public anyway because it “conveys the grimness of war and the sacrifice of young men and women fighting it.”

It will be hard to get the two points of view to meet because the different incidents are used to illustrate separate truths in different moral universes. But is it still a debate, or verbal spears hurtling past each other in flight?


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