August was a very slow news month, as you may have noticed. Congress is on vacation — again. We’re all bracing for the trainwrecks of Obamacare implementation and the next budget fight. Syria was pretty much the only big news (well, that and some washed-up child star reminding people that the MTV music awards still exist).
But our media abhors a vacuum. So they’ve blown up Syria in a mega-criss that will define Obama’s presidency. Seriously:
Syria coverage in America’s newspapers is the latest example of purportedly neutral, “objective” press coverage that’s bursting with contestable assumptions, often without the reporters and editors involved quite realizing their biases. The core news: President Obama asked Congress to vote on intervening in Syria. The way it’s being framed in accounts billed as straight news?
The New York Times cast it as a roll of the dice:
“In one of the riskiest gambles of his presidency,” they wrote, “Mr. Obama effectively dared lawmakers to either stand by him or, as he put it, allow President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to get away with murdering children with unconventional weapons.” But Obama is a lame duck, few Americans care about Syria, no one is going to take to the streets if the U.S. doesn’t intervene, and striking Syria’s regime without Congress while flouting public opinion was a far bigger gamble. In fact, you could easily write that Obama averted one of the riskiest gambles of his presidency by postponing a strike and consulting the Congress.
If you’re someone who personalizes politics, fetishizes disagreement, and intends to treat a Congressional rejection of a strike on Syria as a “humiliation” for Obama, the Times frame makes some sense, but make no mistake: its assessment of the Syria debate’s impact is self-fulfilling prophecy from an insular, status-obsessed elite. Obama’s approach is “a gamble” because and only because other insiders imagine that a president being denied by Congress — gasp! — is embarassing, rather than a healthy manifestation of Madisonian checks.
The executive is more prone to war than the legislature or the people. This was foreseen.
And come January 2017, when Obama leaves office, it’ll be hard to find an American outside D.C. who’d treat failure to intervene in Syria as a defining moment. The economy, health care, the end of the war in Iraq: those are his legacies, for better or worse.
You should read the whole thing, because it gets far far worse. The media seems to be ignorant of the Constitutional limts on Obama’s authority, oblivious to the text of the War Powers Act, unable to read their own archives on past debates over war and obsessed with making this the MOST DRAMATIC DECISION EVER! The belief that we must do something about the atrocities in Syria (even though we haven’t done anything for two years and there are atrocities going on elsewhere) is not to be questioned.
The media doesn’t want a political debate; they want an episode of The West Wing.