The Media's Blind Spot: Three Old White Men Pontificate About A Young Black President

I don't mean to be brazen, but that's what happened yesterday on Hardball with Chris Matthews. Matthews wrote a book about President Kennedy, and he invited Howard Fineman of The AOL Huffington Post and Mike Barnicle on his show to ask him questions about it. Quickly, the content of the segment drifted away from the Kennedy's and moved onto three old white politicos' assessment on the political skills of the country's first black president, Barack Obama. More specifically, it delved into how Barack Obama does not measure up to President Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.

Here's the full interview of Chris Matthews on his own show:

Really, I have no problem with Matthews promoting his book on air. After all, it is his own show. And he wrote a book about President Kennedy, so why not talk about President Kennedy all he wants? Kennedy's political prowess was something to behold in his time, and that is fantastic. No problem.

But the speed and agility with which the conversation went straight for the "Obama disappointed us" narrative, it is hard to believe that it was spontaneous and unplanned. None of them noticed, of course, that Obama has to be president while back, and none of them even cared that no one representing a voice of color - let alone an African American voice - was even in the room. So let me remind Mr. Matthews, Mr. Fineman and Mr. Barnicle a few things about the obstacles this president faces that no other president in history has.
  • Personal as well as institutionalized racism: The media has it out for him on both ends. He's either too calm and collected (God forbid we have a calm and collected captain of the ship while navigating through stormy waters) or an angry black man. He has to both be an American president and the magic negro (yeah, I said it). He has to get things done and be seen as slapping his allies and opponents alike. What is nearly as bad as the vivid racism put on display by the political right is the subtle ignorance and pretension of the media personalities that our politics is post-racial.
  • Unprecedented political enmity: Did you guys check the Republican party lately? They have turned against a ton of their own policy ideas on jobs because now the president is proposing it. The Republicans have said NO in unison, used legislative procedure to stifle damn nearly everything. Anyone remember this graph?

    While the Right openly declared that they hope the President fails and that their single most important goal is to defeat the president, the media sat there, sucking their thumbs, and now you have the galls to complain about how Obama is not twisting enough arms?
With that, let's also visit what the president has done in his time in office. We have listed them a myriad of times here on TPV, and I will give you a partial list again:
  • Health care reform expanding coverage, reining in insurance company malpractices, improving Medicare and paying for every penny of it. There can be no comparing of Barack Obama with other presidents in the past half century without mentioning this. All those presidents had been trying to do what Barack Obama has accomplished.
  • A stimulus pack
  • The most significant financial regulatory reform since the Great Depression with an independent consumer protection agency.
  • Credit card reform and student loan reform protecting consumers, students and parents.
  • The largest expansion of children's health insurance ever.
  • Delivering a tax reduction for the working poor for the first time in recent memory (by the means of a cut in the payroll tax).
  • Unemployment benefits extensions to 99 weeks to cope with the economic situation, made the largest investments in infrastructure since the interstates, kept teachers, police and firefighters on the job.
  • Ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell and codifying a federal hate crimes statute protecting the LGBT community.
He did it all while facing the mountain of animus obstruction from the Right, poutrage from the Professional Left (they were missing ponies, excuse them), and being president while black.

But no, the problem the Matthews panel seemed to have with the president is that he's not learning to whip the Democrats into shape. That is largely a false accusation as the vast majority of registered and elected Democrats continue to stand by and support the president. The intra-party conflict narrative is one largely created by a media that is trigger-happy and earns its ratings by manufacturing conflict. After all, issue splits within the Democratic party are nothing new. Will Rogers did not say "I'm not a member of any organized party; I'm a Democrat" yesterday, Chris Matthews. We have been hearing for years that Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line. If organizing the Democratic party has always been so much like herding cats that punchlines and legends have been written to immortalize it, why the thread of novelty on it all of a sudden? Answer: a conflict-infatuated media that is drowning in its own conflict bubble.

Barack Obama is not the country's first African American president because he doesn't understand politics. He did not beat the best Democratic party machinery since the Kennedys - the Clintons - by being the naive black guy who just doesn't get it and needs to learn it all from the good-ol' boys' club. So long as we're comparing Jack Kennedy and Barack Obama, you think it also might have been worth mentioning that the Kennedy family had been in Democratic politics long before the arrival of JFK, whereas Barack Obama came up completely on his own, the first person in his family to probably be in politics, period?  And speaking of the Kennedy's, anyone remember this early and ardent supporter of Barack Obama's?

Here's a suggestion for you, Chris Matthews. Sell your book. Talk about your book. Talk about Jack Kennedy. But if you are going to use it as a platform to pontificate about Barack Obama's political skills, try to get more perspective than 3 old white politicos talking about the new black kid on the block, okay?

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