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Any position that grants exposure to others results in scrutiny; U.S. presidents are no different. As they are responsible for decisions that constantly affect the lives of millions of Americans, presidents receive either praise or derision by media pundits, voters and state officials when they make decisions that run contrary to their expectations.
While most of the criticisms leveled at presidents relate to their policy decisions, their personal attributes are also vulnerable to significant mockery, sometimes even more so. For instance, ex-president Bill Clinton was derided for being a “draft dodger,” while former president George W. Bush was ridiculed for his perceived lack of intelligence on relevant issues.
Our current president, Barack Obama, is also not immune to such criticism. However, the frequency and severity of the barbs that he receives, which question everything from his lineage to his religious faith, leave one to wonder if these remarks are not borne out of more than mere policy resentment.
Bill Press, a former host of CNN’s Crossfire as well as the current host of the Bill Press Show, ruminated on this very subject, and detailed his observations in his book, titled “The Obama Hate Machine.” He appeared at Books and Books in Coral Gables on Wednesday to discuss his book along with the current political climate before an appreciative audience comprising individuals young and old.
Press started the proceedings by noting that while presidents are often the object of scorn and ridicule, the invectives hurled at our current president are unprecedented.
“We have never seen such a concerted series of attacks on a sitting president in a while,” he noted. In fact, Press noted, the only president who had to weather a comparable criticisms was Abraham Lincoln.
The scope of these attacks, Press reasoned, aim to make President Obama out to be “the other,” focusing on the fact that he is foreign and not like us. In stating this point, he referenced the frequency in which individuals on the Right describe President Obama as a Socialist, Muslim or a Communist. He also mentioned the situation where those on the Right, particularly Donald Trump, questioned the legitimacy of the President’s birth certificate.
The chief operators of the ‘Obama Hate Machine,’ Press noted, are Charles and David Koch, known by many as the Koch brothers. These brothers, who Press notes are the third and fourth richest men in America, earn this distinction through their monetary influence in the political process. He mentioned how these two use their considerable financial power to fund Republican campaigns as well as advertisements that deride the President and his achievements.
Of course, while members of the Right should shoulder most of the blame, Press also held the media accountable, mainly for their inability and unwillingness to combat the charges levied by the Right.
At that moment, Press recalled the words of Walter Cronkite, one of the most highly regarded journalists in history. Media individuals regard Cronkite’s impartiality in delivering news highly, to the point where many wish that same lack of bias existed today.
“Cronkite regretted that in his attempts to establish strong standards in the media, he was unable to make those standards stick,” the author stated to the audience.
Press then concluded by encouraging greater civility in political discourse.
“During my time at Crossfire, we had a rule that you always gave it your best on the show, but you never got personal,” he said. “We need to get back to that in Washington.”
Press then took questions from the audience. The queries raised by members of the audience ranged from whether the Citizens United decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court would see a challenge, to whether it was possible to ban products made by the Koch brothers.
Press said no to the latter question, mainly due to them being so pervasive and necessary to the daily lives of many Americans. He expressed more optimism toward the former query, noting that the GOP is seeing the decision backfire on them, and even mentioning Sen. Russ Feingold’s belief that even people on the Supreme Court are having second thoughts about the decision.
A poignant question wondered if political moderates would be extinct, referencing the departure of Olympia Snowe.
“I fear that more people like her will choose to walk away from the political climate rather than try to fix it,” Press lamented.
In lamenting the death of political moderates, he noted that politics reached its toxic high point once Newt Gingrich ascended to the position of House Speaker. That, to him, resulted in the death of compromise.
Despite this sudden death, Press still held out hope that political discourse can become civil once again. In fact, he praised President Obama for withstanding these negative attacks.
“I am amazed at how thick-skinned he is,” he said.
“While I wish that he would express anger, I think he knows that it would be a mistake on his part.”
The president leaves that to us, Press noted, and we should embrace that responsibility. “It is up to me and you to refute the lies of the Right,” he said.
“I have been doing it for three years, and I love it!”