The Magazine

The Thinness of His Skin

From the Scrapbook

May 24, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 34
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President Obama is beginning to say reliably disconcerting things in public, from his offhand dismissals of longtime foreign allies to his recent assertion in Illinois: “I do think at a certain point that you’ve made enough money.” The Scrapbook would like to have listened in on the clarifying telephone call after that one between Obama and supporter/contributor Warren “$62 Billion and Counting” Buffett. 

But for startling insight into the mind of our 44th president, we cannot do better than his recent commencement address at Hampton University in Virginia. Most graduation speeches are predictably anodyne and tend to rely on well-worn generalities. Obama, by contrast, was refreshingly specific at Hampton: He does not like the newfangled means by which many of today’s college graduates​—or anyone, for that matter​—obtain information.

You’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t rank all that high on the truth meter. With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations—none of which I know how to work—information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.

“Some of the craziest claims can quickly gain traction,” he added, referring to talk radio and blogs.

These well-chosen words tell us a lot about Barack Obama, and none of it good. To begin with, it is abundantly clear that Obama may well be the president with the thinnest skin since James Knox Polk, who at least had the decency to rail at his critics in the privacy of his diary. Obama is not only indignant about criticism, hostile comment, and “the craziest claims” about himself and his policies: He is furious that citizens have access to different viewpoints without regulatory control. Public discourse in a free society is not a virtue in itself, according to the president; it should be a “tool of empowerment” or “means of emancipation,” not “a form of entertainment.”

The Scrapbook can well imagine the uproar if Obama’s predecessor had looked new graduates in the eye and griped about “iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations—none of which I know how to work.” But the people who would have moaned about George W. Bush’s luddism seem not especially bothered by the fact that the nation’s chief executive has just issued a strongly worded public warning about the baleful effects of free speech and dissent. On the matter of political rhetoric, Barack Obama seems to have the same approach as his vision of health care: distrust for the market, faith in Big Brother. 

Not to mention the fact that his logic is upside-down. Sure, iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations convey a lot of nonsense, and some portion of their content is “a form of entertainment.” But does Obama -really believe that, in the old “media environment” of newspapers and wire services and magazines and TV networks, forms of entertainment didn’t sneak in through the window—and that everything published in newspapers, or flashed across the wires, always ranked high on the truth meter? The Scrapbook can assure him that it didn’t, still doesn’t, and never will.

The White House Targets Little Debbie

Spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama, the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity has just released its list of recommendations, some of which seem sensible enough, even to The Scrapbook. Take, for instance, Recommendation 3.17: “Promote healthy behaviors in juvenile correctional and related facilities.” (Scared straight and lose weight at the same time!)

But then we came across Recommendation 2.4: “Restaurants should consider their portion sizes, improve children’s menus, and make healthy options the default choice whenever possible.” Is it so bad that a place like the Cheesecake Factory serves up a generous portion of its Factory Meatloaf, half of which you can then take home for tomorrow’s lunch? Or that one heaping dinner plate of linguini and clams at Carmine’s can sustain a family of four over the next few days? Apparently the answer is yes. As Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest told the Washington Post’s Robin Givhan, “Value marketing has been so lucrative for restaurants. .  .  . They can give you more food on a plate, charge you more and make a profit.”

The Scrapbook is shocked to learn that there are people in this country—in the restaurant business, no less—who seek to make a profit. And how can any self-respecting restaurateur charge you more when he serves you more? In the Age of Obama, that just doesn’t make any economic sense.

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