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In Defense of Mark Halperin (Sort Of)

There's a reason Halperin and many others had such a visceral reaction to the President's dishonest and cowardly press conference.

2:15 PM, Jun 30, 2011 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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So Mark Halperin went on MSNBC's Morning Joe this morning and said the President was acting like a [coarse euphemism for male genitalia] and an uproar has ensued. I don't applaud Halperin's decision to express himself so vulgarly and he shouldn't have described the president this way.

However, the faux-liberal outrage over the lack of civility here is just ludicrous. And the harumphing about bias here is even worse. Here's the Washington Monthly's Steve Benen:

Forget the trees; look at the forest: congressional Republicans, for the first time in American history, are holding the debt ceiling hostage. They’ve announced to the country and the world that they’ll cause an economic crash, on purpose, unless Democrats agree to dramatic spending cuts. Yesterday, President Obama held a press conference to urge GOP leaders to accept a compromise — he and other Democrats will accept massive cuts, but the president wants Republicans to agree to some concessions as part of a bipartisan agreement.

I couldn’t care less which four-letter word Halperin uses. I do care that Halperin is presented to news consumers as a neutral observer when he clearly is not.

That forest-for-the-trees argument strikes me as pretty disingenuous. Remember that six months ago Democrats were in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. If raising revenue was so darn important, they could have voted to raise taxes and they didn't. Republicans, by contrast, campaigned heavily on not raising taxes last year and voters gave the party the biggest electoral victory since in over 60 years. Democrats had a catostrophic failure of leadership, and Republicans are holding fast to the promises they made to the electorate.

Similarly, Democrats could have dialed back the money spigot a bit. The national debt is $14.3 trillion at the moment -- it was $10.6 trillion when Obama took office. Recall that early last year Democrats hiked the debt ceiling by an astounding $1.9 trillion because they didn't want to deal with the issue before the election. Not exactly a great moment in politcal courage. In the meantime, the Democratic Congress' spendthrift ways are largely responsible for burning through that massive debt increase in little more than a year.

Saying that Republicans are reckless for not readily compromising on raising the debt ceiling, when the opposition is responsible for racking up nearly $4 trillion in new debt in three years is like staring down the barrel of a gun and screaming that being pistol whipped is the worst possible outcome.

We can argue about bias 'til the cows come home, but I think it's fair to say there's some objective merit Halperin's ill-expressed sentiment. Demogoguing Republicans for putting tax breaks for corporate jets over children -- think of the children! -- without being candid about your own massive leadership failures is not a fair or nice thing to do. Especially when Obama signed the preservation of those same tax breaks into law and they cost about $3 billion over 10 years. That's about thousandth of a percentage point relative to the previous $1.9 trillion in debt Democrats burned through in the past year or so.

But since Benen has been all over this (I don't mean to single him out, but his thoughts seem to be proxy for a lot of liberals), let me take up another his objection to this outrageously outrageous treatment of our dear leader:

The other point that’s worth remembering is the larger dynamic. Forget Halperin’s choice of words, and instead consider the argument he and his “Morning Joe” colleagues were pressing. They were annoyed, apparently, because President Obama wasn’t docile and conciliatory during his press conference. He showed some backbone, and this seems to have troubled the political establishment to no end.

If the president stays cool, he’s an emotionless Mr. Spock. If the president shows some fire in the belly, he’s [expleteive redacted].

Note that the brackets above are my own -- Benen actually repeats the disprespectful vulgarity he's ostensibly so offended by. In any event, if liberals feel that yesterday Obama stood up and showed "fire in the belly", then I feel very sorry for them. He mentioned the corporate jet strawman six times; It wasn't the president standing on important principle. The tax break costs relatively nothing. It was clearly a David Axelrod-approved, focus-grouped soundbite. And it was deployed so ham-handedly that it was entirely transparent that that's what it was.

Obama didn't have the courage to stand up on principle and really make a well-rounded case for tax increases. Instead, he flung a calculated soundbite at Republicans designed to demonize them. If one actually felt that Obama was standing up for his beliefs, I don't think Halperin would have said what he did. The fact Obama's accusations against Republicans were so weaselly, in addition to unfair and mean, are why Halperin and many others had such a visceral reaction to Obama's press conference yesterday.

Relatedly, note Obama's unbelieveable answer regarding the National Labor Relations Board's decision to keep Boeing from opening a new factory in South Carolina to appease the company's union in Washington state. Obama completely punted on the NLRB, saying it was "an independent agency." Remember Obama's the guy that recess-appointed Craig Becker to the NLRB, a former labor lawyer with massive conflicts of interest who was rejected as too radical for the NLRB by a bipartisan vote in the Senate. The NLRB's decision is exactly the kind of thing that the business community warned would happen if Becker were put on the board. Now it's happening. Obama put Becker on the board because Big Labor spent over $400 million electing him in 2008 and he wants to keep them happy. But he did not actually publicly defend Craig Becker and organized labor's policy agenda. He doesn't have the courage to do that.

So, uh, fire in the belly? Really? Yesterday was a prime example of the president acting like Weasel-In-Chief.

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