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Media Beat

No media honeymoon for new president


 

 

The next two months will span, quite literally, an interregnum.

The word isn’t often used in American politics, but especially this time around the definition seems quite apt. The interregnum now underway qualifies as an “interval of time between the end of a sovereign’s reign and the accession of a successor.”

Generally, a sovereign doesn’t go quietly, and George W. Bush is unlikely to be an exception. Doesn’t get me wrong — the politeness and surface graciousness has already begun, and we can expect plenty more faux gestures of ultra-civility from the incumbent president between now and Jan. 20. But, as reflected in the Bush administration’s current rush to lock in as many damaging administrative rules and executive orders as possible, the maneuvers behind the scenes will be nasty indeed up till the moment Bush moves out of the White House.

Overall, the news media like winners, and an incoming president is the biggest winner of all. The period between his opponent’s concession speech and the swearing-in has tradition- ally been a time of many media upsides without the burdens of actual incumbency.

Despite the vast amount of media analysis and commentary occurring between election and inauguration, the new president’s actual policy outlooks aren’t likely to receive a lot of tough scrutiny during that period. Leaders of the defeated party don’t want to seem like sore losers, and prominent supporters of the winning ticket are extremely unlikely to pick a fight with the triumphant duo.

While news coverage is focused elsewhere, there are some very important points being made right now by progressive commentators who are warning that some Obama positions will be — or at least should be — on a collision course with substantial portions of his political base. Sooner or later, this clash will occur. For democratic discourse, it would be better sooner rather than later.

“It’s a natural reaction — and certainly a commonplace media reaction at the moment — to want to give Barack Obama a ‘chance,'” writer Tom Engelhardt commented days ago. “Back off those critical comments, people now say. Fair’s fair. Give the president-elect a little ‘breathing space.’ After all, the election is barely over, he’s not even in office, he hasn’t had his first 100 days, and already the criticism has begun.”

Engelhardt has been writing and editing on public-affairs subjects for a long time. He founded the Web site TomDispatch.com, where his incisive pieces appear several times a week. While acknowledging the strong tendencies to want to hold back from criticizing the president-elect, Engelhardt points out that “those who say this don’t understand Washington — or, in the case of various media figures and pundits, perhaps understand it all too well.”

He adds: “Political Washington is a conspiracy — in the original sense of the word: ‘to breathe the same air.’ In that sense, there is no air in Washington that isn’t stale enough to choke a president. Send Obama there alone, give him that ‘breathing space,’ don’t start demanding the quick ending of wars or anything else, and you’re not doing him, or the American people, any favors. Quite the opposite, you’re consigning him to suffocation.”

To those who want a foreign policy that’s not based on military muscle, Engelhardt has some good advice about how to approach the substance of Barack Obama’s policy proclivities: “Pitch your own tent on the public commons and make some noise. Let him know that Washington’s isn’t the only consensus around, that Americans really do want our troops to come home, that we actually are looking for ‘change we can believe in,’ which would include a less weaponized, less imperial American world, based on a reinvigorated idea of defense, not aggression, and on the Constitution, not leftover Rumsfeld rules or a bogus Global War on Terror.”

Not exactly the kind of assessment we’re liable to encounter as we click through the network channels or turn the mass-media pages.

©2008 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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