Say what you want about Obama ó and I share all of the standard leftist gripes about his presidency, i.e., heís too cozy with Wall Street and corporate America, heís too centrist, heís too accommodating with Republicans, heís too fond of the surveillance state, etc. ó but there is one thing about him that Iíve always admired and that weíre going to be missing very soon, his temperament.
Unlike a disturbingly large number of his countrymen, particularly in the press and the Republican party, Barack Obama is a mature adult. He doesnít engage in juvenile Twitter wars or dwell on them at unseemly length, unlike a certain president-elect and many Very Serious Pundits. Heís calm and rational. He doesnít make hasty and emotional decisions. He weighs evidence, ponders outcomes, and isnít swayed by narrow partisan biases. In short, he thinks. He has, if nothing else, the temperament of a statesman.
Obama is the only president of my lifetime who didnít fill me with violent nausea two years into his first term. On the contrary, I still personally like the man after eight years. Iím also a diehard Michelle Obama fan (she’s tougher than Barack, and word has it she’s much more liberal). I’d gladly vote for her if she ran for president, but sheís far too competent for the dim and venal mediocrities who run the Democratic party and far too dignified for so low an occupation as politics, which, as Gore Vidal pointed out, is a compound word consisting of poli, which is Greek for many, and tics, which are blood sucking insects.
I bring this up because Obama seems blessedly immune to the anti-Russian hysteria that is now engulfing the Kool Kids in Washington. Once again, unverified assertions from anonymous official sources have them all hot and bothered and eager for a Tough Response. It was up to the President on Friday to clarify for these illustrious journalists that, no, Russia did not tamper with the election. They hacked into the Democratís internal emails and leaked them to the public. They didnít directly interfere with the election itself. Votes wereít changed or suppressed. The integrity of the electoral system was not compromised. It remains as pure and sacred as the Supreme Court and the Diebold corporation left it.
By contemporary ethical standards this barely qualifies as a ratfuck. Your average Wall Streeter commits graver felonies before lunch every day. It is not a threat to our democracy, and it certainly doesnít justify ratcheting up tensions between the U.S. and Russia.
But as every Hillary supporter is now crying, these leaks disadvantaged Clinton and threw the election to Trump. Maybe so, maybe not, but Obama made an interesting comment about this during his last press conference:
And the truth is, is that there was nobody here who didnít have some sense of what kind of effect it might have. Iím finding it a little curious that everybody is suddenly acting surprised that this looked like it was disadvantaging Hillary Clinton because you guys wrote about it every day. Every single leak. About every little juicy tidbit of political gossip ó including John Podestaís risotto recipe. This was an obsession that dominated the news coverage.If the media had been doing its job and covering the actual policy differences between the two candidates, the leaks wouldnít have mattered. If they did hurt Hillary, a shallow and incompetent press has only itself to blame.
So I do think itís worth us reflecting how it is that a presidential election of such importance, of such moment, with so many big issues at stake and such a contrast between the candidates, came to be dominated by a bunch of these leaks. What is it about our political system that made us vulnerable to these kinds of potential manipulations ó which, as Iíve said publicly before, were not particularly sophisticated.
For the record, I donít think the leaks had anything to do with Clintonís defeat. Niether Putin nor Comey nor Bernie Sanders nor the fucking tooth fairy prevented Hillary from going to Wisconsin during the election. She was a bad candidate who ran a bad campaign. I do, however, agree with the larger point Obama is making: the press is vapid and consumed with trivia. Had it done its job, the public would have had more relevant information about the candidates and a clearer perspective about what was at stake in the election. If there is any group outside of the Clinton campaign and the DNC who is responsible for the catastrophe that has befallen us, it is the mainstream political media.