|There has been a great deal of discussion online about the Obama campaign releasing a "Fact check" oppo document on Paul Krugman. Ezra Klein sums up part of why it is disturbing that an attack like this is coming from a leading Democratic Presidential candidate:
It's not only the actual attacks that are weak (most of them rely on misinterpreting one comment, then misinterpreting the next, then pretending there's a contradiction), but, seriously, it's Paul Krugman. Arguably the most progressive voice in American media. When I argued that the campaign should take the gloves off, I really didn't expect their target, in this document and in the health care fight more generally, would be progressivism.
It is certainly disturbing that Obama is attacking a leading progressive voice in a media system where progressive opinion journalists are few are far between. What is even more disturbing is that this is not the first time the Obama campaign has considered doing this. Back during the Donnie McClurkin fiasco, it has been confirmed to me from multiple sources that the Obama campaign was preparing opposition research papers of this sort against
some one of the progressive bloggers who were speaking ill of him at the time (Update: I have edited the previous sentence for the sake of clarity and accuracy. I know two separate things, and conflating them is a bit of speculation on my part. First, I know that about a year ago, someone was conducting oppo research on most major progressive bloggers, but I don't know who. After I heard about oppo being prepared against one blogger a couple months ago, I speculated that meant the earlier oppo was conducted by the Obama campaign as well. That is purely speculation on my part. Take it for what it is worth). When I heard about that, Obama temporarily dropped to last place in my personal choices on Democratic candidates. This is a campaign that appears willing to go negative against a wide range of progressive media figures should those figures step out of line and criticize Obama campaign decisions. Given that, I became personally worried that an Obama nomination would, at some point in the future, result in a public smear campaign, possibly directed by the a new White House communications department, against me and / or many of my friends and colleagues. As Jerome Armstrong wrote on Friday:
Actually, it's worse. Couple it with the quote of Obama's above the PR that says: "I want to campaign the same way I govern, which is to respond directly and forcefully with the truth -Barack Obama". It is plainly and simply an effort to call Paul Krugman a liar.
But it's also a telling quote of the way that Obama would govern as President-- by attacking those who are most outspoken in the being progressive.
That sounds about right. During an Obama presidency, progressive media figures could face regular attacks from a Democratic White House. It is a fear that I still hold, and which keeps me from getting excited about Obama's improving position in the campaign.
It isn't just about attacking progressive media figures, either. In my experience, Obama's blogosphere outreach has been far, far worse than that from the Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, and Richardson campaigns, which have all been excellent in this area. Even the Biden campaign has been slightly better in this area. Overall, the willingness to attack progressive media figures, the poor blogosphere outreach, the willingness to triangulate against left-wing strawmen, and incessant, beltway-pundit friendly talk about the need to "fix" Social Security, combine to paint a pretty stark picture of the Obama campaign's relationship with progressive media and new progressive institutions. That is to say, he doesn't like those new institutions, and is instead making friends with the more established media infrastructure.
Obama actually seems to be doing a good job in this area, as he receives significantly more positive media than any other Presidential candidate. Certainly, showing a distaste for the dirty hippies and real concern over the need to "fix" Social Security can make you a lot of friends among media figures who have the ability to sway public opinion. Obama's improvement in the polls over the past six or seven weeks must be strongly connected to the media favoring him above all other presidential candidates, Democratic or Republican.
There are some mitigating factors at play here. First, Obama has released transformative open media proposals, as Matt has discussed in the past. Second, he has more grassroots activism conducted on his behalf than any other candidate in the history of primary campaigns (although, adjusted for national population increases, it is possible that Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, RFK in 1968, and George McGovern in 1972 had more.) So, even though the culture of his campaign is institutionally aligned with establishment media and against progressive media, his media policy is the most supportive of new media among all campaigns and he probably has more supporters who participate in new, open media than any other campaign. This is a truly odd conundrum, where Obama could win because of new media support, enact fantastic new media legislation, while simultaneously sending his communication staff out to destroy anyone in new media that steps out of line, from Joe Anthony to Paul Krugman to progressive bloggers.
It is a truly odd situation that both bothers me and makes it difficult for me to draw any conclusions about Obama. Presidential campaigns are vast operations, and I wonder how much Obama has played a role in both the anti-progressive pundit strategy and the open media policy proposals. If he played a major role in one and not the other, it would make a big difference. It he played a major role in neither or both, it would leave me as confused and conflicted as before. I have met Obama and talked with him. Over the course of about thirty minutes, he appeared thoughtful in a way that reminded me of academia, and progressive enough to make me feel comfortable. At the same time, I wondered after the meeting if he tailors his message depending on his audience (I was with some other bloggers when I met him). This massive schism in the way his campaign approaches new media only adds to that concern. Is this the sort of conflicted approach that a President Obama would take toward new progressive media, or is one aspect dominant over the other? I honestly have no idea, and it probably isn't something I will be able to make my mind up about before January 3rd.