My comment about another subject follows…
By JAMES TARANTO
More than 144 hours into Barack Obama's presidency, the economy is still in recession, the country is still at war, and in many parts of the country it's still cold outside. Citizens are growing impatient: Wasn't President Obama supposed to bring change?
Yet one institution has changed dramatically, and in a very short time: the press. After spending the Bush years as a voice of opposition, American journalists have by and large turned on a dime and become cheerleaders for the man in power.
A case in point is the Associated Press, perhaps the nation's premier "straight news" outfit. During the Bush years, the AP introduced a new reportorial idiom called "accountability journalism," whose goal is "to report whether government officials are doing the job for which they were elected and keeping the promises they make." Turns out they weren't.
But the AP's new idiom, which we hereby name "pliability journalism," aims to show that everything is completely different from the bad old days of a week ago and before. A Saturday dispatch by Liz Sidotti, titled "Obama Breaks From Bush, Avoids Divisive Stands," shows how it works:
Barack Obama opened his presidency by breaking sharply from George W. Bush's unpopular administration, but he mostly avoided divisive partisan and ideological stands. He focused instead on fixing the economy, repairing a battered world image and cleaning up government.
A central feature of pliability journalism is the bending of contrary facts to fit the narrative of change, hope and unity. Here's how Sidotti reshapes one such fact:
So far, Obama's only real brush with issues that stoke partisan passions came when he revoked a ban on federal funding for international groups that provide or promote abortions. He did that quietly by issuing a memorandum late Friday afternoon. The move was expected; the issue has vacillated between Republican and Democratic presidents.
So three days after taking office, Obama executed a 180-degree policy turn on the nation's most emotionally charged subject. That would seem to be the epitome of divisiveness. But no. It (1) has been "Obama's only real brush with issues that stoke partisan passions," (2) was "expected" and (3) was done "quietly."
Sidotti also notes that "some Republicans are griping about Obama's economic stimulus plan and closing Guantanamo. But their protests are somewhat muted, perhaps because little of what Obama has done thus far is a surprise." So it turns out the abortion order was not the president's only brush with issues that stoke partisan issues. In order to meet Sidotti's definition of "divisive," it seems, Obama would have to do something surprising–which, since he is a liberal Democrat, means he would have to do something conservative.
Oh, and when the next Republican president restores the ban on funding abortions overseas, will Sidotti credit him with not being divisive if he does so with little fanfare? Or would that be an example of excessive secrecy and lack of accountability?
Paul Haven, in a Sunday dispatch, tells how much things have changed on the international scene:
In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama signaled conciliation to America's foes by using the metaphor of an outstretched hand to an unclenched fist.
Already, there are signs that some of those foes were listening, sensing an opening for improved relations after eight combative years under President George W. Bush. Fidel Castro is said to like the new American leader, and North Korea and Iran both sounded open to new ideas to defuse nuclear-tinged tensions.
After eight long years of conflict under George W. Bush, Obama will restore the amicable relations with Cuba, North Korea and Iran that previously had prevailed since the Kennedy, Truman and Carter administrations. What a change!
The change even extends to gustatory matters, as Mary Clare Jalonick made clear Saturday:
Visiting one of his favorite Chicago restaurants in November, Barack Obama was asked by an excited waitress if he wanted the restaurant's special margarita made with the finest ingredients, straight up and shaken at the table.
"You know that's the way I roll," Obama replied jokingly.
Rick Bayless, the chef of that restaurant, Topolobampo, says Obama's comfortable demeanor at the table–slumped contentedly in his chair, clearly there to enjoy himself–bodes well for the nation's food policy. While former President George W. Bush rarely visited restaurants and didn't often talk about what he ate, Obama dines out frequently and enjoys exploring different foods.
It turns out that top chefs have "many suggestions to improve food policy," most of which involve treating small farmers more favorably and agribusiness less so. But Bayless "says the Obamas could make a world of difference if they just publish what they are eating every day. 'Everyone's going to want to be like the Obamas,' he said."
Even if true, that may prove a mixed blessing for foodies. Topolobampo's Web site recommends calling two weeks in advance for reservations. If Obama follows Bayless's advice and the public follows Obama's, pretty soon Topolobampo will be so crowded that no one will be able to get in.
We return to Sidotti's dispatch for one final example of the change President Obama has already wrought:
In a mix of symbolism and substance, Obama used a host of executive tools to put his stamp on the country without having to go through Congress, making statements from the bully pulpit and signing White House directives.
It's about time we had a president who believes in a strong executive branch!
If you're not sick enough yet, how about Orin Hatch taking to the Senate floor today to tell us and his rotten-to-the-core colleagues that Bobo's Treasury designate should not have his impressive credentials overshadowed by his failure to pay his taxes?
Edit: 4:26PM Monday, January 26, 2009 The Senate has just voted to confirm the choice, 60-34*