Entry from February 28, 2010

In today’s Washington Post, Dana Milbank cites the recent kerfuffle in the British press about a book purporting to reveal the tendency of Prime Minister Gordon Brown to “bully” his subordinates as a Milbankian way of suggesting that the problem with Barack Obama is that he’s not bully enough.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is accused, in a new book by British journalist Andrew Rawnsley, of shouting obscenities at his advisers, grabbing one by the collar, punching the seatback in his car, abusing switchboard operators and even forcing a secretary from her chair when she wasn’t typing fast enough. Workers at 10 Downing Street have called a bullying hotline seeking help. Here in America, however, we can only watch this behavior with envy. Our president is not a bully; in fact, he is the victim of bullying. He is bullied by Republicans on health care. He is bullied by congressional Democrats on everything. He is bullied by his own Cabinet. Dick Cheney pauses in his bullying of Obama only for the occasional heart attack.

Poor thing! Are those nasty Republicans being mean to him? What a laugh! Compare this portrait of the President as a cowering little wimp being shoved around by the bigger boys on the playground with this report by Minette Marrin in the London Sunday Times of her personal experience of bullying by Mr Brown, whom she describes as being “without a doubt the strangest, most emotionally dysfunctional person I have met”:

Brown had not endeared himself to other guests at drinks before dinner with his arrogance. Lecturing several of us on the merits of Latin and the humanity of Adam Smith, he made it plain he assumed we were all less well educated and less intelligent. He had misjudged his company but had neither the quickness nor the social skills to pick that up or put it right, and this at a moment when he was clearly trying hard to make friends and influence people. When challenged, as an honest man who prized honesty, to put right, if only in private, a certain dishonest statement in parliament that day, he weaselled out of it.

Sound like anybody you know? Here’s Dana Milbank himself on the President’s behavior at the health care “summit” on Thursday noting that

members of the opposition party may not have fully understood that they were stepping into Prof. Obama”s classroom, and that they were to be treated like his undisciplined pupils. Obama controlled the microphone and the clock, and he used both skillfully to limit the Republicans” time, to rebut their arguments and to always have the last word. Among the first to have his knuckles rapped was Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). The 2008 Republican presidential nominee accused his former rival of “unsavory” dealmaking, of breaking his promise to put health-care negotiations on C-SPAN, of supporting a 2,400-page bill, of giving favors to lobbyists and special interests. He directed Obama to “go back to the beginning” with health-care reform. “Let me just make this point, John,” the president said when the tirade ended. “We”re not campaigning anymore. The election”s over.” Teacher directed student to drop the “talking points” and “focus on the issues of how we actually get a bill done.”

By the way, coming from someone like Mr Obama who is always in campaign mode this is a bit rich. It also shows that, although his own style of bullying may lack the physical dimension, the President is every bit as much the intellectual bully that Gordon Brown is. That’s what Mr Milbank and others of his supporters like about him, and it gives them an example to follow. Here, for example, is Jonathan Chait of The New Republic attempting to rebut a characterization of the President as “startlingly condescending” by John Podhoretz: “How can that be avoided,” writes Mr Chait, “when you”re trying to have a high-level discussion with people who reply either on debunked claims at best and talk radio-level slogans at worst?” As James Taranto in the Wall Street Journal online points out “describing that as a defense of condescension is too charitable, isn”t it? It’s an example of condescension.” And he then quotes a further example from Mr Chait that Mr Podhoretz also quotes:

President Obama is so much smarter and a better communicator than members of Congress in either party. The contrast, side by side, is almost ridiculous. . . Most the time [sic], this is like watching Lebron James play basketball with a bunch of kids who got cut from the 7th grade basketball team. He’s treating them really nice, letting his teammates take shots and allowing the other team to try to score. Nice try on that layup, Timmy, you almost got it on. But after a couple minutes I want him to just grab the ball and dunk on these clowns already.

This kind of arrogant question-begging — that is, assuming that someone designated in advance as the smarter of two parties must be right because he’s, well, smarter — bids fair to become the universal style of discourse on the left, and it goes naturally together with the complementary and similarly unsupported assumption that the other party must by stupid or vicious. Here, for instance, is Frank Rich in today’s New York Times, pointing to what he imagines is the connection between the tea partiers and Joe Stack, the nutcase who crashed his plane into the IRS offices in Austin, Texas: “Stack was a lone madman, and it would be both glib and inaccurate to call him a card-carrying Tea Partier or a ‘Tea Party terrorist.’ But” — didn’t you just know that sentence was going to be followed by a “but”? — “he did leave behind a manifesto whose frothing anti-government, anti-tax rage overlaps with some of those marching under the Tea Party banner.” There is no argument here but only an insinuation that to be against high taxes is automatically to qualify yourself as an accomplice of terrorists. Talk about bullying!

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