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Time on Obama: 'History Can't Wait' for His 'Obi-Wan Kenobi Calm' --12/18/2008


1. Time on Obama: 'History Can't Wait' for His 'Obi-Wan Kenobi Calm'
With the level of surprise set firmly at zero -- Time magazine routinely chooses the presidential election winner as Person of the Year -- Time gave that honor to Barack Obama on Wednesday. But the first peek at David Von Drehle's cover story shows that Time's gooey valentines to Obama know no end, starting with the headline: "Why History Can't Wait." The President-elect has that "Obi-Wan Kenobi calm," and yet is "the opposite of flashy, the antithesis of rhetoric: he gets things done. He is a man about his business -- a Mr. Fix It going to Washington." Compared to Bush in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Obama represents change so indelibly that even sinking three-pointers on the basketball court drive home the point: "In the land of the hapless, the competent man is king." Hillary Clinton tried to say Obama was all talk, "Yet he was the one whose campaign ran like clockwork, while hers was a fratricidal mess. And by Nov. 4, the strongest party in the U.S. was no longer the Republican Party or the Democratic Party; it was the Obama Party."

2. Stephanopoulos on Cabinet: 'Diversity & Competence w/o Tokenism'
ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Wednesday night hailed President-elect Barack Obama's cabinet, pointing to how his national security team is made up of "coalition builders," including Hillary Clinton, before praising Obama for how "he has also kept his promise of reaching out beyond Washington for change with younger reformers like Shaun Donovan at HUD, Arne Duncan at Education and Lisa Jackson at the EPA." Thus, ABC's chief Washington correspondent decided: "He's managed to get this diversity and competence without engaging in any tokenism." But then Stephanopoulos recited Obama's political tokenism, pointing out how he "picked people in the cabinet with an eye towards fast-growing voter groups" as two cabinet nominations went to Hispanics and two to Asians and three choices were purely about electoral politics, not competence: "The Southwest has been a real prime target area, and look what the President-elect has done. He's picked Governor Napolitano of Arizona, Governor Richardson of New Mexico, Senator Salazar of Colorado, trying to lock in gains in those three key states."

3. CNN: At $50,000, 'Stars are Themselves Star Struck' with Obama
Picking up on a Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) report on how several Hollywood actors and actresses have ponied up $50,000 each for VIP access to Barack Obama's inaugural events, CNN reporter Samantha Hayes marveled: "It's a measure of the excitement around Obama, that the stars are themselves star struck." She highlighted, in a story run on Wednesday's Anderson Cooper 360, that "the Hollywood 'A' list is snapping up top-dollar tickets," naming Halle Berry, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jamie Foxx, Sharon Stone and Samuel L. Jackson as amongst those who have donated the maximum $50,000 to the inaugural committee.


Time on Obama: 'History Can't Wait' for
His 'Obi-Wan Kenobi Calm'

With the level of surprise set firmly at zero -- Time magazine routinely chooses the presidential election winner as Person of the Year -- Time gave that honor to Barack Obama on Wednesday. But the first peek at David Von Drehle's cover story shows that Time's gooey valentines to Obama know no end, starting with the headline: "Why History Can't Wait."

The President-elect has that "Obi-Wan Kenobi calm," and yet is "the opposite of flashy, the antithesis of rhetoric: he gets things done. He is a man about his business -- a Mr. Fix It going to Washington." Compared to Bush in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Obama represents change so indelibly that even sinking three-pointers on the basketball court drive home the point: "In the land of the hapless, the competent man is king." Hillary Clinton tried to say Obama was all talk, "Yet he was the one whose campaign ran like clockwork, while hers was a fratricidal mess. And by Nov. 4, the strongest party in the U.S. was no longer the Republican Party or the Democratic Party; it was the Obama Party."
(Announcing the selection on Wednesday's Today show, Time Managing Editor Richard Stengel trumpeted: "He's a transformational figure. He has done something extraordinary. He made some promises that he's actually kept already. And eventually, you know, I mean, he, we gave him Person of the Year this year but he will be evaluated for how he does as President but it has been an extraordinary ride. And, look, we thought about possibly giving it to the American voter for electing Barack Obama, for the economy for tipping the scales in his favor. But, ultimately, he is the quintessential Person of the Year.")

[This item, by the MRC's Tim Graham, was posted Wednesday night on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]

It's a large puddle by David Von Drool, an excerpt:

By now we are all accustomed to that Obi-Wan Kenobi calm, though we may never entirely understand it. In a soothing monotone, he highlights the scariest hairpin turns on his itinerary, the ones that combine difficulty with danger plus a jolt of existential risk.

It's unlikely that you were surprised to see Obama's face on the cover. He has come to dominate the public sphere so completely that it beggars belief to recall that half the people in America had never heard of him two years ago -- that even his campaign manager, at the outset, wasn't sure Obama had what it would take to win the election. He hit the American scene like a thunderclap, upended our politics, shattered decades of conventional wisdom and overcame centuries of the social pecking order. Understandably, you may be thinking Obama is on the cover for these big and flashy reasons: for ushering the country across a momentous symbolic line, for infusing our democracy with a new intensity of participation, for showing the world and ourselves that our most cherished myth -- the one about boundless opportunity -- has plenty of juice left in it.

SUSPEND Excerpt

Von Drehle's article opened a few paragraphs earlier with the Time staffers marveling at the contrast between Obama's grubby transition office and the glowing historical figure in their minds. They confessed their desire to get him a nice leather chair:

It is here that we find Barack Obama one soul-freezingly cold December day, mentally unpacking the crate of crushing problems -- some old, some new, all ugly -- that he is about to inherit as the 44th President of the United States. Most of his hours inside the presidential-transition office are spent in this bland and bare-bones room. You would think the President-elect -- a guy who draws 100,000 people to a speech in St. Louis, Mo., who raises three-quarters of a billion dollars, who is facing the toughest first year since Franklin Roosevelt's -- might merit a leather chair. Maybe a credenza? A hutch?

But he doesn't seem to notice.

SUSPEND Excerpt

Obama doesn't seem to notice the furniture, Time's readers are told, because he's so devoted to fixing America, and that glittering historic election is all behind him:

But crisis has a way of ushering even great events into the past. As Obama has moved with unprecedented speed to build an Administration that would bolster the confidence of a shaken world, his flash and dazzle have faded into the background. In the waning days of his extraordinary year and on the cusp of his presidency, what now seems most salient about Obama is the opposite of flashy, the antithesis of rhetoric: he gets things done. He is a man about his business -- a Mr. Fix It going to Washington. That's why he's here and why he doesn't care about the furniture. We've heard fine speechmakers before and read compelling personal narratives. We've observed candidates who somehow latch on to just the right issue at just the right moment. Obama was all these when he started his campaign: a talented speaker who had opposed the Iraq war and lived a biography that was all things to all people. But while events undermined those pillars of his candidacy, making Iraq seem less urgent and biography less relevant, Obama has kept on rising. He possesses a rare ability to read the imperatives and possibilities of each new moment and organize himself and others to anticipate change and translate it into opportunity.

SUSPEND Excerpt

Obama's ascent began with a hurricane striking New Orleans, which to Time magazine laid bare the incompetence of Bush's Washington:

In some tellings, Obama's journey to the White House started with his little-noticed but carefully nuanced speech against the Iraq war in 2002. In other versions, it began with his electrifying address to the Democratic Convention in 2004. Those moments blazed with potential, true, but something more was necessary: a certain appetite among the electorate. The country had to be hungry for the menu he offered, and in that sense, his path's true beginning lay in the drowned precincts of New Orleans in the sweltering, desperate late summer of 2005.

Hurricane Katrina blew away the last gauzy veil from an ugly specter of executive incompetence in American politics. When the people of New Orleans needed leadership, the Republican Administration in Washington proved useless. The Democratic governor and mayor were pitiful. At long last, our government was united -- but under an appalling banner of fecklessness. The moral bankruptcy of the spin doctors was laid bare: no soul remained gullible enough to believe that Brownie was doing a heckuva job.

After Katrina, demand collapsed for the very qualities that Obama lacked as a candidate: empty boasts, finger-pointing, backstabbing and years of experience inside a government that couldn't deliver bottled water to the stranded citizens of a major U.S. city. Spare us the dead-or-alive bravado, the gates-of-hell bluster, the melodrama of the 3 a.m. phone call. A door swung open for a candidate who would merely stand and deliver. Simple competence -- although there's nothing simple about it, not in today's intricate, interdependent, interwoven, intensely dangerous world.

SUSPEND Excerpt

Obama's vaunted adaptability meant breaking campaign promises, like his promise to meet with the Republican nominee about staying within the established public-finance system limits for presidential candidates. But Time didn't think that was half as important as Obama's oh-so-promising competence:

Voters were invited to believe because Obama kept delivering the goods. Certainly he made mistakes and gave up on some ideas while doubling back on others -- his promise to stick to the existing campaign-finance system, for example. On the whole, though, he was a doer....

Obama told people that a black man could win white votes. In Iowa he proved it. He said a broad-gauge campaign could win in GOP strongholds; along came Indiana and Virginia and North Carolina. He declared that a new approach to politics would topple the old Clinton-Bush seesaw, and topple it he did. He sank the three-pointer with the cameras rolling. Made a speech in a football stadium feel intimate. Some might say these are not exactly Churchillian achievements, but in the land of the hapless, the competent man is king. In the end, his campaign e-mail list numbered some 13 million people, of whom more than 3.5 million put actual skin in the game -- money, volunteer hours or both. Obama's most formidable opponent, Hillary Clinton, tried to convince voters that he was all talk and no action, a vessel empty but for intoxicating fumes. Yet he was the one whose campaign ran like clockwork, while hers was a fratricidal mess. And by Nov. 4, the strongest party in the U.S. was no longer the Republican Party or the Democratic Party; it was the Obama Party.

END of Excerpt

For the entirety of David von Drehle's piece: www.time.com

Time magazine's 2008 Person of the Year package: www.time.com

Time's glowing encomiums are anything but new for its readers. Don't forget that Nancy Gibbs just finished making comparisons between Obama and Jesus in their November 17 post-election cover story: "Some princes are born in palaces. Some are born in mangers. But a few are born in the imagination, out of scraps of history and hope....Barack Hussein Obama did not win because of the color of his skin. Nor did he win in spite of it. He won because at a very dangerous moment in the life of a still young country, more people than have ever spoken before came together to try to save it. And that was a victory all its own."

More on the fawning from Gibbs in the November 11 CyberAlert: www.mrc.org

Stephanopoulos on Cabinet: 'Diversity
& Competence w/o Tokenism'

ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Wednesday night hailed President-elect Barack Obama's cabinet, pointing to how his national security team is made up of "coalition builders," including Hillary Clinton, before praising Obama for how "he has also kept his promise of reaching out beyond Washington for change with younger reformers like Shaun Donovan at HUD, Arne Duncan at Education and Lisa Jackson at the EPA." (All could just as well be described as big city Democratic political hacks.) Thus, ABC's chief Washington correspondent decided: "He's managed to get this diversity and competence without engaging in any tokenism."

But then Stephanopoulos recited Obama's political tokenism, pointing out how he "picked people in the cabinet with an eye towards fast-growing voter groups" as two cabinet nominations went to Hispanics and two to Asians and three choices were purely about electoral politics, not competence: "The Southwest has been a real prime target area, and look what the President-elect has done. He's picked Governor Napolitano of Arizona, Governor Richardson of New Mexico, Senator Salazar of Colorado, trying to lock in gains in those three key states."

Anchor Charles Gibson noted "there's still some grumbling, isn't there, from various political groups about what he's doing?" Stephanopoulos agreed "liberals are upset, saying that they're not well-represented in the cabinet" while "some women's groups are saying that he is not doing as well with women as Bill Clinton did."

[This item, by the MRC's Brent Baker, was posted Wednesday night on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]

Stephanopoulos has long been enamored with Obama's cabinet. Just before Thanksgiving, he oozed: "We have not seen this kind of combination of star power and brain power and political muscle this early in a cabinet in our lifetimes."

The November 25 CyberAlert item, "Stephanopoulos: Obama Cabinet Unparalleled in 'Brain Power,'" recounted:

Good Morning America's news team on Monday gushed at the sheer brilliance of Barack Obama's incoming cabinet, including his "team of economic gladiators." Former top Bill Clinton aide-turned journalist George Stephanopoulos rhapsodized: "We have not seen this kind of combination of star power and brain power and political muscle this early in a cabinet in our lifetimes." (What does that say about Stephanopoulos' friends in the Clinton administration?) Co-host Robin Roberts was equally enthusiastic. Speaking with Stephanopoulos, she cooed: "Some would say it's a team of rivals, a la President Lincoln, or is a better comparison a team of geniuses as FDR did?"

Full rundown: www.mrc.org

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide this transcript of the segment on the Wednesday, December 17 World News on ABC:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, yesterday, Charlie, the President-elect talked about the blend in the cabinet. It's all but done now, you see, it had a nod to both governing and politics. In the White House, the President-elect has core Chicago loyalists -- Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod. Then he builds out to the national security team, which are a group of coalition builders -- Hillary Clinton for Democrats, but also the military with James Jones as the national security advisor and, of course, Secretary Gates at the Pentagon. He has also kept his promise of reaching out beyond Washington for change with younger reformers like Shaun Donovan at HUD, Arne Duncan at Education and Lisa Jackson at the EPA. And he's managed to get this diversity and competence without engaging in any tokenism.
CHARLES GIBSON: Yeah, but there's still some grumbling, isn't there, from various political groups about what he's doing?
STEPHANOPOULOS: There is. Some liberals are upset, saying that they're not well-represented in the cabinet. Also, some women's groups are saying that he is not doing as well with women as Bill Clinton did, only as well as George W. Bush did, so he's got to address that. But he has picked people in the cabinet with an eye towards fast-growing voter groups -- Hispanics -- both Governor Bill Richardson for Commerce, Senator Salazar at Interior, fastest rising voter group in the country. Asians, with Dr. Stephen Chu at Energy, General Eric Shinseki at Veterans Affairs, they're another fast-growing voter group. And, Charlie, for Democrats, the Southwest has been a real prime target area, and look what the President-elect has done. He's picked Governor Napolitano of Arizona, Governor Richardson of New Mexico, Senator Salazar of Colorado, trying to lock in gains in those three key states.

CNN: At $50,000, 'Stars are Themselves
Star Struck' with Obama

Picking up on a Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) report on how several Hollywood actors and actresses have ponied up $50,000 each for VIP access to Barack Obama's inaugural events, CNN reporter Samantha Hayes marveled: "It's a measure of the excitement around Obama, that the stars are themselves star struck." She highlighted, in a story run on Wednesday's Anderson Cooper 360, that "the Hollywood 'A' list is snapping up top-dollar tickets," naming Halle Berry, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jamie Foxx, Sharon Stone and Samuel L. Jackson as amongst those who have donated the maximum $50,000 to the inaugural committee.

Hayes, however, stressed how "the Obama inauguration has dramatically cut the ability of the rich and famous to get insider access," quoting how "Linda Douglass, the top spokesperson for the inauguration committee" (and a former ABC News reporter), told CNN they have "a $50,000 limit on individual donations, far below some limits in the past." Offering corroboration, Hayes recalled how "the Bush inaugural committee took donations of up to a quarter million dollars." But Hayes failed to note that, as the CRP report determined, most give the highest allowed and few are small givers: "72 percent of the donors who have contributed to the inauguration have given the maximum $50,000 donation. Only 12 percent of the donors have given less than $25,000."

For CRP's December 15 report, "Wealthy Out-of-Town Donors Foot the Inauguration Bill," go to: www.opensecrets.org

[This item, by the MRC's Brent Baker, was posted late Wednesday night on the MRC's blog, NewsBusters.org: newsbusters.org ]

From the Wednesday, December 17 Anderson Cooper 360:

SAMANTHA HAYES: It promises to be a premier like no other. Marquee performances like Aretha Franklin, Yo Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman. And the Hollywood "A" list is snapping up top-dollar tickets. In the audience for a change, Halle Berry, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jamie Foxx, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson.
GARRETT GRAFF, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, WASHINGTONIAN: What we've certainly seen in this inauguration, I think, is just unprecedented levels of entertainment industry interest and Hollywood interest.
HAYES: For red-carpet treatment, all those stars have paid 50,000 to Obama's inaugural committee. So what does 50 K get you? Four tickets to the swearing in, plum spots on the parade route, and four tickets to the ball of their choice. It's a measure of the excitement around Obama, that the stars are themselves star struck.
GRAFF: We've never seen this before, especially coming off eight years of President Bush, where there just hasn't been that much interest in Hollywood in Washington and the Bush administration.
HAYES: It may sound like a velvet rope sweet deal for the stars, but the truth is, the Obama inauguration has dramatically cut the ability of the rich and famous to get insider access. Linda Douglass, the top spokesperson for the inauguration committee, tells CNN: "We have placed stringent restrictions on fundraising: no funds from lobbyists, corporations, unions or PACs, and a $50,000 limit on individual donations, far below some limits in the past."
The last time around, for example, the Bush inaugural committee took donations of up to a quarter million dollars, and corporate money was welcome. This time, the privately-raised funds will also buy things like JumboTrons and sound systems so people without tickets can see and hear what's happening. Samantha Hayes, CNN, Washington.

-- Brent Baker