Did the New York Times just accidentally tell the truth about the Obama administration?
A startling piece pulls back the curtain on how our foreign policy is created — and sold to willing media dupes
Historians so inclined will have a blast when their turn comes to dissect the Obama administration and its people. I do not mean the old-line “presidential historians,” story-telling hagiographers such as Stephen Ambrose or the insufferable David McCullough. Obama will have to wait a while for somebody of this set to embalm him to take what place he might among our mythologized tenants of the White House.
Nor do I think we will get much of interest out of those writing of the more immediate past, the journalists who purport to cross over into history. Lou Cannon, Jon Meacham—no. These guys are into painting impastoed pictures of Reagan and George H.W. respectively to make them look as if they were actually as large as the job. This is not what we want.
We want educated judgment—admittedly hard to find when our commanders-in-chief are tucked in between hard covers. We are finishing up eight years of a very complex presidency—a truth one can sign on for regardless of one’s judgment of the man and his two terms. A good historian will need training in semiotics, the science of signifiers, to understand what has occurred during this presidency. To get Obama down right, he or she will have to explore the amazing extent to which spectacle is supposed to supplant political reality, the “narrative” of events called upon to matter more than events.
Prompting these thoughts is a remarkable piece published in the New York Times Sunday Magazine’s May 8 edition. It is a profile, months in the making, of Ben Rhodes, the president’s deputy national security adviser and the man in charge of representing—key term—Obama’s foreign policy. Rhodes is an interesting figure, as I will explain for the sake of those who do not already know this. The whole of this long, weirdly jaunty article is here.