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This Week in Journamalism

Our candidates:

First, John Harris and Alexander Burns of the Politico, who write:

Straw Man? Historians say Obama is no Lincoln: In Barack Obama's appearance last month on CBS's "60 Minutes," the conversation turned to the president-elect's long-time love of Lincoln. "There is a wisdom there," Obama told interviewer Steve Kroft, "and a humility about his approach to government, even before he was president, that I just find very helpful."

Humility? Obama's frequent invocations of Abraham Lincoln — a man enshrined in myth and marble with his own temple on the National Mall — would not at first blush say much about his own instincts for modesty or self-effacement. And now there are early rumblings of a backlash to Obama's ostentatious embrace of all things Lincoln, with his not-so-subtle invitations to compare the 44th president to the 16th, the "Savior of the Union."

Ta-Nehisi Coates calls shenanigans:

Coates on Harris and Burns: Let us leave aside the fact that it takes some serious semantic games to turn a comment on Obama's admiration of Lincoln into him making the comparison.... Let us also mercifully ignore that the Politco, in a shocking bit of unwitting humor and irony, headlined their own story"Strawman"...

Harris and Burns continue:

Simply put, some scholars think the comparisons have gone a bit over the top hat. Sean Wilentz... said many presidents have sought to frame themselves in the historical legacies of illustrious predecessors, but he couldn't find any examples quite so brazen. "Sure, they've looked back to Washington and even, at times, Jackson. Reagan echoed and at times swiped FDR's rhetoric," said Wilentz. "But there's never been anything like this, and on this scale. Ever."

Eric Foner, a Columbia historian who has written extensively on the Civil War era, agreed that comparing one's self to Lincoln sets a rather high bar for success, and could come off like "a certain kind of hubris." "It'd be a bit like a basketball player turning up before his first game and saying, 'I'm kind of modeling myself on Michael Jordan,'" he said. "If you can do it, fine. If you're LeBron James, that'll work. But people may make that comparison to your disadvantage"...

Eric Foner writes that he did not say that Obama's "comparing [him]self to Lincoln... could come off like 'a certain kind of hubris'," but said something different:

The reporter asked me about the ubiquitous comparisons between Obama and Lincoln and I tried to introduce a note of realism, as a historian. Frankly, I wish reporters and others would stop these comparisons as the two men have almost nothing to do with one another and Obama has enough problems to deal with...

Second, Charlie Savage and David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times. Outsourced to Matthew Yglesias:

Matthew Yglesias » Home Page: [They] move on to some weird stuff:

Several other spouses of people tapped for top Obama administration jobs have careers connected to government. Susan E. Rice, the United Nations ambassador pick, is married to a producer of the ABC program “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.” Gregory B. Craig, the White House counsel designate, is married to a graphic designer who has worked on Postal Service stamps. And the wife of Timothy F. Geithner, who is Mr. Obama’s choice for Treasury secretary, once worked for Common Cause, a watchdog group that lobbies for tighter ethics rules.

The worry is that Geithner might be unduly influenced by his wife’s penchant for ethical government? That Craig will somehow pervert the ordinary postage stamp design process? That doesn’t make any sense. A married person who lives in Washington, DC and has a spouse will almost certainly have a spouse who has some kind of connection to politics and government. That’s pretty much what people do here. But being married to a graphic designer who’s done contract work for a semi-independent government agency is about as far from a conflict of interest as you’re going to find.

Third, David Brooks of the New York Times. Outsourced to Ezra Klein:

EzraKlein Archive | The American Prospect: David Brooks['s column]... does seem like an effort to have it both ways. Brooks isn't making the case against massive spending, he's just suggesting that it makes him uncomfortable. And it wasn't that long ago, of course, that Brooks himself was proposing massive new infrastructure investment beneath the rubric of a "national mobility project." But you could read Brooks' column without really understanding that we're on the precipice of an incredible economic calamity -- one that our best efforts may well prove insufficient at averting. Under those circumstances, there should be some recognition that the massive spending plans are an attempt to apply the best remedies we have to an urgent crisis. They're not, as Brooks would have it, some sort of psychological dysfunction, or social mania. For a columnist, the stance of caution might be a good play. But were the government to decide that spending should be pure and the policies implemented slowly, the human cost could be tremendous, and the financial cost could be far greater.

Meanwhile, a question for Brooks. He asks, "Why do so many of the plans being offered rely upon a Magic Technocrat — an all-knowing Car Czar who can reorganize Detroit, an all-seeing team of Olympians who decide which medicines doctors will be allowed to prescribe?" Can he -- can anyone? -- name the sponsored piece of legislation, or even proposed piece of legislation, that would appoint "an all-seeing team of Olympians who decide which medicines doctors will be allowed to prescribe?"

Fourth, Robert Samuelson of Newsweek and the Washington Post, who argues that Our New Ruling Class is the mighty Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, which warps American public policy by successfully lobbying for policies that take the wealth of the deserving rich and give it to the middle class and the poor:

We here in Washington are anticipating a stampede of lobbyists, influence peddlers, media consultants, paid "experts" and self-styled crusaders. Who brought us this onslaught of special pleaders? Why, it's Barack Obama, the man who vowed to "change" how Washington works and banish from the political arena all those "special interests" that were depicted as a form of low-life devoid of all respectability.... The more powerful government becomes, the more lobbying there will be.... Obama's ambitions for more expansive government will promote special pleading.... Lobbyists have a bad rap.... Myth number one is that lobbying is anti-democratic, because it frustrates "the will of the people." Just the opposite is true: lobbying is an expression of democracy. We are a collection of special interests.... A second myth is that lobbying favors the wealthy... the facts contradict that.Sure, the wealthy extract privileges from government, but mainly they're its servants.... As for the poor and middle class, they do have powerful advocates. To name three: AARP for retirees and near retirees; the AFL-CIO for unionized workers; the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities for the poor...

A former CBPP employee comments:

As a former employee of the CBPP, I find this to be really disappointing. If I had been made aware of my awesome ability to soak the rich and turn America into even more of a worker's paradise than it already is, I never would have quit in the first place. In the future, they might want to make people aware during orientation or via some kind of written material included in the new employee's packet, malong with the W-2, health insurance forms, etc...

Fifth, The Washington Post's Richard Cohen:

Piercing the Bubble of Presidential Isolation: The Bubble... can swallow a presidency, isolating the chief executive from both the news he should know and the opinions he should hear, and ensuring that he goes through his day attuned to the comforting chirping of yes men -- the siren song that serenaded George W. Bush as he plunged us into the muck of Iraq....

Michael Boskin, a White House aide to the first President Bush, recalled in a recent New York Times article exactly what Obama has in mind. Boskin took business leaders into the Oval Office to warn George H.W. Bush of a dire economic forecast. Instead they spent their time praising the president for his handling of the Persian Gulf War....

For some odd reason, Obama has fastened on to his BlackBerry as an antidote to The Bubble. It won't work. When the BlackBerry is valued for e-mail, it is no different from staff. It will be only as candid as the people on the other end....

There is a remedy of sorts. It is called The Newspaper.... The paper will give the president more policy options than his staff will, and more news as well.... A BlackBerry is of limited utility.... You cannot have a hearty family breakfast with everyone gathered around the BlackBerry. But with a good newspaper, the president could read the hard-news section, the first lady could adhere to gender orthodoxy and read the softer sections...

Duncan Black snarks:

Eschaton: * Do The WaPo Editors Let Just Anything Through:* Richard Cohen doesn't think Michelle Obama will be worrying her beautiful mind about "hard news"...

And Cohen blathers on:

A high-quality newspaper is a repository of leaks. Presidents don't care for leaks, but like awful-tasting medicine, leaks are good for presidents. Leaks are an important way that one part of the government can communicate with another. An assistant Cabinet secretary cannot pick up the phone and call the president. His boss won't let him. His boss might block something the president should know. This is where leaks come in. The low-level guy leaks the information to a newspaper and the president reads about it at breakfast. This cannot happen with a BlackBerry.

I can appreciate how this column might be seen as self-serving. It is, of course.... But... a newspaper can on occasion do what no BlackBerry can -- burst The Bubble.

Matthew Yglesias snarks:

Matthew Yglesias: Richard Cohen: Online News Reading is Undermining My Sexist Stereotypes: A colleague observes to me that someone needs to tell Richard Cohen that you can read newspapers on your BlackBerry.... If the case for newspapers is that they help bolster gender orthodoxy, I think it’s probably a good thing that print is doomed...

Let me just snark by pointing out that neither Richard Cohen nor anybody else he talks to at the Washington Post understands the first thing about how the U.S. government works. Assistant Secretaries don't leak to the Post to talk to the President. Assistant Secretaries talk to the Deputy Assistant to the President, who talks to the Assistant to the President, who talks to the President. Presidents--George W. Bush is an exception--aren't stupid enough to let cabinet members block the information flow.

And sixth and last, Reuel Gerecht, as dealt with by Matthew Yglesias and John Holbo:

A Wonderful, Awful Idea: [T]here has been some indignation in response to Gerecht’s piece in the NY Times, defending torture and extraordinary rendition. Yglesias starts like so: “Because Reuel Marc Gerecht adheres to an appalling and cruel ethical system and the people who decide what runs on major newspaper op-ed pages have no ethics whatsoever...” I would just like to add that [Gerecht's] op-ed in question explicitly concedes that the policy it sets out to defend is ‘reprehensible’: “Liberal Democrats in Congress intend to deploy a more moral counterterrorism, where the ends — stopping the slaughter of civilians by Islamic holy warriors — no longer justifies reprehensible means.” ‘Reprehensible’ – that is, “condemnable: bringing or deserving severe rebuke or censure”; or, if you prefer: “Blameworthy, censurable, guilty; deserving of reprehension.” Gerecht admits all that, then. He just denies that behavior that is deserving of severe rebuke or censure should be severely rebuked or censured. He denies that behavior that is blameworthy is, in fact, therefore worthy of blame. As a philosopher, I feel this raises certain conceptual issues. As a citizen, I weep...

Vote for your "favorite" in comments! And don't let any of Newsweek, the Washington Post, the New York Times, or the Politico--or any of their advertisers--get any of your money. Just say no.