What is most striking about these questions is how many of them concern an upcoming personnel decision that, while significant to the economy, is at the moment of interest only to squabbling factions of liberals. Here too the circuit cannot be broken. Most of the other questions are constructed so as to provide the president an opportunity to attack the GOP and restate his accomplishments and goals. Edward Snowden, Lois Lerner, James Rosen, Mohamed Morsi, Bashar Assad, Nouri al-Maliki, Vladimir Putin, Hasan Rouhani, and Hamid Karzai are not mentioned. Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, and Bob Filner are not mentioned. Indeed, hardly a single event or personality that has occupied the public imagination over the last six months is mentioned. The exception is Trayvon Martin, who the president references toward the end of the exchange. The only other proper names to appear in the transcript are Larry Summers, Ben Bernanke, John Kerry (in relation to the Keystone Pipeline), Robert Putnam, “Jackie,” and “Mike.”
The Times has participated in an act of political evasion breathtaking in its shamelessness. One might object that the range of topics was limited to the subject of the president’s speaking tour on the economy. But if that were the case, why did the Times agree to such ground rules in the first place? Aren’t the readers of the New York Times interested in hearing President Obama’s answers to tough questions about the various controversies at home and crises abroad? Perhaps they are not. Perhaps they are far more interested in having their public morality, their view of the world, of who is bad and who is good, of what is important and what is not, confirmed for them in a series of advertisements for President Obama and the Democratic Party. Perhaps they are more interested in sitting back and watching, passively, as the president shifts the public’s attention away from scandal and turmoil, and defines his domestic opponents in preparation for budget and debt fights. Perhaps readers of the Times and writers of the Times and editors of the Times are not interested in information per se. What interests them is affirmation.
“Thanks, guys. Appreciate you,” the president says as the reporters leave the room. Of that I have no doubt.