Bob Franken

Torture Probe, Health Care, The Economy: For Obama Hostility from All Sides


It’s a bit simplistic, but generally true, for reporters to say that if we have antagonized people on both sides of an issue we’re reporting on, we are probably doing our job well. Perhaps Barack Obama embraces the same belief about “presidenting.”

Monday was a good example. Conservatives, up to and including Dick Cheney, are furious at Obama for allowing his attorney general to authorize a special prosecutor to look into alleged torture by CIA agents. And one has to wonder how comfortable liberals like Wisconsin Democrat Russell Feingold are in joining Cheney as he beats on the president’s head.

Feingold is among many who believe the investigation must go beyond the interrogators to include people “at the very top, who authorized, ordered or sought to provide legal cover” for the interrogators. His list would include then-President Bush, officials at the Justice Department and in the administration, including, of course, Cheney.

The former vice president and his followers repeatedly and loudly proclaim that Obama is compromising America’s safety by pulling back some of the uglier policies of the previous administration. Meanwhile, those who marched to Candidate Obama’s “Change You Can Believe In” music are singing a sour tune these days, complaining that President Obama is not changing those policies enough. Go figure.

But that’s nothing compared to the bipartisan pounding Obama gets on health care reform. Republicans and their conservative automatons are screaming bloody murder, saying the White House wants to nationalize our medical system.

Their dittoheads have been yelling their brains out at town-hall meetings this month, shouting their disgust at the certainty, as they see it, that the president is plotting a sinister government takeover. They’ve proven that an abundance of volume can overcome an abundance of ignorance, gaining traction in the debate by chanting their ear-splitting mantras about “bureaucrats getting between you and your doctor.”

Pity the poor president. He has created almost as much of an uproar on his side. Every time one his people makes the slightest hint that a public option will not end up in the final package, they go bananas. His trial balloons are obliterated by the anti-balloon fire that fills the sky from the left flank.

So he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Even though he hasn’t really done anything yet.

Economic disaster relief is where he has done a lot, of course — spending trillions to stop the downward spiral would qualify as “a lot.” Again, those on the right are appalled that he has used that money to intertwine the government and the private sector. On the left, the critics complain he is subsidizing the very people who got us into this mess. The “stimulus” measures are well-named, because they’ve certainly stimulated a lot of knee-jerk reactions. From both the left and right knees.

What’s a poor president to do? Sometimes he’s got to feel like he can’t win no matter what he does. Of course, he did win the election, so he gets to make the calls. As for the grief he gets from everybody: As leery as he is of the media, he might want to take shelter in our mindset that if everybody’s happy, then something is wrong. And if nobody is, it’s probably a good thing.

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