We conservatives tend to think of the media’s fawning on President Obama as the salient fact about our political culture and, in many ways, it is. But our constant consciousness of the fact may make us forget that this sycophancy can work both ways. Being, as he is, so much a creature of the media, Mr Obama has no intellectual point d’appui from which to push back against them in the way that a Republican president naturally would, from his media-loathing conservative base. As a result, the President as media cynosure implicitly accepts the media’s world-view and has no means of justifying his behavior except in the media’s terms. Witness his reaction to the uproar over Janet Napolitano’s unfortunate comment that "the system worked" with respect to the apprehension of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab before he could blow up his underwear, himself, Northwest Airlines Flight 253 and all or as many as possible of its passengers on Christmas Day.
In the first place, of course, Ms Napolitano’s comment was nonsensical. There was no "system," only a vast, world-wide bureaucracy of intelligence gatherers, security agents and police which quite signally did not "work" in this case when it permitted Mr Abdulmutallab to board the airplane freighted, as he was, with pentaerythritol tetranitrate. But Ms Napolitano got the idea of a system which might have worked to prevent this, plus any and every other bad thing, from happening in the first place from a kind of media utopianism that she has probably never thought about, let alone thought critically about. The same is no doubt true of President Obama himself, who was forced by the media to contradict his appointee — who herself was forced to withdraw her earlier comment — and aver that "a systemic failure has occurred."
Why, we may wonder, did he not rather insist that a non-systemic success had occurred with the heroic action of Jasper Schuringa in preventing Mr Abdulmutallab from detonating himself? The answer can only be that he is tethered by unbreakable bonds to the media’s self-serving assumption that only the systemic counts — and only systemic failures at that, since systemic successes, of which there must be many, are rarely reported. Yet anyone not fatally plugged in to the media’s intellectual suicide machine would see at once is that the really interesting and important story isn’t about what went wrong but what went right. Moreover, it is a reminder that what has kept us safe since 9/11 is not the cumbersome "system" which was put in place to harass innocent travelers thereafter — and which will now be charged with harassing them even further, to equally nugatory effect — but the consciousness of our enemies that their would-be victims could no longer be relied upon passively to endure their fate at the hands of murderous mullahs.
Of course, we should have known it all along. On 9/11 itself, it took only moments for the passive victim ethos fostered by the hijackings of yesteryear in collaboration with media-shy governments of the ‘70s and ‘80s to be converted to the heroic one which inspired the resistance of Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Thomas E. Burnett Jr., Jeremy Glick and others aboard United flight 93 that day. From that moment onwards, another 9/11, in which passenger airplanes were turned into missiles, became impossible. Obviously, other ways to hurt us might still be found, but the billions that have been so largely wasted on airline security since then would have been far better spent in an attempt to find and prevent those terrorist alternatives. Insofar as there is or ever could be a viable "system" for preventing airline hijackings and the like, it is already in place and it consists of the bravery, initiative and sense of honor of men like Jasper Schuringa whom the government has not contracted with for their heroism.
That’s why I think conservatives and Republicans are wrong for yielding to the temptation of joining in the media’s criticism of their once and future favorite president — criticism which is self-consciously designed to echo that of their recent and long-term least-favorite president. Even Eugene Robinson in The Washington Postwrote that "Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano’s initial assessment of the Christmas Day airliner attack — that ‘the system worked’ — doesn't quite match the absurdity of ‘Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job.’ But only because she quickly took it back." That others are following his lead is evident from today’s New York Times in which the bellwether of the media flock, Maureen Dowd, ended her column with a jaunty: "Heck of a job, Barry." It’s a mistake, I think, to see this as sweet revenge for all the trash Maureen has talked about "the Bushies" over the years. This kind of snideness is simply her métier. Like some kind of poisonous toad, she will spit her venom at whoever happens to be in power. That’s no reason for the politically wise to follow her.
For she is simply the spokeschick for that media utopianism that is the bane of our political culture and that must be resisted, eventually, even by those politicians that are the favored of the media. The story for the scandal-obsessed journalistic community is always going to be that someone, somewhere has screwed up, not that someone has behaved heroically and ought to be celebrated for it. Already Mr Schuringa is being criticized for possibly (the evidence is slight and ambiguous) trying to profit from his heroism. Didn’t you just know that someone was going to uncover the feet of clay? Since being wise after the fact is seemingly the only kind of wisdom the media are capable of, they need to make the most of it — hyping their own prescience at the same time that they are persuading people that those in power are corrupt or incompetent. Even their love of President Obama can’t compare with their love of their own sagacity — as evident to themselves in their second-guessing of the powerful. Let’s not fall into the same narcissistic trap ourselves.