The Weekly Standard’s Obama Problem

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©Jack Cashill - August 25, 2011

Launched in 1995 by Rupert Murdoch, and edited ever since by William Kristol and Fred Barnes, The Weekly Standard has come to be seen as the quintessential neoconservative publication.

If it were not for its fondness for foreign adventures, even those that do the U.S. no earthly good, the Weekly Standard would be as conservative as the next publication on policy issues.

Where the publication irritates its presumed allies on the right, turning “neoconservative” into a pejorative in the process, is with its tone. Its writers and editors unconsciously divide the world into a “them” and an “us.”

The “them” includes outliers like Sarah Palin, birthers and tea partiers, and the “us” includes ivied insiders like the CFR crowd, the Georgetown social set, and Harvard man Barack Obama.

This elitist tic occasionally blinds its writers to the obvious as was evident in Andrew Ferguson’s recent cover story, “Civility, Obama Style.”

In the article, Ferguson makes a solid point, and he does so in the high style that the magazine is known for: Obama has treated the various arts agency appointments as the “spoils of political hackery.”

Ferguson focuses on one such hack, the Obama-supporting “Republican,” Jim Leach. A former Iowa congressman, Leach has used his gig as chief honcho at the National Endowment for Humanities to rag the right for its presumed incivility. Ferguson has great fun with Leach’s tongue-tied traveling road show.

The gist of the article is that America expected more out of Obama given his reputation as “memoirist, prose stylist of distinction, resident of Hyde Park, prowler of used bookstores, professor of constitutional law.”

Obama, after all, is the fellow that historian Michael Beschloss described as “probably the smartest guy ever to become president.”

Ferguson teases the intellectual classes here, but for the wrong reasons. He believes that their enthusiasm for Obama has impaired their judgment, but he does not challenge the grounds for that enthusiasm.

In the way of example, Ferguson quotes NEA head Rocco Landesman’s gush about Obama, “This is the first president that actually writes his own books since Teddy Roosevelt, and arguably the first to write them really well since Lincoln.”

Ferguson concedes that Obama has “written his own books” but chides Landesman by pointing out that many other presidents since Roosevelt have written their books and Lincoln did not write books.

Later in the essay, after his savagely shrewd dissection of Leach’s writing, Ferguson observes without irony, “As a prose stylist, Leach is no Obama.”

No, Obama was much worse. Before his friends rescued him, Obama was routinely writing prose that would make even Leach reach for the red marker.

The unedited Obama had a particular knack for writing sentences in which the punctuation was random and nouns and verbs did not see eye-to-eye. Let me cite an example:

“The belief that moribund institutions, rather than individuals are at the root of the problem, keep SAM's energies alive.”

That would be “keeps,” prose stylist Obama. The punctuation I can’t salvage.

I would challenge Mr. Ferguson to diagram this next sentence from Obama, which, like the previous one, actually made it into print:

“What members of ARA and SAM try to do is infuse what they have learned about the current situation, bring the words of that formidable roster on the face of Butler Library, names like Thoreau, Jefferson, and Whitman, to bear on the twisted logic of which we are today a part.”


The response of many a conservative reading this article has to be, “Does Ferguson not know that Obama had massive help in the writing of his books?”

Ferguson may not. The Beltway conservatives have done yeomen’s work in screening out any information about Obama that tarnishes his standing as one of them.

By October 2008, for instance, I was fully confident that terrorist emeritus Bill Ayers was the real talent behind Obama’s acclaimed memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” and I could prove it.

I sent an article on the same to the Weekly Standard. Here is the response I got back:

“An interesting piece, but I’m rather oversubscribed at the moment, the length is considerable, and cutting would not do it justice. (Also, we had a long, rather critical, piece on Obama’s ouevre not too long ago.) So permit me to decline with thanks for allowing me take a look.”

So much for that October surprise! By the way, I have been a subscriber to the Weekly Standard for about 15 years and had several of my articles published by them.

I ceased being “respectable,” I believe, when I began to investigate the destruction of TWA Flight 800. This made me the most dread of outliers, the “conspiracy theorist.”

In my 2011 book, “Deconstructing Obama,” I made an air-tight case for Ayers’s deep involvement in “Dreams.” Despite great support from the blogosphere and talk radio, the Beltway conservatives chose not to look.

“It looks like I struck out with all of the usual suspects,” a sharp young professor of political science wrote me after his review of my book was turned down by the Weekly Standard among others.

“This has been an eye-opening experience,” he continued, “and I am starting to see why you are disappointed in the established conservative outlets.”

Andrew Ferguson is a very talented writer with a great eye for style. Why he and the Weekly Standard waste their literary skills on Jim Leach while Barack Obama goes unexamined is beyond me.

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Editor's note: For a more complete account of this phenomenon, read Jack Cashill's amazing book, "Hoodwinked: How Intellectual Hucksters Have Hijacked American Culture.


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