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The Beltway’s ‘Gotcha’ Media Comes For Kamala Harris

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Stepping into the role of theater critic, CNN this week panned Vice President Kamala Harris' first foreign trip, as she traveled to Guatemala and Mexico. The negative review wasn't based on the substance of Harris' diplomatic excursion, instead the network deducted points for style, following the direction set by Republicans who were dead set on giving the trip a negative slant.

Leaning heavily on Republican talking points, CNN declared the Central American visit had been marred "by her seemingly flippant answer" given during an interview with NBC News. "Republicans are using this moment to ramp up their attacks on Harris" the network announced, as if that somehow determines Harris' fate.

CNN's coverage was relentlessly negative, attacking her "defensive" behavior, questioning her "political agility," stressing her "political missteps," mocking her "clumsy" and "tone deaf" media performance; her "shaky handling of the politics" surrounding immigration.

Over and over, the CNN report stressed that because Republicans and conservatives didn't like Harris' trip, it must be considered a failure — it was a "bad week" for the VP. And all because of a single back-and-forth she had with NBC's Lester Holt, who pushed a favorite GOP talking point, repeatedly demanding to know why Harris hasn't visited the U.S. southern border — the one that the press and the GOP insist represents a "crisis."

Doubling as the Gaffe Police, CNN uniformly announced that her brief response to the border question had "overshadowed" her entire trip. But who decided it "overshadowed"? News outlets like CNN, which were busy singing off the GOP chorus, and noting how Republicans had "pounced" and "piled on" the kerfuffle. CNN insisted Harris' trip had produced "poor reviews," but CNN and Republicans were the ones producing them.

The lack of context was also telling, coming after four years of Trump and his team ransacking the norms. In light of his dangerous tenure, the Harris controversy this week about a single border question and whether she was too casual in her response, seems quaint and rather absurd. The last time Trump's vice president made news was because he was in danger of being killed in the halls of Congress by a roaming, insurrectionist mob unleashed by his boss. By contrast, Harris got hit with days of bad news coverage for possibly mishandling a policy question during a television interview. (By the way, CNN.com published a Mike Pence valentine this week.)

Would Harris likely answer Holt's question differently if given a second chance? It's possible. But the idea that her 30-second border response "overshadowed" her entire Central American trip is absurd.

Harris' foreign visit coverage was part of a larger media push recently to try to trip up the VP with Beltway gotcha coverage — her Memorial Weekend tweet was all wrong! She's hiding her Asian heritage!

This kind of eagerly negative coverage springs from a media yearning for conflict. Frustrated by the No Drama Biden era, which has been completely absent of backstage White House gossip, and the kind of daily and hourly tumult that marked the Trump years, journalists are constantly overreaching, trying to create news where none exists.

Consider this bewildering media narrative that's become commonplace in recent weeks: It's bad news for Harris that she's taking on substantive responsibilities as vice president, such as leading the administration's response to stemming the flow of migration from Central America, and organizing the Democratic fight against a slew of Republican suppression laws being passed nationwide. This bad-news VP meme has been relentless ("Is Kamala Harris Being Set Up to Fail?" Slate asked), and it defies logic. Instead of giving Harris credit for tackling the nation's tough problems, the press is preemptively dinging her for possible failures. "Harris can't win," New York Times columnist Frank Bruni recently announced.

As for the role Harris has played in the administration's stunning Covid-19 vaccination success story, that mostly gets buried in the coverage of her tenure to date, as the press scrambles for missteps to highlight.

Note that a recent Atlantic profile of Harris was dripping with condescending commentary, calling her "uninteresting," "having a hard time making her mark on anything," and stressing that, "she continues to retreat behind talking points and platitudes in public, and declines many interview requests and opportunities to speak for herself." Of course, the piece was loaded with quotes from Republicans demeaning her, which appears to be the basis for most Harris coverage these days.

Last year, when Biden announced Harris as his running mate, the conservative media machine set off allegorical bomb blasts all around her, frantically trying to depict Harris as radical and dangerous, not a mainstream U.S. senator from the largest state in the union.

"In style and policy, Harris epitomizes an authoritarian," the National Review gasped. The far-right Federalist warned panicked readers that Harris, a former prosecutor, represents a "radical threat to America." And Fox News' Sean Hannity announced the Biden-Harris duo was "the most radical ticket of a political party in our lifetime by far."

The right wing loves to vilify Harris. The mainstream media fails when it treats those attacks as news.

Danziger Draws

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

Kamala Harris And The Worsening Job Of Vice President

Kamala Harris has been vilified by critics on the right, but the people who may end up detesting her most are not conservatives or even contemporaries. They are future vice presidents, who will curse her for loading up the office with heavy burdens.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden announced that she will lead the administration's charge against voting rights restrictions being devised in one red state after another. The assignment reportedly came at her request, and it's easy to picture Biden pondering the idea for 0.01 seconds before offloading the issue to her.

He had already given his veep a job that might have gone unfilled if he had invited applications: figuring out the reasons and remedies for the migration crisis at the southern border. Given that large numbers of people from Latin America have been sneaking into this country for decades, there isn't much chance Harris will find a way to dry up the flow. By now, it should be clear that unauthorized migration is not a problem that can be solved but a situation that can only be managed.

If Harris wants to keep busy, it's an ideal portfolio. But it carries extensive political risks, because any policy she offers is likely to inflame conservatives who oppose immigration, legal or illegal, or liberals who favor making it easier for foreigners to come and for those already here to stay. Most likely, she'll alienate both, no matter what she does.

A campaign against GOP measures to curtail voting won't antagonize people across the board, but it's pretty much doomed. In states where Republicans wield power, governors and legislators would no more heed Harris' recommendations than they would pierce their navels.

After Georgia passed new restrictions in April, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and Delta joined the chorus of critics denouncing them. Major League Baseball moved the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver. Will Smith's film company, which had planned to shoot a movie in Georgia, pulled out. None of it mattered: The voting law stayed in place.

Likewise, opposition from American Airlines and Dell Technologies cq could not deter the Texas legislature, which was poised to approve a strict voting law until Democrats walked out to block action on the bill. But the bill will undoubtedly pass in the special session that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott plans to convene.

Nor does Harris stand much chance of persuading enough senators to support federal voting rights legislation, unless Democrats unite to scrap the filibuster. About the best she can hope for is to rouse enough public disgust with new voting restrictions to elect more Democrats in 2022 — a beastly challenge for the party in power in an off-year. But the more exposure she gets, the more Republicans will depict her as the terrifying reincarnation of Lady Macbeth.

All this represents a further transformation of an office that used to be the functional equivalent of a long vacation — or a long detention. Under most of our presidents, the vice president's job description was to get up each morning, check to see that the boss was alive and then pass the time with funerals, photo ops, and crossword puzzles. "You die, I fly," said George H.W. Bush when he was Ronald Reagan's spare tire.

The 19th-century Senate titan Daniel Webster declined an invitation to run for the office with the comment, "I do not propose to be buried until I am dead." Nelson Rockefeller, appointed by Gerald Ford in the aftermath of Richard Nixon's resignation, groused, "I never wanted to be vice president of anything." But Bob Dole, Ford's running mate in 1976, looked at the bright side: "It's indoor work and no heavy lifting."

It was Walter Mondale, under Jimmy Carter, who managed to acquire meaningful duties in the White House, and that role has grown with Al Gore, Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, and Mike Pence. Harris is on course to enlarge it further.

All this will pay off should she eventually become president, by acquainting her with the impossible responsibilities that go with the office. As Barack Obama said, when "something reaches my desk, that means it's really hard. Because if it were easy, somebody else would have made the decision, and somebody else would have solved it."

And if Vice President Harris doesn't solve the problems she's been assigned, President Harris will know just the person to give them to.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Underestimate That ‘Senile’ Biden Guy At Your Peril

In a Democratic presidential debate in September 2019, Julian Castro thought he heard Joe Biden say something that contradicted himself, and he pounced on the opportunity to suggest that Biden was over the hill. "Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?" he demanded. "Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago?"

Propelled by this moment of triumph, Castro went on to become a member of the board of directors of a Washington think tank. His humiliated opponent was never heard from again.

As it turned out, it was Castro who was confused about what Biden had said. If the 2020 campaign proved anything, it's that underestimating Biden is dangerous. But Republicans persist in depicting him as a decrepit specimen who is wholly inadequate to his presidential responsibilities.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) expressed concern last month that the president was not doing cable news interviews or tweeting much. "Is he really in charge?" he tweeted. When Biden addressed Congress, Fox News host Tucker Carlson claimed to hear "a 78-year-old man losing his grip." Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins Jr. wondered if Biden is "a man of diminished capacities" who is "making himself a prop for an agenda that he may not quite grasp."

This sounds eerily like what Biden's detractors said about him during the campaign. First it was from the left, with supporters of Bernie Sanders putting out talking points insisting that Biden was in "obvious cognitive decline." Sen. Cory Booker said, "There are definitely moments where you listen to Joe Biden and you just wonder."

Biden somehow stumbled his way to the nomination, vanquishing a huge field of younger and supposedly sharper rivals (and an older one, Sanders). But that didn't stop Republicans from insisting that he was conducting a mostly virtual campaign — "hiding in the basement" — not because of the pandemic but because he was too addled to appear in public.

Then-President Donald Trump predicted that if Biden should somehow win, "They are going to put him in a home, and other people are going to be running the country." An editorial in The Wall Street Journal warned that Biden might "duck the debates" because "his handlers are trying to protect him from doubts about his cognitive capacity."

But the Democratic nominee apparently was pulled out of his nursing home bed to participate in the debates. He managed keep his composure even in the chaotic first one, when Trump ignored the rules, bullied the moderator and interrupted Biden 73 times.

For a dementia victim, he did amazingly well. In fact, polls indicated that voters thought Biden got the best of Trump in all three faceoffs. He also won the election, over an incumbent president who called him "the worst candidate in the history of politics."

But critics continue harping on this losing theme. In March, Fox News contributor and The Hill columnist Joe Concha demanded to know why Biden hadn't held a press conference or given a speech before Congress. Biden has since done both, and handled both with competence and aplomb.

His foes still imagine that they can make people accept something that is plainly untrue. But Americans prefer to believe what they see with their own eyes. Biden's approval rating is higher than Trump's ever was, and an ABC News/Ipsos poll released Sunday found that 64 percent of Americans are optimistic about the direction of the country.

The portrayal of Biden as disconnected from reality is particularly creative coming from people who shrugged off Trump's fantastical claims, nonstop lies, strange mispronunciations and unhinged rants. They had no problem with a Republican president who spent an outlandish amount of his time watching TV and fulminating on Twitter while neglecting the more important duties of his office.

The image of Biden as helpless is hard to reconcile with the parallel claim that he is ruthlessly transforming America into a woke Marxist dystopia. But conservatives square this circle by theorizing that Vice President Kamala Harris is actually running the show. Their paradoxical accusation: Biden is hiding to conceal the fact that he's not in charge, while Harris is hiding to conceal the fact that she is.

So far, their entire portrayal of this White House has failed to persuade anyone but the dishonest and the gullible. Meanwhile, Biden continues advancing an ambitious Democratic agenda that has broad public support. Sure, he's senile. Senile like a fox.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.