With Great Access Comes Great Responsibility


Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, gamingvulture.tumblr.com. And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

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7 Responses

  1. Avatar damon says:

    “Michael Lewis has a “right” to write about what he wants, including the President, and if he can get special access, great for him.” Yes, but what’s the unwritten understanding? The admin has vetting him as someone who’s not “going to make waves” by asking hard questions. That’s why he was a contender for the interview. If he was going to ask hard questions, he wouldn’t be on this list of possibles.

    “.. there is a difference, and important one, between what Michael Lewis could have wrote, and what he in fact did write. ” Yep!Report

  2. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Even Jiminy Cricket only sang “Let your conscience be your guide.” If you really expected Michael Lewis to be a gadfly on Obama’s neck, inserting himself into policy decisions, questioning the President’s motives and Constitutional authority, well, he didn’t. In the actual article, which you’ve yet to link to or cite from directly, Obama’s decision-making process was outlined in brutal clarity:

    The other aspect of his job I have trouble getting comfortable with is its bizarre emotional demands. In the span of a few hours, a president will go from celebrating the Super Bowl champions to running meetings on how to fix the financial system, to watching people on TV make up stuff about him, to listening to members of Congress explain why they can’t support a reasonable idea simply because he, the president, is for it, to sitting down with the parents of a young soldier recently killed in action. He spends his day leaping over ravines between vastly different feelings. How does anyone become used to this?

    As I was still a little groggy and put my question poorly, he answered a question it hadn’t occurred to me to ask: Why doesn’t he show more emotion? He does this on occasion, even when I’ve put the question clearly—see in what I’ve asked some implicit criticism, usually one he’s heard many times before. As he’s not naturally defensive, it’s pretty clearly an acquired trait. “There are some things about being president that I still have difficulty doing,” he said. “For example, faking emotion. Because I feel it is an insult to the people I’m dealing with. For me to feign outrage, for example, feels to me like I’m not taking the American people seriously. I’m absolutely positive that I’m serving the American people better if I’m maintaining my authenticity. And that’s an overused word. And these days people practice being authentic. But I’m at my best when I believe what I am saying.”

    That was not what I had been after. What I had wanted to know was: Where do you put what you actually feel, when there is no place in your job to feel it? When you are president you are not allowed to go numb to protect yourself from whatever news might happen. But it was too late; my time was up; I returned to my seat in the cabin.

    That’s what Michael Lewis was after and it’s clear he didn’t get an answer. When Obama wanted a seat at the table during the budget deal, Congress brusquely told him such discussions were within their exclusive prerogative and they’d send him something to sign or veto. If Obama cut Congress out of the discussion on handling Libya, the Congress had already been talking out of both sides of its mouth. Obama’s lawyers said he had the legal authority to do so and he did intervene. That’s his exclusive prerogative. If Congress doesn’t like that fact, then let them repeal the War Powers Act.Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

      I’ve cited the article several times, at length, in the prior piece. Perhaps you didn’t read it?

      POTUS is our feeler-in-chief, agian, no news there. There are all true, but also tired cliches that derrive in one way or another from “heavy lies the crown.”

      If I wanted to write a piece about that it would require only one conversation with the President and delving deep into Shakespeare. Lewis had much more than this, and yet raises nothing that’s interesting outside of the fact that it’s Obama saying/doing/thinking/feeling them.

      Esquire has a series it does where it takes someone famous and has them list a bunch of things about themselves that are intimate and tantalizing to the fans back home.

      Also, you menton Woodward in the other post. He has written two books on the Obama presidency, neither of which were flattering to the President. Both portray him as weak and out of his depth.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        It seems fair to note you have put in a link to the original article. That’s good. If you must invoke Shakespeare, there’s that bit from Lear: An honest tale speeds best, being plainly told.

        Lewis must have had been issued a mighty CAC card in his wallet to gain access to these deliberations. I wonder how much of this story was vetted? If so, we must presume it would have been censored to some degree, both by the author and the President’s people.

        It’s been my experience over time to learn more from what people don’t say than what they do say. Even as a two-bit solo consultant, I’ve been privy to unguarded conversation. I suppose you have, too, everyone knows the sensation of being woefully out of place in such situations, wondering if we should just politely excuse ourselves and run off to vomit in the nearest bathroom or stick it out, knowing there’s no way to adequately describe what’s going on, consigning it to the Deep Dark Pit of Desired Oblivion. It’s like watching a volcanic eruption, knowing the pressure’s been building up for centuries.

        Esquire is only of any use for its sartorial advice. Beyond that, it’s just Cosmo for Men. And Bob Woodward’s a two-bit gossip, a gravid pinworm emerged from America’s collective anus.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        “Both portray him as weak and out of his depth.”

        I did not get that vibe from Obama’s Wars, didn’t read the other one.

        I did get that the ‘establishment’ tried to steamroll him and pushed back at that, not, in hindsight, altogether effectively. (though there is an endgame now in sight the way there wasn’t in 08). On the other hand, the distilled campaign message was ‘we’re going to get out of Iraq and run the Afghanistan like we’ve been running the Iraq’ – and he approved the surge Bush had been sitting on (rightly) straight out of the gate. So that’s the plan the military was running with and presented to him in the summer / fall of ’09.Report

  3. Avatar kenB says:

    surely someone else had already shot the fish in the barrel

    Conor Friedersdorf had this article up at The Atlantic a few days ago hitting many of the same points, although he doesn’t so much criticize Lewis as lament the situation in general:

    And it is telling that Michael Lewis, one of America’s finest journalists, didn’t even ask Obama about failing to put the decision about Libya before Congress. He didn’t ask despite the plain language of the Constitution, Obama’s prior statements indicating he fully understood his legal obligations, and the fact that various members of Congress complained about his unilateral action. The imperial presidency is so well entrenched that a journalist like Lewis needn’t really question those things to feel as though he’s including all the crucial parts of the story about going to war.


  4. Avatar Ethan Gach says:

    Conor is one of four reasons I read the Atlantic daily.

    Fallows, Cohen and TNC are the other three.

    Thanks for the link, I somehow missed this.Report