If you were in a coma for the last six years, then suddenly awakened this past weekend to observe both John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight on HBO and Bill O’Reilly’s appearance on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, you might assume they were talking about the military actions of two very separate and distinct presidents.
On one hand, there was Bill O’Reilly who continued to push for a stronger response to Islamic jihad. Not only should the president seek to hire a mercenary army of 25,000 privateers, but we should also somehow recruit Zombie Patton to roll into Syria with the Third Army from 1944 and annihilate everyone in sight. The takeaway is the usual one: the president is a weak-willed, lead-from-behind appeaser with obvious terrorist sympathies. Indeed, some factions of O’Reilly’s side of the debate even believe Obama is offering up a swath of land in New Mexico as an ISIS safe-haven. I’m not making that up.
On the other hand, there’s the former correspondent for The Daily Show, John Oliver, who hosted a 13-minute segment Sunday night in which he deliberately scared the shit out of his audience regarding Obama’s unprecedented use of predator drones against terror targets overseas. Not only did Oliver point out that Obama has ordered exponentially more drone strikes than George W. Bush (Oliver failed to note Bush’s use of other weapons to achieve the same results), but he also repeatedly emphasized that Obama has literally ruined clear, blue skies — terrorizing grandmothers and children in the process, and making them look forward to cloudy days when drones are grounded. I’m not making that up, either.
So, President Obama is either a de facto Islamic jihadist — if you listen to O’Reilly and others — while also the most blood-thirsty counterterrorism supervillain in the history of the U.S. presidency. One of these guys is very wrong, and neither one delivered any real context to their analyses. Each view is a kind of cartoony boardwalk caricature of the president, rather than an accurate portrayal of the real-life leader. Has his foreign policy been flawless? No, not entirely, and there are many of us who are ambivalent about the current strategy against ISIS. But is Obama both a waif-like peacenik and a homicidal baby-killer? Of course not.
Oliver and O’Reilly each failed to acknowledge the intense levels of political pressure from the other commentator’s side, because doing so would underline how vastly different their caricatures are. It’s a Venn diagram with zero overlap. No matter what this president does, he’ll be perceived by these dualistic sides as someone he’s not. It reveals a serious flaw in the American commentariat — many of the most prominent and influential voices are painting an inaccurate portrait of the Obama presidency, no doubt exaggerating reality to suit a brand and a target demographic, rather than the truth (positive or negative).
This could be why so many voters have twisted, contradictory views of the president — they’re hearing twisted, contradictory opinions from the news media. In places like Kentucky, for example, the Obamacare exchange is hugely popular but “Obamacare” is hugely unpopular. Elsewhere, his approval ratings on the economy are dismal in spite of cutting the deficit by nearly a trillion dollars; rescuing the American auto industry; reducing unemployment by five points; presiding over Dow 17,000; and preventing a Second Great Depression. What’s the disconnect?
From the beginning, both extremes of the political debate pinned false attributes onto Barack Obama. Initially, the far-left’s expectations seemed disconnected with the well-documented reality of Obama’s positions and pragmatic governing style, setting them up for this whiny “Disappointed in Obama” meme we’ve heard for six years. Meanwhile, the far-right did the same thing but with opposite intentions, painting Obama as a foreign usurper destined to implement Shari’a law and discard the last remains of American-style capitalism. Again, neither view is true.
The loser here isn’t necessarily the president. It’s reality. And it’s only getting worse.
Adding… Regarding some of the comments about Oliver being a comedian and satirist, and not a “news” source. This is all true, but what’s also true is that Oliver’s point of view in the segment was clearly reflective of the broader anti-drone movement on the far-left. It’s not difficult to track down serious articles posted online expressing the same opinion (nowhere near as funny).