- - Sunday, April 8, 2012


Sometimes, being the White House press secretary is a pretty unpleasant job — like being the spokesman for a coal company after a cave-in that kills nine and traps a dozen.

Whadddya gonna say? “Boy, we had a hundred and eighty-seven code violations we really shoulda done something about”? Or, “Well, I guess those guys down in the pit messed up real bad”? No, you drop into full defensive mode, circle the wagons, hunker down — then say whatever you gotta say.

Throw a rock in Washington, D.C., and you’ll hit a couple hundred guys willing to do just that — for a price (you’ll even find one or two eager to tell you that every time you pay LiveNation $9.75 to order a ticket online that it’s really just a “convenience fee”).

So, sometimes, you find someone guided by voices ready to say whatever needs to be said from the White House podium. A degree from Yale doesn’t matter then, it’s wriggle out as best you can. And only in Washington can you be sure to get away with simply blaming the press.

Which is just what former “reporter” Jay Carney did this week in a shameless — and, really, quite embarrassing — display of petty partisan PR. But finally, his one-time colleagues called him out on his meandering mendacity, and it was, in a word, hilarious.

On Monday, the great post-partisan president was asked this: “After last week’s arguments at the Supreme Court, many experts believe that there could be a majority, a five-member majority, to strike down the individual mandate. And if that were to happen, if it were to be ruled unconstitutional, how would you still guarantee health care to the uninsured and those Americans who’ve become insured as a result of the law?”

The One’s answer: “Ultimately, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress. And I’d just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is, the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint — that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.”

An unprecedented — and extraordinary — answer. But wait, it gets better.

The boys and girls in the front row of the White House briefing room finally came alive, if only for a bit.

“Does he regret using the word ‘unprecedented?’ ” NBC’s Norah O’Donnell asked the White House’s PR agent.

“Since the Lochner era …” Yale boy said. Huh? Wait, what?

“A handful of people,” he continued, “didn’t seem to understand what he was referring to. Of course, he was referring to the fact that it would be unprecedented in the modern era of the Supreme Court, since the New Deal era, for the Supreme Court to overturn legislation passed by Congress designed to regulate and deal with a national economic — a matter of national economic importance like our health care system.”

Oh. Well, he’s such a great orator, why didn’t he just say THAT?

“But …” the next reporter started.

Story Continues →