“Sequestration,” which sounds like an impolite stomach ailment that almost nobody can spell and few understand, now gets really interesting. With the sequestration deadline having passed, the White House is under siege by reality.
President Obama and his liege men have been crying from the rooftops for weeks that if he doesn’t get to further plunder taxpayer pockets, airplanes will fall from the sky, classrooms will empty, fire and brimstone will ruin every hearth because there won’t be anybody at the firehouse to answer the telephone, crooks and criminals will roam the land doing all manner of evil because the cops will be on furlough, babies will cry in vain for milk, men will join bread lines like we haven’t seen since the 1930s and women will weep tears of bitter reproach, tsunamis will rise from the river, bayou and creek, locusts will devour failing crops, and we’ll all be dead by the Fourth of July (if not Memorial Day). Woe is definitely us.
With Judgment Day at hand, the only thing left for the White House to do is to kill, or at least grievously wound, as many bearers of bad news as the president’s men can find. Blaming the press is always popular, because the press deserves whatever abuse it gets. When the president read in The Washington Post, of all places, that he was being called out by the most famous reporter in the land for his fibs and stretchers (a president would never actually tell a lie) about who should be blamed for sequestration hysteria, he could hardly believe it. There, before his very own eyes and in black and white, Bob Woodward was citing chapter and verse with the proof that the sequester originated under Barack Obama’s roof. Truth will out, but it’s not supposed to out in the president’s own house.
This destroyed Mr. Obama’s No. 1 talking point, that the sequester is a Republican ploy. This could not stand. Soon Bob Woodward got a blistering telephone call from an enraged Obama aide, followed by an email from “a very senior person,” telling him that he would “regret doing this.” He didn’t say who the “very senior person” was, being polite and eager to protect an undeserving source, but the aide was later identified as Gene Sperling, the director of the National Economic Council.
Reporters, even famous reporters, get into tiffs with official sources all the time; it comes with the territory. But threats like this come from unusual territory. A president would never dispatch someone to Cleveland to hire a hit man, nor even call in a drone, but he can make good on such threats in harsh and anonymous ways. If he could do it to the most famous reporter and editor at one of the most famous newspapers, he could do it at will to anyone else.
Richard Nixon kept an “enemies list,” and it was taken as the threat the White House meant it to be. Everyone immediately thinks of an IRS audit. John F. Kennedy once canceled a subscription to the late New York Herald-Tribune, which was a nominally Republican newspaper, because he didn’t like something he read there. For several days there was quite a row in all the newspapers.
The Obama White House gets particularly exercised by grunions of the cult who dare question or criticize the messiah from Chicago. When Lanny Davis, a senior aide to President Clinton and a loyal Democrat, summoned the courage to needle the Obama administration early on in a column in The Washington Times, the newspaper got a call suggesting that it should print no more op-ed contributions from Mr. Davis if it knew what was good for him, and it. The Times told the White House, as any serious newspaper would, that the newspaper and not the White House, any White House, decides when and what to print.
Most presidents come with thin skins, and Mr. Obama’s skin is only thinner than most. He seems to take his authority as messiah as seriously as the members of the cult do. The reporters and correspondents who trail obediently in his wake are mostly too young to remember JFK, but they yearn for the restoration of Camelot, even a cheap cut-rate copy of the original.
Unless he can make the earth move, the Mississippi run backwards and call down thunderbolts from a darkling sky, the president will be exposed over the next few days, weeks and maybe months as the president who cried “wolf” — and the wolf stayed home. It should be a good show. The rest of us are entitled to enjoy it. We’re paying for it.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.