On far too many occasions, the media gets a story wrong. Whether that stems from laziness, ignorance or incompetence — or all three — the people deserve better.
As the drama of Pennsylvania’s nationally-followed primary played out, two major stories emerged.
The media got only one right.
First, the one they got wrong.
As Senator Arlen Specter was heading for defeat — the end of an era — at the hands of Congressman Joe Sestak, the prevailing sentiment was that this result somehow translated into a "message to Washington." This was usually followed by commentary that it showed people were angry at the policies coming out of the nation’s capital.
People are angry, to be sure, but this race had nothing to do with that. In fact, Sestak’s election, from a policy standpoint, was an affirmation of Barack Obama’s agenda.
Sestak — an incumbent, by the way — not only voted for bailouts, the stimulus, federal takeovers of industry, and national health care, but wants to go considerably further. More taxes, more spending, more regulation, more bureaucracy — flat-out, Sestak just wants more government.
Since he, like the President, believes government knows best, how is that, in any way, a "message to Washington" and a repudiation of the current political environment?
Remember that this was a Democratic primary election, and Joe Sestak’s positions appeal to the Party’s Leftist base. And why not? He is one of them.
We also heard that there was an anti-incumbent message, which, overall, is true. Specter fatigue was running high, given that he has been a senator for a third of a century. But even that was a smaller factor in his defeat.
This senate election became a referendum on whether Specter was an untrustworthy political opportunist due to his party switch last year. Sestak’s ad showing Specter, in his own words, justifying his switch because it would "enable me to be re-elected" was the turning point in the race.
And it certainly didn’t help Specter when TV ads showed him not only being embraced by Sarah Palin, but being called an "ally" who could be "counted on" by the Devil himself — at least to the Leftists — George W. Bush.
Specter had a major credibility problem, and Sestak had enough money to inform voters of that — over and over again.
That’s the whole issue, plain and simple. How anyone can extrapolate anything else is just ridiculous.
You want a "message to Washington?" Look to Tea Party candidate Rand Paul’s stunning victory in Kentucky, or if Pat Toomey beats Sestak in the fall, but don’t look to the Sestak-Specter race.
The story the media did get right was Barack Obama’s abandonment of Specter in his hour of need. Of this, there is no dispute.
And make no mistake, Obama should — and will — pay for his callous, calculated and crass political decision.
After successfully wooing Specter to join his Party, and immensely benefitting from that switch (as Specter was THE decisive 60th vote in favor of the stimulus), Obama blatantly turned his back on his one-time ally, humiliating an against-the-wall Specter.
Why? Because the President put politics before principle. Despite the fact that he gave his word —in front of the entire nation — that he would help Arlen in any way, Obama broke that promise.
Specter saw the election slipping away, and repeatedly implored the President to campaign in Pennsylvania for him. But those calls were rebuffed.
It makes no difference whether Obama’s appearance would have helped or hurt Specter.
That is completely irrelevant.
What matters is that the President — our leader and supposedly a role model — broke his word to save his own skin. Or so he thinks.
Ironically, the very reason Specter went down — lack of credibility — will now haunt Obama as he hurriedly tries to pass his agenda before Republicans win a sizable number of congressional seats this fall.
"What’s that, Mr. President? You want my vote on a controversial issue, and in exchange you’ll give me A, B, and C, and, geez, you’ll even campaign for me when I need you?"
That question will be echoed repeatedly between now and November as the President advocates cap-and-trade, spending and tax increases, Wall Street reform, internet regulation, and a host of other issues.
And you know what he’ll hear more often than not?
"Hmmm. You know I love you, Mr. President. The same way you told Arlen that you loved him. But after you hung him out to dry when he needed you most, you can’t blame me for thinking that your promises are a bit hollow right about now. And by the way, you’re not up for re-election this year. But I am. So don’t take this the wrong way, but don’t let the door hit you in the derriere on the way out!"
Obama’s calculated move of not stopping in Pennsylvania, while flying over it on election day, was viewed as a political gain. Short-term, he may be right. But in the long-term, which in this case is the next 6 months, his decision will backfire in a big way.
Give George Bush credit for doing one thing right (which is not an easy thing to do). He gave his word that he’d go to the wall for members of his party facing tough election challenges. And he came through in a big way. Despite the risk to his prestige and political capital, Bush crisscrossed the country stumping for his allies. And he emerged a stronger leader because of it.
Barack Obama may be naïve in many policy matters, but he should have been smart enough to know the value of keeping his word, both personally and politically.
But he didn’t. And he will suffer the consequences.
Want the most fitting possibility? Specter could actively campaign against, and attempt to derail, Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination.
After all, he voted against her before as Solicitor General, and now he has nothing to lose.
And for that, he can partially thank Barack Obama.
Aren’t paybacks hell?
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com
Readers of his column, "Freindly Fire," hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller "Catastrophe."
Freind also serves as a weekly guest commentator on the Philadelphia-area talk radio show, Political Talk (WCHE 1520), and makes numerous other television and radio appearances. He can be reached at [email protected]